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Indonesia: The Final Frontier (Surfing, High speed chase, and Turtles) – Edited Travel Blog Summary from 12/17/15 S.E. Asia Backpacking Trip (Post 6/7)

 

Indonesian M&M eating a Durian
Indonesian M&M eating a Durian

“In my last blog I mentioned that we had nicknamed this last part of our trip as the “Vacation of our Vacation.”  It ended up being just that, but every vacation has it’s glitches and stressors, and for our last 3 weeks of travel throughout this beautiful country we experienced this every time we changed locations… whether we were headed across town or to a different Island there was always a hitch, fee, fine, shady travel agent, or corrupt cop making sure we had to work for it.  I’ll only quickly reference these instances in the blog as I don’t want to overshadow the elegance of Indonesia with the hassles we faced, but if you travel to Indonesia please be prepared to shell out some cash for private drivers or have books (plural) on hand because you will be spending large amounts of time in bus stations and working out other kinks in the system.

A&W in Jakarta (Root Beer Floats!)
A&W in Jakarta (Root Beer Floats!)

Jakarta wasn’t on our list of places to visit, but after much research we decided it would make the most budget sense to fly there (minus an unexplained $45/bag charge) and work our way down the Island of Java instead of covering some ground twice.  With no real plans for the city we headed straight to the train station from the plane to catch a ride East towards temples and Volcanos.  It just so happened that all trains were booked from noon on for the day, so we hopped in a cab and headed to a hostel to make new travel plans and get some rest… our driver got lost.  We spent our 1 night in the city wandering around a very strange night market with people dressed up as creepy witches and demons, and trying some food that made us feel queasy (Until we found an A&W for some much needed RootBeer floats :)), and headed back to the airport for the first flight out of town for Surabaya.  I’m not saying Jakarta is a bad place, but definitely spent enough time there for the type of low budget traveling we are doing.

Riding a Police bike in Probolingo (Finger guns)
Riding a Police bike in Probolingo (Finger guns)

Surabaya got us closer to the first landmark on our list, the Bromo Volcano.  After a 2 hour bus ride we arrive in the town of Probolingo which is the hub to get to the small village of Cemoro Lewang.  Here in Probolingo we dealt with a the shady tour guide who scammed us and then spent 10 hours waiting for enough people to fill a van to leave for the village.  Probably our least favorite town in all of Asia, but after hour 2 or 3 waiting we made really good friends with the young (Lazy) “Cliche” of bus drivers and fellow travelers.  They shared with us their favorite mixed drink of 1.Rice Wine 2. Beer and 3. Carbonated Tea (try at your own risk), and joked around with us while also setting off the neighbor’s police motobike siren and even letting me play pretend cop (see photo, happy to be staying on the right side of the law…for now).  Luckily the time did allow us to form a strong bond with solo travelers Rebeka (Canadian) and Yasmine (British/Australian) who we would end up going on many adventures with.  Eventually we said “Adios” to Probolingo and nestled into the village where there is no hot water (lucky for us our hostel didn’t have a shower, so we didn’t have the choice to freeze).

Sunset view of Bromo Volcano
Sunset view of Bromo Volcano

Chemaro Lewang (map view) is positioned in a beautiful place in the mountains on the top of a cliff that over looks the 2km “Sea of Sand” that leads up to the Volcano.  At 2am we rise after only a few hours of sleep to climb to a view point on a neighboring mountain where the sunset is best viewed.  We had all opted to do the hike here independently instead of with a guided tour (against the strong recommendation given by previously mentioned shady tour guide) and this ended up being the best choice.  Instead of a jeep driving us up the mountain and freezing our tails off, we got a great hike in and had worked enough to maintain a good body temperature while also finding a secluded spot on the mountain away from jabbering sightseers.  This sunrise generated what I think are my favorite pictures of the whole trip and also inspired me to potentially one day run a hostel in the area and smooth over the process of getting to the village.  This was only the first half of our adventure for the day though and after a few cups of coffee we proceeded to sneak into the Bromo National Park.  It sounds worse than it really is, but long story short Security threatened us in the morning that we had to pay or we would be breaking the law, it was a Sunday so the entrance price doubled because it was the weekly “Holiday”, we didn’t have enough cash on us and there are no ATM’s within an hour drive, and our new friend Yasmine has a keen sense in how to bend the rules while also maintaining best luck I have ever encountered.  We do feel a little bit bad and plan on contributing to Indonesian Charities in the future (Not kidding, Stay tuned for a new business/charity venture we hope to embark on soon)(Cue the Indo-Scarf!!!), but none the less we proceeded to stick to the shadows and began our journey through the “Sea of Sand”.

