A Travellerspoint blog

Last week in Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur and Penang

You would never believe where I am writing this. If I told you, it would make you so angry, jealous and would make you quit your job and come join me….So maybe I should disclose my current location- maybe then I’ll have more people quitting their jobs and making their way here ;-P....hmmmmm

OK, but let’s first backtrack a bit to Kuala Lumpur. I had fun here- my sister joined us and I also met up with a very cool dude that I know from Ostrava. Those of you, who know Nitin, will understand when I say what a “cool dude” he is ;-). Honza and I had some Indian food with him and we laughed until my stomach hurt (although I am not sure if it was the laughing or the extreme amount of food I ate which caused the belly pain). It was good fun to reminisce about the fun times we shared back in Czech :-)

We stayed 5 nights in KL. First we had to sort out our Vietnamese visas, and Honza had to get a Thai one (haha, I didn’t!;-)). I actually didn’t see a whole lot of KL- mostly the streets of China and India Town, as well the CBD and some caves. The Petronas Towers were simply amazing! Especially at night- they sparkle! I also met up with some South African friends (Michelle and Candy) who were funnily enough traveling through KL at the same time- another great catch up session while eating some delicious Korean food! :-)
We also just hang out at the hostel- met a German dude that had lived in Johannesburg, as well as a Korean lady who quit her job (shock! horror! gasp!) and is now just traveling. She is 34 years, isn’t married and has no job…nice to meet an anti-stereotype!

Last week Saturday we took a 6 hour train ride from KL to Butterworth (in the north of Malaysia). From here we took a quick ferry ride across to Penang (an island off the west coast of Malaysia). We stayed at a rather nice guesthouse (New Banana Guesthouse) located in Chinatown. (The Chinese influence is pretty high in these parts- so much that I sometimes forget which country I am in, and wonder if it’s possible we took a wrong turn). We spent a day on the beach, another in a shopping mall (the aircon in there is to die for!) and the last day in a Buddhist temple. We ate lots of noodles, eggs on toast and tea.

Angie and I left Penang yesterday afternoon and traveled north. Honza decided to stay longer and he will travel for a bit longer in Malaysia. We will meet up again next week in a yet to be determined location.

So, with this I say peace out… I gotta get back to my island in the sun ;-)

Posted by piratejax 04:17 Archived in Malaysia Comments (1)

Singapore

From Gede National Park we took a bus to Jakarta. The road was closed and only let one way traffic through for 2 hours! So we had to wait on the side of the road. I am very impressed with Indonesians and the amount of patience they have. No one complained, got irritated-they just calmly waited. We eventually got going, and soon we found ourselves at a bus station just outside Jakarta (area called Kampung Rambutan). A Malay man that Honza met in Kalimantan had invited us to his home for lunch. He picked us up from the station and we experienced typical Friday traffic in Jakarta. This man works in palm oil plantations, so is mega rich. He has been living and working in Jakarta for 17 years. His wife and children remained in Kuala Lumpur. He sees his wife twice a month…
He was very hospitable and we ate a nice lunch, including never-ending offer of beer. He was trying hard to get us drunk! He would have succeeded if we weren’t smarter…
His driver then drove us to the airport- maneuvering through the heavy traffic so we would make it on time. Everything went smoothly and soon we were on our way to Singapore.

Singapore is a quiet, clean, calm and expensive place, and it did remind me a bit of Seoul. It was the Easter weekend, so many hostels were booked up. We managed to find a place- but wow so expensive! For a dorm bed it cost $22. For this same price we could have stayed in a fancy hotel in Indonesia!
The first day we walked around, bought train tickets to KL. We both started to feel unwell in the intestine area, so we went back to chill. That night I went to a local bar and watched a Phillipines ska band. The crowd was completely unfamiliar to me- native English speakers!!! AAAHHHH!!!! I think I have forgotten how to act around English people, as I don’t feel comfortable around them, or know what to say. I reckon I should stick with non-natives…

On Sunday we went to the zoo. Now, I am not a big fan of zoos, but this zoo was impressive! The animals had more freedom than zoos I have seen before. The orangutans are basically free to roam the tree tops within the zoo. After this we went to Orchard road- which represents the consumerism and materialism of Singapore. Tons of fancy malls, shops, boutiques, food courts- it seemed never-ending! We then took a bus to the Marina Bay Hotel- which is a spectacular building, with a ship- looking structure plonked at the top. We got tickets and then took the lift to the 56th floor. The view from the top is amazing! We watched the sky change into dark, and see the night lights begin to sparkle. There is a pool at the top, which I think is called “the infinity pool”, because when you are in it the water goes over the edge as if going into infinity. Pretty cool! Later that night we met with Aaron, a friend I made while in Czech. We had some food and a shisha at a Turkish restaurant (I am torn between which is better: Turkish or Indian food?...)

