Sunday, September 30, 2007

What a great holiday!

We wanted to tell you about our holiday we've just had in Gili Air in Lombok, Indonesia. On the way over on a little boat we got talking to this over enthusiastic middle aged Californian ex-pat lady, and she asked us whether we wanted to stay in her house for a week whilst she went back to Bali. We weren't convinced until she mentioned she had a dog and a kitten that needed looking after. That was it, we basically agreed even before seeing the place, meeting the pets, or getting off the boat!

The house was kind of odd but OK, it was right on the beautiful white sandy beach and it included kitchen, lounge, a DVD player, and the rather reluctant services of a maid. But the best bit was the animals! We really fell in love with Shadow, the crazy ADHD cat, and Arien, the neurotic and needy mongrel dog (she has something to do with a Labrador, but the rest is anyone's guess - something very low slung probably). We threw ourselves into the family idyll with great gusto. By the second day Arien (the dog) followed us everywhere, here dogs run around freely, and she would never let us out of her sight. If either of us even left the room when we were at home she would get terribly upset and worried, but she was great fun to play with on the beach, and she was really well trained. She came to us whenever we whistled or called her name, and people were impressed how well we had trained her. They all thought she was ours, and we loved it! We taught her to swim as well which was really sweet, until we went off snorkeling and after a while noticed she had come after us and was swimming quite far from the shore - yikes! Shadow (the kitten) was really small boned and had something to do with a Persian breed, and she looked like a little ball of fluff and fur. Dan was very excited because he seems to have gotten over his cat allergy for the moment, which meant he could play with the cat loads.

This probably isn't very exciting for a lot of you dear readers, but this is very exciting for us, having the chance to play home after 6 months on the road!

Gili Air is probably one of the best places we've been so far. It doesn't have any cars or motorbikes or anything annoying, the only transport is horse and cart (just like in the good old days, Kati & Johku!), but you can walk around the whole island in about 1.5 hours. Arien got to do that walk plenty of times with us, which probably isn't something she's used to with her real owner, but she had a brilliant time with us. It's all white sand, turquoise crystal water, amazing snorkeling, and really fantastic food. So again, we really recommend it! We ended up staying there for 10 days and didn't want to leave... So it felt like a proper holiday from travelling!

We came to Sengiggi (still in Lombok) for a stop over tonight, and tomorrow we're off to Kuta in the south of Lombok for some more white sands and quiet beaches, it's a hard life!

Hope you like the photos of our new found family! We've desperately tried to put them here, but computer says no. So you'll have to click on the right again to have a look.

Lots of love,
Jenni & Dan

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Six down, six to go

Hi everyone, it's Jenni! Today is our 6 month anniversary when it comes to our travels, so we've still got half to go! It feels like we've been gone for ages and ages, and at times we really miss being at home... Dan misses cooking (I obviously can't say the same), I miss wearing pretty (and clean) clothes, and we just generally have started to feel the weight of having to make constant decisions about which country / city to go to next, where to stay for the night, which restaurant / street stall to eat at this morning / this lunchtime / this evening, what activities to do each day... You see what I mean! But then again, we are so lucky to be here, seeing all these amazing places and beautiful countryside and meeting new interesting people, so we know we really shouldn't complain!

After we left Yogiakarta where we wrote last, we did a hellish 12 hour minibus journey to Gunung Bromo which is a volcano in Eastern Java. What you're supposed to do there is to see the sunrise (in that region the sun rises at 5.30, but we arrived there at an unfairly early time of 4.00!). Although it was fantastically freezing at the altitude we were at, it was very beautiful. Gunung Bromo is an active volcano surrounded by a few others, one of which is a very high cone shaped one, puffing out black smoke every hour.

After the sunrise they drive you down in your hugely over the top, off-road jeep type of vehicle into the crate so that you can walk up the volcano. When we got down there it was still full of mist, and as we drove nearer we were greeted by hundreds of tiny horses and their owners wanting you to hire them to take you the 200meters to the steps up the volcano. It was a great scene watching every jeep driving through the mist and getting surrounded by horses (which is an animal you rarely see around here and then suddenly at 5am in a volcano crater there are loads!).

It's Dan now, Jenni got too hot and had to go outside to get some fresh air. We have done a bit of exploring the countryside in Bali, which is really beautiful, lots of terraced rice fields, lakes, mountains and beaches. We hired scooters a couple of times as this gives you so much more freedom than anything else (and its the cheapest option).

We have been very good at being careful and driving slowly and avoiding all the various dogs and cats and children that are liable to jump out in front of you at any moment. the local bird population has been less careful though on a particularly picturesque road along the top of a mountain ridge a lovely swallow swooped down in front of us and straight into my face! luckily for me I had my visor down so I didn't get bird in my eye, but I think it may have got a bit more visor in his eyes than he had planned for!

A few days later on another bike we got pulled over by the police for going the wrong way on a one way street and driving without an international driving licence, both things we were guilt of but also felt were pretty unfair. We followed a whole group of locals the wrong way down this street, who all seemed to magically disappear just before the policeman! Somehow, we are not really sure how, we managed to first talk our way out of the licence fine leaving just the traffic fine, and then after a couple more minutes of chat and the arrival of some other tourists he could stop he decided to drop all the charges and let us go without paying a bean, brilliant!

We have been very good over the last few weeks at going to cultural things! We have managed lots of temples and historical sites and culturally significant things, we are very proud of ourselves. In Yogiakarta we even had a very long tour of the huge Hindu temple with a guide who turned out to be very into theology and philosophy, we were quite out of our depth but the bits we did understand were great!