Bromo and the Sea of Sand
Bromo and the Sea of Sand

By “Sea of Sand”, they actually mean “Dunes of Volcanic Ash” with frequent gusts of wind that both block out your vision and occasionally hurt.  That was barely a hindrance though when you are operating in a “Gray” area (Literally and Figuratively), while also pursuing an active volcano.  The troop trudged through the sand and made it to the base where Conrad and I decided that instead of taking the stairs that all the groups took, we would work our way up the side resulting in a 2 steps up 1 slide down rhythm.  After our dance/shuffle up to the rim we found ourselves looking into a crater where the bottom could not be seen due to the billowing egg-flavored smoke and ash. Initially there was a low rumble coming from below and while staying at the rim for nearly a half hour we heard first-hand as the rumbling grew louder, which we concluded sounded exactly like the slow and fast cycle of a washing machine…on STEROIDS!  An absolutely amazing perspective of the area and a thrill to be so close to one of the worlds most volatile phenomena. With a deadline of sneaking back in to the town during the lunch hour we descended the Volcano, in a fashion much like skiing and quickly caught a bus out of town before we ourselves got caught.

Rebeka and Yasmine sand skiing down Bromo Volcano
Rebeka and Yasmine sand skiing down Bromo Volcano

In the weeks following we learned two very interesting things.  First is that The Council members of the surrounding villages hold a traditional ceremony where members descend down the crater and whoever gets the farthest down or even is able to walk on the crater surface (Identical to walking on coals) is deemed the leader of the council for that year.  Not exactly the democratic system.  Second is that some days after we left the Volcano it had it’s first eruption since the 1960’s and was put on high alert for continued activity….Timing really is everything.

Back in Probolingo we had to say goodbye to Rebeka as she was headed to Tokyo, but we stuck with Jasmine and after the same old song and dance of the bus system we made our way to the next Volcano and what would end up being our travel “family”.  It wasn’t an hour into our stay at the next hostel that a group of four showed up and “Yasmine-Luck” kicked in.  She uncovered that the nearby volcano we were going to be leaving for at 1am was actually restricted to independent hikers and required a guide as the level of sulfur coming from the crater mine was toxic to the point of being deadly.  This was pertinent information to know only hours before setting off, luckily she also uncovered that they were traveling in a 15 passenger van and with 11 open seats we could easily work out a deal with the guide to make him a few extra bucks.  Crisis averted!  So just like that our group grew to Seven, joining Wouter (Dutch), Francy (German), Gab (French Canadian), and Naomi (British/South African).  We bonded by going and finding a nearby waterfall, followed by a natural hot-spring and we would end up traveling with this group for the next week +.

The "Blue Fire" of Ijen Volcano
The “Blue Fire” of Ijen Volcano

With power in numbers we started the next day well before sunrise in search of the infamous “Blue Flame”.  Requiring a gas mask and quite a bit of energy we climbed in darkness for several hours until reaching the rim and descending into the crater.  You know when you are looking at a well established fire and when tracing the tip of a flame down to the coal or source of energy you sometimes see a blue section of fire?  Well in the crater of the Ijen Volcano there are openings that spit out 5-10 foot pure blue flames, which are best viewed in pitch black before sunrise.  Aside from the view (and the poisonous sulfur gas) there are 3 things that will leave you awe struck about this place.  First obviously being the Blue-Fire (It’s so freaking cool).  The Second is that right next to the blue fire there is a giant lake that is best described as a very eery, cloudy teal/turquoise color (I’m not the best at colors, but use your imagination and/or check out my pictures).  The Third, but possibly the most impressive is the “Ijen Super-Men” who have chosen this as their place of occupation.  As someone who enjoys hiking I wouldn’t classify this