On Monday morning we took a 7 hour train up to Kuala Lumpur, which is where I am now… And we have an addition to our duo- my sister! :-)

Posted by piratejax 03:12 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Water beds when I don't want one

...worst night of my life (ok, a little over dramatic)...

From Pangandaran we traveled in style to Bandung. In Indonesia you can hire a driver and a car and they will drive you basically anywhere- “door to door”. We weren’t in the mood for public transport, so we each paid the $10 and were driven the 6 hours to Bandung in an aircon, comfy car. From here we had to take a local bus to Cipanis. This ride was interesting, to say the least! Every 15 minutes or so the bus would stop and some locals selling food (rice, sweets, drinks, fried tofu) would enter the bus, the bus wouldn’t leave until all the vendors had completed their sales. Some local musicians also came on board and would “serenade” the passengers (then go around asking for donations); again the bus wouldn’t leave until the song was finito. After a while this got extremely annoying, and the 60km took over 3 hours! From the drop off point in Cipanis, we took a local van up the street to Cibodas- the gateway village to Gede National Park. We visited the info centre, got some info, and then went to check in at “Cibodas Guesthouse”. This is a Balinese-run guesthouse. There were no rooms available, but the lady allowed us to stay in the cottage, for the same price of $12 a night. The guesthouse overlooks a beautiful lush valley and sitting at the restaurant is a lovely place to chill out. The place also hosts 3 rams which are used for some traditional fighting, random, I know…

We had dinner, talked with the Swiss and British couples there and then went to sleep. The next day we prepared our backpacks for the mountain. The guy at the info centre told us, as foreigners, we had to be accompanied by a guide. We managed to bypass this rule… We rented sleeping bags and a tent and then were off! The hike up was beautifully magical- huge green trees covered with moss, big colourful flowers and many birds. The park is famous for hot springs, and walking past this was fun! The path took us along some rocks, where the hot springs spurted out, so the very warm water flooded into my shoes. The air is also rather misty- I waited in vain to catch a glimpse of a gorilla in the mist. The trail, most of the way, was rather rocky and so caution and focus were musts. After about 5 hours we reached the camping area- it was crowded so we continued on up to look for a more tranquil spot. The spot Honza found was pretty cool, even though it was dark when we got there, we could still make out the surrounding hills and valley down below.

We set up the tent, then stood outside (since the tent was super small, we couldn’t both sit in there and be comfortable, although the tiny space did result in a cozy, relatively warm sleeping quarters). It was chilly, but thank goodness for good ‘ol slivovice warming the cockles ;-). A rabbit-looking creature stole a packet of biscuits- sly little bugger! At around 7:30pm we hit the sack. The ground was stony, but I managed to find a comfortable position. Everything was peachy, until the rain came. And it poured and sloshed and splattered and splashed against us. In the beginning I thought “ah, how nice to fall asleep to the sounds of rain pattering down”… jump to 2 hours later and I was cursing the weatherman and Mother Nature for this incessant downpour! I had a growing puddle of water inside my sleeping bag! I tried everything, but to no avail. Eventually I lay on my soaking wet backpack in this slanted, awkward position- to save my kidneys! I almost cried at the hopelessness of the situation. There was nothing I could do to get dry; nowhere could I go to get out of the rain. I was 2500m high and it was 2am and the rain didn’t look like it was going to stop anytime soon. Eventually Honza suggested that we go back down- and I willingly agreed.

We packed up in the rain- my drenched sleeping bag adding an extra few kilo’s to my baggage. I had stupidly forgotten my headlamp, so it was a slow descent with just Honza’s light guiding us both. The rocks were slippery, the roots unexpectedly jutted out at us and the rain just didn’t stop. I was soaked to the bone and cold as ice, and I was extremely nauseous. If I thought about how far I had to go to get off this wretched mountain, I would panic. So I tried not to, and instead thought about the beach, hot tea and my bed back in South Africa. The only way to go is forward- step by step. There was nothing I could do to rectify the situation I was in. I could either complain bitterly to myself, or just accept this temporary situation. I did both on the way down. But during the last hour I was gatvol with nature and just wanted to be somewhere else. My shoes were carrying a bucket of water, my legs were like jelly, and if I stared up at the trees I would lose my balance and almost fall over. I walked most of the way on autopilot. I was glad when the sun came out, and did try to appreciate the beautiful rain forest around me (despite my negative feelings against it).