We went to a really cool dance the other night in Ubud, Bali. It was called the Kecek fire and Trance dance. It was cool we chose it because it is the only one that isn't accompanied by gamalan music that we have rather gone off over the weeks! Instead it is accompanied by 100 men who sit on the floor singing and chanting and clapping and hooting and things which makes a really cool sound and gives the whole thing a great atmosphere. The actual dance is done by others in fancy sparkly costumes. The story is part of the long Ramanyana ballet story, that we saw in Yogiakarta (aren't we getting cultural!), it is a slightly confusing story that seems to involve various princes, princesses, monkeys and birds going about the forest fighting people, destroying the flower beds and burning things, quite fun really!

At the end of this performance they did the trance dance, when one of the men from the group of 100 gets into a trance from all the singing he has been doing, picks up his hobby horse and then runs about through a big pile of burning coconut husks! He is bare foot and does it until the fire is pretty much out, at which point he goes a bit crazy and the other men have to chase after him and wrestle him to the ground to bring him out of the trance! We loved it, we were in the front row so got lots of embers kicked on us and things which add spice to any dance performance!

If you ever find yourself in Ubud, Bali there is a lovely little place to stay right in the centre called Raka House. It is owned by an old man called Raka (who always talks about himself in the third person!) and his family, it is very friendly and the 4 rooms are like posh hotel rooms, but only cost about 5pounds/7euros a night, they are way, way nicer than anything else in the area so it is worth looking him up. It is next to Sayong house which is in Lonely planet, but the rooms there smell and are a bit grotty.

Well that is all for now, we are off to Gilli air tomorrow which is supposed to be a paradise beach island, off Lombok, for a bit of sand and sea.

Lots of love,

Dan & Jenni

Friday, September 14, 2007

We're fine!

We have received text messages and emails asking whether we're OK, and we are! The messages were the first we had heard of the massive earth quakes in Sumatra that took place a couple of days ago. We've been in Bali for just over a week, so luckily we're well away from it all. Thank you for all your concern, and for keeping us up to date with current affairs! As for the trip, we've been up the Mount Bromo volcano in Java, Lovina in Northern Bali, and now we're in Ubud, which is the cultural (and souvenir) centre of Bali. More to follow soon...

Jenni & Dan

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Javanese sanctuary

Hi there it's Jenni! Just a quick blog for you this time, I think I'll have to give you guys a break after the way Dan went on and on in his last epic!

We're in Java and we like it here! The public buses go according to the timetable, the coffee is fantastic, the roads have a hard surface, people give way to pedestrians, and they seem to obey the traffic lights! Madness!It's very different from Sumatra, especially if you compare the public buses. In Sumatra it took us one day 12 hours to travel the distance of about 170km, but then about 2.5 hours to do 95km another day. The best was 1.5 hours to do 10km. The distance really doesn't give you any idea of how long it will take to get there. Imagine all this done in the boiling hot tropical sun with our huge backpacks to wrestle with, on roads that sometimes have more resemblance to the craters on the surface of the moon than what you would call a road.

This will take me nicely to the next bit, where I'll be telling you about how we've spent a lovely 7 days in one city! We're in Yogyakarta, and have found a really lovely hotel with a swimming pool, lush garden, unlimited coffee&tea, daily afternoon cakes brought to you on a tray, need we say more?

Another odd thing is that the bits of Indonesia we've seen so far seem to be inundated with Dutch people! We wanted to give special mention to Terence and Geety from Amsterdam, whom we first met at Lake Toba (where they stayed in OUR hotel and ate in OUR restaurant), and who then continued to stalk us via Bukit Lawang (where they, again, stayed in OUR hotel and ate in OUR restaurant), back to Medan (where they also stayed in OUR hotel and used OUR Internet cafe), and this continued all the way to here in Yogyakarta, where they kept "bumping into us" on the streets. In the end we decided to confront them about their stalking problem and after a few beers and a meal, we haven't seen them since. ;)

That is one thing that we have really noticed over the last few months, various towns or resorts in whatever country often seem to have a large population of tourists from one particular country. It is kind of weird as you walk around and everyone is Swedish (Koh Tao in Thailand), English (Cameron Highlands in Malaysia), German (Perenthian Islands in Malaysia) and French (Cherating in Malaysia) and, well you get the point! It's still really odd, it's like we're travelling around Europe!!! Not really sure how that happens, they're not on organised tours, they're all independent travellers, but end up in these specific towns in South East Asia!

Anyway, tomorrow we're giving up our little restful sanctuary, and going to climb a volcano called Gunung Bromo! We've taken in all your wishes we tried to avoid danger, and in the end decided not to climb Merapi, one of the most destructive as well as the 6th most active volcano in the world, which is what we had first planned (it's just outside the city we're in at the moment, so it would be a short bus journey, if you get the point). This means that we've got a 10 hour bus journey ahead of us tomorrow! After the stint with the Gunung Bromo volcano which is active, but not quite so deadly (which we'll climb at dawn to get the view of sun rising behind it, with a view of Bali in the background) we'll be heading to Bali for some sand!

Sorry we haven't had any exciting chases and adventures this time, the closest we have had is a handful of over enthusiastic rickshaw drivers following us down the road. We'll put some new photos up soon, for you to marvel at. Oh and we tried (with a little help from Jamie) to create a map with our route showing, so you can see all the little obscure places we stay at, but it isn't brilliant yet, but we'll get the hang of it soon!

Lots of love to all,
Jenni & Dan