Ijen's Sulfur mine and Crater lake
Ijen’s Sulfur mine and Crater lake

as a difficult climb, but it definitely took a lot of energy and the descent to the crater was pretty steep with uneven rock steps the entire 150 meters down.  The 200 men who work here don’t think it is that difficult either, so everyday they come to the crater and mine the sulfur, load 50-90kg into two baskets attached by bamboo and carry it over their shoulders back to the rim.  They make it look simple, but under these circumstances this climb is treacherous.  I know because I carried a medium load the last 30 meters up the crater (the easy part) and barely made it to the top.  An incredible combination of height (shorter is better with protruding rock faces), strength, and heart allows these men to make 2-4 trips per day, depending on their age and size of loads.  Once they reach the top half use a cart to progress down the mountain and the other half aren’t able to save up enough money and have to continue the walk to the base carrying their baskets.  They truly are real life “Super-Men”!

Alternating Gas Mask and Indo-Scarf to breathe safely
Alternating Gas Mask and Indo-Scarf to breathe safely

Before mid-day we had made it back to the base of the Volcano and ready to say “Peace-Out” to the Island of Java and reach coveted Bali. If you know anything about Indonesia besides the capital, it is most likely that Bali is a wonderland.  The Surf/Yoga Mecca of S.E. Asia and home to a tranquil vibe that has turned in to a playground for Australians on holiday, as well as a must do for anyone making it to this part of the world.  By help from an insane Cali Surfer dude, Ethan, we found accommodation for all 7 of us to stay at a homestay in Canggu only 10 minutes from the beach and with a pool that we would find ourselves in at all hours of the day.  A week here was filled with surf, a few bar crawls, new friends from Australia, Switzerland, Canada, and 6 guys from a Dutch surf camp, and the first ever World Championship of “Thong-Toss”.  Much like Bocce Ball, we would compete head2head by throwing our sandals from the second floor with the goal of getting the closest to the umbrella.  Proud to say that I took the first title, but playing again Wouter beat me in a photo finish.  A Trip is in motion already to travel to the Netherlands and win back the crown.

Overall the week was spent relaxing after a few intense days of trekking and adventure.  We became very close with everyone so quickly through our experiences, but as everyone had come as solo travelers (besides Conrad and I), we all had our own itineraries and eventually went our separate ways.  Once again so surprising how quickly you can make friends for life in such a short time and feel a hint of sadness as people go on their way.

 

When we broke off it was to head to the next Island of Lombok for more surf, an evening session of sunset yoga, and a quieter scene.  Although relaxing, Bali is big and highly populated due to all of it’s amenities and this has created quite the hustle and bustle as soon as you get away from the beach towards the main roads.  To sum up Lombok we drove the motor bike down the rockiest dirt paths known to man, tried surfing in an expert spot and got beat up by waves before making the mistake of walking back to shore through a sea urchin pit (10+ urchin spikes still lodged in my feet), Took some great surf lessons from DC, who should be a new father by now and taught us the local Lombok surf saying “Long Hair: Long Life…”, and I got my finger pinched by a giant crab at a beach bonfire.  A short but sweet 4 nights in Lombok led up a fast paced 3 nights in the tiny Island of Gili Trawangan.

Gili Trawangan shore as a storm approaches
Gili Trawangan shore as a storm approaches

There are Three Gili Islands that are positioned within view of the North West corner of Lombok Island.  The first is Gili Air (Which means water), then Meno, and the furthest out is Trawangan which is the largest and most popular.  These Islands are unique as they are tiny and have a few rules that are a little surprising compared to everywhere else we had been.  The rules or norms are that there are no motorized vehicles allowed on the island, no dogs allowed, Bicycles or legs are the primary method of transportation, and carriages pulled by a single horse are everywhere in case you want to go on a quick ride or to move supplies up and down the island.  It is quite refreshing to eliminate honking from your daily strolls and not have to worry about what idiot is in your blind spot.  Gili T. is also known for having beautiful scuba spots, but almost just as exciting snorkeling spots, as well as being a lively spot to enjoy the night.  Staying in a great hostel by the name of “La Boheme” we were able to congregate with about 15 people and spent most of each night at “Sama Sama” reggae bar before singing along with some performers in the street and one night even staying up for sunrise on the beach with said performers.  By day we biked the entire island in less than 45 minutes and found a snorkel spot called turtle bay where we were lucky to find and swim with 4 different turtles.  It had been 7 years since the last time I snorkeled with Turtles in Hawaii and I forgot how enjoyable it was to take the back seat and just follow them around as they go about the world that they know best and that we are just visiting.  It is hard to leave this type of miniature paradise, but with trying to get a few more days of surf in before ending our trip and Gili’s one surf spot not having a swell this time of year we needed to head back to Bali.