After 6 hours of constant walking, and 8 hours of being sopping wet- I was finally down. The guys at the place we rented the sleeping bags kindly gave me some hot tea. The guesthouse unfortunately didn’t have hot water, but putting on dry clothes was simply wonderful! We had bought some avo’s on the way down, so we ordered some toast, tomatoes, salt, chili peppers and a bowl; then proceeded to make our own guacamole. We quickly guzzled down this first proper meal in over 24 hours. The cold stayed in my bones for some time and even as I write this I can still deeply feel the chilliness I felt up on the mountain.
I am going to stay away from mountains and rain forests for a while, or at least be more prepared next time…. Or I’ll just be a mermaid and hang about in the warm ocean, where it’s safe….

Posted by piratejax 02:24 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Surfing Java

sun, salt, sea, sunburn

All I wanted to do when I got to Indonesia was surf. But I had to be patient for 3 weeks until the moment finally arrived! The Swiss guys we met in Yogyakarta recommended a beach town to go to- Pangandaran. It is situated in the south west of Java.

We choose to reside at a quaint little place called Mini Tiga. It is nicely decorated and has a hammock outside to catch some zzzz in the afternoon sun. There is also homemade yoghurt for sale- delicious! The rooms are big, so we were able to spread our belongings from corner to corner. Breakfast is included, and I continued my tradition of banana pancakes…

On arrival we were starving, so we ate at a Swiss- owned restaurant (Relax) and ate a delicious array of Indonesian food. (This restaurant also makes fresh, whole wheat bread (first time we’ve been able to buy proper bread), which went well with our avocado’s). While eating we started a conversation with a Finnish couple, who later turned out to be interesting and fun company for the forthcoming days. They had just been in Sumatra, so we heard some of their stories. Later in the afternoon we took a dip in the best ocean- Indian Ocean. Wow! It was like heaven- warm water, big waves; a radiant sunset… could not get any better!

The next morning I tried to take on the waves…well, they took on me. I underestimated the power of the waves and so I got dumped and tossed and turned and thrown back onto shore. I did manage to stand up a few times, to my delight!. In the afternoon I played “surfing instructor” to Honza and the Finnish couple... although I don’t think I was a very good instructor as Honza got stuck out beyond the breakers and only after some serious paddling did he manage to come back in (I didn’t tell him to stay close to the shore). I also got stuck out, and man is it scary! The waves just come at you (with a very strong undertow), and because I am no pro, I can’t catch them. So I just float over them, with no way of getting back in. The locals always keep a watchful eye on us, so a kind surfer towed me in to safety.

That night we (the foreigners, 7 of us) chipped in some money and bought some fish at the fish market. It’s a tradition for the travelers to pay for the food (for everyone, including some of the locals) and then the locals prepare and cook it for us (great deal!). So we had a fish braai on the beach, along with loads of rice, vegetables and spicy jambal (chilli pepper sauce), washed down with beer and arak (extremely potent locally made rice wine). Later on we all went and sat on the beach, around a bonfire, and some of the guys played local and international songs and we all sang along. It was one of my best nights so far- foreigner and Indonesians; united by song and a love for the sea! Most Indonesians are gifted on the guitar- “we have so much time”. I also had a go on the drum, and together with another guy on guitar we jammed some good tunes :-)

On Sunday we tried some boogie boarding, but no surfing - I was stupid and lay in the midday sun the day before; so I was burnt on my stomach and my back. Lying on a board felt like hot needles being injected into me.
But Honza and I did try a tandem bike, and surprisingly we got it right from the go. I sat in the back, so I could slack, and no one would know… except when we had a shadow, and then Honza could see whether I was helping or not. It was so much fun to ride around town, and because I didn’t have to watch where I was going, could have a look at the scenery we passed. On the way back I took the front seat- to Honza’s humiliation (a girl in front? the nerve! ;-)). It took a while to get used to it and to be able to steer straight (I think Honza was a little worried of my tandem –biking- skills). But I got it, accident- free! :-)

At Mini Tiga’s there was a local guide who provided tours to the surrounding areas. On one of the nights he was telling us about the tsunami that hit Pangandaran in 2006. He was surfing when the wave hit- he had time to get out and tell people to run uphill, but he ran out of time to save himself. The 4m wave tossed him like a “washing machine” and he landed on a roof. He broke his leg and got some bruises. To this day he is still afraid of the sea and hasn’t been surfing since. 5 of his friends died, and 2 friends didn’t realize it was a tsunami and actually rode the wave into town!

The guide (whose I just can’t remember) took us to the Green Canyon. The Finnish couple joined us for the outing. We went on scooters- so Honza and I were on one, and the Finnish on another. First we visited a small village where they make sugar from coconut tree flowers and afterwards we visited a local puppeteer, who told us about the traditions of puppetry in this area. Both were interesting to learn about.
Then we continued on our journey until we reached a dock, where we took a boat to the Green Canyon. We put life jackets on (“you are a foreigner…”) and jumped ship when we reached the entrance to the canyon. It was absolutely marvelous! The canyon is only 8-10m wide and the walls reach high to the sky. Coming off the overhangs were ancient- looking stalactites. The walls of the canyon only let a trickle of sunlight in, so it was mostly shadowy, yet rather magical.
The water was cool and refreshing. We swam upstream, so sometimes had to swim extra hard to advance. There was a tall rock where you could jump off (maybe 6m). The boys jumped, but I was overcautious (since I seem to be accident-prone lately) and didn’t want an excuse to experience an Indonesian hospital. After about 30 minutes of swimming and splashing we reached a powerful outpouring of water- and sitting under it was natures massage! The way back was so entertaining! The current just took us, and we didn’t have to do anything to help :-)

We then rode the scooters to Batu Karas- a tiny fishing village about 32km from Pangandaran. We had lunch- I had gado gado, which is vegetables, boiled eggs, tofu in a peanut sauce. It was tasty, but was not a very good idea to eat it, and then go surfing. The waves here are so perfect! I chose a long board and had so much fun riding the small, yet powerful waves. It was quite busy in the water; so many times I collided with another fellow surfer. Whoops!

On the ride back the moon was the biggest moon I had ever seen! It started by hanging out over the sea, and then rose to shine with all its glory. We made a quick stop at a turtle rehabilitation centre. I got to hold a baby turtle in my hands, but the little creature had ADHD or something and he squirmed off my hand and fell on his back on the ground! I felt so terrible!
Turtles that get caught in fishermen’s nets are sent here, rehabilitated and then sent back out into the wild. They also breed turtles here, to conserve the declining number of the species.

If it wasn’t for Honza I would spend all my time on the beach, but due to his mountain-madness we left Pangandaran for Gunung Gede National Park. I am thankful for his different interests though; because this way I see more of Java, besides the beaches, and experience some real mountain-living. This park and the forces of nature, I would come to both love and absolutely detest….

Posted by piratejax 19:05 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Yogyakarta

Music, massages, parties, food, new friends and clean clothes

When you find yourself sleeping on the floor of a train station; after having traveled in a car for 8 hours with a driver with a death wish (I was certain I was going to die)- you begin to wonder why you place yourself in these dire situations. I was tired, oh-so dirty and had a sore neck. The train (from Probolinggo to Surabaya) we needed to take was only leaving at 3am, so we decided to camp out at the train station. We spent a few hours drinking cheap ice tea and playing scrabble at nearby restaurant. At about 11pm we each chose a corner, placed our mats down and tried to get some sleep. I had a lone mosquito determined not to let me sleep, and together with the passing trains- I had a restless rest.

The train was full, so we found some space on the floor under a table in the dining car, with a view of some men’s legs. I curled up and actually slept. We arrived in Surabaya at about 5:30am. We had to take another train to Yogyakarta at 7am. There was a Polish couple on the same route to Yogyakarta as us, and I felt like I was in the Amazing race- racing to get train tickets before them. The 5 hours (actually sitting on a proper seat- yah!) went by fast and before I knew it we had arrived in Yogyakarta- a city I would grow to love and not want to leave.

The tourist/accommodation area is a 3 minute walk from the train station, so soon we found ourselves in the comfort of one of the best hostels I have ever stayed at. We were lucky to get a room, as this place (Setia Kawan) is super popular. After not showering for 3 days- I had a well deserved scrub!