A Gili Trawangan can enjoying the party lifestyle
A Gili Trawangan can enjoying the party lifestyle (He was just napping but great product placement for Bintang)

With 7 nights left we picked a new place in the South peninsula of Bali where we were able to visit the magnificent Ulluwatu Hindu temple a top a steep cliff overlooking fierce seas and housing some pretty feisty monkeys who fancied my hat but didn’t succeed in acquiring it.  After a few days we were having a hard time finding the appropriate surf conditions for our level so we decided to head back to the familiar ground of Canggu.

During the process of moving up North we had a few issues with transportation.  Getting lost is frequent and we usually find our way with help from a few resources, but this time on the moto we had a few additional complications.  First we got pulled over by a cop on a motorcycle…Bali cops are notorious for making up fines and taking all of the money you have on you.  This is a huge problem because we had just come from the airport after ironing out an airline issue, so we just so happened to have all of our money, cards, and passports on us.  This was a unique scenario in itself being our first real run in with authority, but unlike the stories we had heard of police flagging you down and making you pull over, he actually followed us and pulled beside us, telling us that we had run a red light and needed to follow him back to his post.  Initially tried playing the ignorant tourist card, waving hello and kept driving in hopes of him being lazy.  He wasn’t having it.  Round two he cut us off and the conversation was much more aggressive.  He forced us to turn around and then led the way to his post, consistently looking back to make sure we were right on his tail.  We travelled a block and then came to an intersection where he crossed traffic but we could not follow with oncoming vehicles and for the first time we had 15 to 20 meters of space.  Being the driver I turned and had a milli-second conversation with Conrad and just as fast whipped the bike around and drove like lightning.  That day I drove like a true local, making questionable passes and needing to use the front brake constantly to avoid rear-ending other motorists, but also go as fast as mechanically possible.  The cops bike would have been 3-4x faster than ours and after a stunt like this the repercussions would have no doubt been severe.  Heart pounding out of my chest, we frantically searched for the first side street, peeled in and continued to do some zig-zagging around in hopes that we had either lost him or he had returned to the main road to scam the next tourist victim.  We did escape but with the outcome of a popped back tire.  I feel bad for the old tire that has to support 2 fully grown guys zooming around like mad men.

Bath time in Ubud's Monkey Forest
Bath time in Ubud’s Monkey Forest

 

Definitely the most intense experience of the trip and impossible to fully express how thrilling it was as a blogger.  Our last 4 days in Bali were much less eventful in a good way and were spent surfing, relaxing, visiting the nearby Tannah Lot temple on the coast, and making a day trip to drive up through the rice fields to Ubud, seeing the Monkey Forest where they climb all over you in search of a raised or hiding banana, did some souvenir shopping, and stumbled upon an AgroTourism Coffee Plantation that was really cool and allowed us to try 13 local coffee’s and teas that were all unique explosions of flavor.

Wrapping up travels through Bali, excursions through our fourth country, and the conclusion of our backpacking trip we headed off to the airport to begin our 52+ hours of travel including flights through 1.Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 2.Guangzhou, China and 3.Los Angeles, CA, and two 12+ hour layovers…literally the longest days possible.  This blog has been long enough with so much to talk about, so I will save a short recap blog in the coming weeks.  We will arrive home in just a few hours now and start getting used to real life again.  Great timing with the Christmas spirit being in full force and being fully ready to jump right in to caroling.

This blog was very scattered brained so I apologize and thanks for your interest.

Merry Christmas!!!”

Cheers,

-The Scarf Guys

P.S. Click here to pick your scarf and join the party!

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