Setia Kawan felt like home. We planned only to stay there 3 nights, but ended up staying 7. There’s a great common area with comfy couches and free tea and coffee, and the place just oozes with a “sit here and make new friends” kinda vibe. It’s also situated in a small alley- far away from the street noise. It’s really well decorated: interesting, colourful abstract paintings on the wall and all the rooms are painted with different murals. (The owner is an artist).
Every morning there’s a great breakfast choice- but I ate the banana and honey pancakes with freshly made fruit juice every single morning :-) I also had my laundry done- I had a clean towel for the first time in 5 weeks! Yippeee! :-)

On the first night we went out to the local hangout, Bintang, and enjoyed the smooth reggae sounds of the live band. I met a Dutch girl, Kelly, who had been on the same bus as us to Mt Bromo (it’s a small travelers- world), and found out she was staying at the same place as us! She was with another Dutch girl, Sylvia and we had a great time- hanging out by the pool, sightseeing and partying until the early hours of the morning. I also had a chance to practice my Dutch/Afrikaans :-). (There are so many Dutch travelers in Indonesia, and it was nice to hear the language wherever I went.)
We had a funny situation the one night- Kelly and I were dancing, when suddenly this 7cm wide spider elegantly glided down from the ceiling and made his way for the door. Oh man! Did we get a fright! But thank goodness it didn’t end up in our hair, because that would’ve caused a whole lot more drama.

Yogyakarta is an arty city- loads of art students, art galleries and music. We watched many live bands- reggae, blues and a superb jazz band. The vibe of the city is so relaxed and it was easy to get into a daily rhythm of doing basically nothing all day, yet I was never bored. This was a big change from the previous week which included many 4am wake ups and mountains to climb.
I pampered myself with full body massages (so cheap!): The women here have tremendously strong fingers and thumbs- so they really dug into me and sorted out my knots! I also had “ear candling” done- which cleans out the gunk in your ear. Imagine a piece of paper rolled up to form a long tube- the smaller end is stuck into your ear and they light the other side. Candle wax then drips down into your ear (there is a filter, so the wax doesn’t seep into your ear). I am not 100% sure how it works exactly, but your earwax somehow gets stuck to this candle wax. It was pretty gross to see what came out- I had about a teaspoon of yucky-ness. This procedure is said to be good for headaches, stress, sinusitis and a whole bunch of other stuff.

On most of the days I chilled out, read and ate at our favourite restaurant- Bedhot. Now, this place had a great menu! After having only eaten nasi goreng (fried rice), it was heaven to eat omelet’s, pizza, real vegetarian food and soup- and at cheap prices. We both ate the tomato soup and guacamole almost every single day- $1 for a huge bowl of hearty soup—who can resist?
We did some shopping at the local markets- it was hard for me not to buy since everything was so pretty and cheap! But the thought that I would have to carry it for the next 4 months stopped me from splurging.

We also visited the best vegetarian restaurant (called Milas) I have ever been to in my entire life! The menu was to die for- so many choices ranging from Indian, to Indonesian, to Italian and fusion food. Besides the great, organic (they grow their own vegetables) food, there’s another side to the restaurant. Milas also runs non-profit creative art programs- where young adults are taught how to make bags, jewelry, notebooks etc made from natural, re-used or recycled material. The profits support other programs in handicraft workshops at Milas. There’s also a “natural food corner” where you can buy organic, locally grown coffee, tea, honey, cheese. A play group for children is also offered here, and the kids have classes outside. The focus is on environmental education and they are encouraged to develop their creativity and imagination skills. The aim of the restaurant is to link education, the environment and the awareness of healthy eating habits. It was all very inspiring…

“hey mister, where are you going?”, “becak!?, becak!?”…. Two of the most common phrases you’ll hear in Yogyakarta. A becak is a bicycle-powered mode of transport. In front is a little seat where 2 people (although once we had three; the guy complained we were too heavy) can sit and it’s attached to a bike. It’s a fun, cheap and environmental- friendly way of traveling in a city. Although there’s more supply than demand, so every so often there will be dozens and dozens of them lined up all shouting “becak, becak! Hey mister…” It was funny- because these guys basically live in their becak- late at night I’ll be walking and I’ll come across some guy sleeping soundly in his becak.

After 8 days of rejuvenation, relaxation and rest- we sadly said goodbye to the good people at Setia Kawan. But our next stop would not take long to get to, and would provide an even more relaxed, yet sometimes strenuous, setting. And as the locals say “easy to come, hard to go”…. I think they are right.

Posted by piratejax 07:49 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

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