i dont have time to post on the last few days in tokyo right now, so here are my photos from singapore and indonesia which i never got around to posting .
so, that’s the end of our time in southeast asia. it’s been a great couple of months. i came here not really sure exactly which countries we would see and i ended up going to myanmar, thailand, singapore, and indonesia. all of them were great. they all mostly had this chill laidback kind of vibe, tropical weather that was a bit hot at times, and friendly outgoing people. despite these similarities, they all were very unique and different from each other.
myanmar had hardly any tourist infrustructure, traveling was slow and rough, and the people there weren’t used to toursists. because of this, the people there were ridiculously friendly and everyone wnated to meet you and say hello. no one there was out to screw you over to get your money. no hassling anywhere. on the opposite end of that spectrum, thailand was all about tourism. everywhere you went you were surrounded by internet cafes, hotels, bus companies, etc. thailand has had a huge flow of tourists for many many years and it definitely shows. travel there is ridiculously easy cause everything is set up to make life good for tourists. this definitely helps on one hand, but you definitely get a lot more hassles from people and also some people there are definitely just out to get your money. despite that, thailand’s an amazing place, and most people you meet are extremely nice. the thai people are incredible industrious yet totally mellow at the same time. somewhere inbetween the two lies indonesia. they definitley have a budding tourism industry. some places like bali are overrun w/ tourists, while others like flores hardly get vistied. travel is fairly difficult. the people there.. i dunno. some people were incredible nice, but others really seemed to dislike tourists. i definitely often got the feeling i was being laughed at or mocked. and then there’s singapore… a place unlike any other in SE asia. its huge skyscrapers and high costs definitely make it stand out from the other countries.
these places also have very different kinds of foods. the food in myanmar was some of the worst i’ve had anywhere, the food in thailand was some of the best, and the food in indonesia was well… kind of limited. all of these countries were highly religious and i saw a ridiculous amount of temples in all of them. also, the amount on natural beauty in all these places was absolutely spectacular. this region is just so incredibly beautiful.
and now, we’re about to totally change our pace and leave southesat asia. we’re going to japan. a country so insanely different than any other we’ve been to. all the places we’ve been to have mostly been developing countries. we’ve explored tiny villages, we’ve searched for places as remote as possible. places that have hardly any technology. and now japan will be such a crazy change. one of the most industrialized countries. one of the most expensive countries. huge shiny cities. high-tech gadgets. i cant wait…….
there is this rule that a lot of countries have. the onward ticket rule. basically the rule is that when you come to their country to visit, you must own an onward ticket to leave the country. this is so they have assurance that you really will leave the country instead of just sneakily staying there forever. alot of countries actually have this rule, but the thing is that prettty much no one enforces it. as long as you dont look like some hella shady character or anything, they wont care. i’ve been traveling for 8 months now and have been to 18 countries and not a single place has ever actually asked me to prove that i have an onward ticket. not one.
anyways, when we got to the airport to board our flight to japan, all of a sudden the guy at the check-in counter asks to see our onward ticket out of japan. we tell him that we dont have one yet and that we’ll buy a ticket once we get to japan. he tells us then that we are not allowed to board the flight. we tell him that basically, it’s our own problem whether or not we have this onward ticket. that this has absolutely nothing to do w/ his airline and that if japanese immigrations has an issue w/ it then we can handle it with them. he wont budge. he wont let us board w/out an onward ticket. we then get sent to customer service.
we argue back and forth w/ them for a long time and no matter what we say, they wont let us get on the plane w/out the onward ticket. even though we keep repeating that it is our own problem whether or not we have this ticket and that we have never ever ever had any issues w/ not having an onward ticket, they keep insisting that they can’t let us fly and say that allegedly, the government of japan will fine them if they let us on the plane. basically, our case is this: either a) this is a rule of the japanese govt. in this case, garuda should have nothing to do w/ it and just shut the hell up. or b) this is a rule of garuda’s in which case they should notify everyone that buys tickets through them that this is a rule that they enforce. it’s completely ridiculous to all of a sudden spring this on us at the last second, only an hour before our flight. no matter what we tell them though, they just wont listen.
finally, we give up. fine then. we’ll buy the stupid onward ticket. sell us a fully refundable ticket from japan to china. well, the other bullshit thing about garuda that i didnt mention before, is that they jack you on the exchange rate. the current exchange is 9,400 rupiah to one dollar, but garuda converts money at over 10,000 rupiah per dollar. that’s a huge difference. so basically, if we buy 2,000$ woth of tix from them, we basically get hit with a 120$ dollar fee. i cant believe they get away w/ that. then, on top of that, the “fully refundable” tix cost 50$ to refund. so basically, by buying these refundable tix from them, we are losing 170$ altogether. quite a bit of money. ugh.
but, what can we do?? our flight is about to leave. we’re starting to get nervous. we have no choice. i hand over my credit card. the customer service takes it’s own sweet time helping us. they help some other customers first, spend forever on the computer, etc etc. finally they ring us up…. and my card gets declined. oh crap. apparently i only had like 2,200$ in my acct and the tix cost like 2,600. we start arguing w/ them again. they just wont listen to anything we have to say. we tell them, that my little brother (sure he’s actually 24, but we exaggerate to make him sound like just a little boy) is flying in to tokyo and we are to meet him at the airport. if we dont get on this flight, my little brother, who has never been in a foreign country alone, will be stranded all alone at the airport and we have no way of contacting him. they dont care.
time is ticking away. when there is 10 minutes to take off, they tell us it’s too late. they wont let us fly. FUCK. i’m totally freaking out. we CANT miss that flight. we were ready to leave.. we’re at the damn airport. plus, what would my brother do??? arrrggghhhh!! so i say, screw the china tickets. sell us anything. tickets to korea, whatever you got. just sell me two of the cheapest tix out of japan… i NEED to get on the flight. they say once again that it’s too late. i ask them if they can just hold the flight for *10* minutes. it’s *their* fault we aremissing our flight. they screwed us over. just please please help us out. hold the flight for 10 minutes and sell us some tickets. we’ll pay the extra fees. we’ll do anything. my brother’s gonna be lost at the airport wondering where we are. please… PLEASE.. please??? the guy just flatly says no. he wont. garuda has one of the worst records for being on time out of any airline. they are *consistantly* late and hardly ever on time, but this one time he cant hold a flight for a couple of minutes.
i pretty much totally lost it at this point. i was yelling, swearing, throwing my bags around their office. i was insanely pissed. i couldnt believe that we actually missed our damn flight because of these bastards. i hate garuda airlines soooo much. i just cant believe how much they suck. but what can you do. eventually we got our stuff, and left the airport. the next day was utter hell as we searched the internet to find fully refundable tix out of japan. most internet sites dont really clarify whether or not their tix are refundable or not. eventually though, we found some tix that we *think* are refundable, and got on the flight to tokyo.. 24 hours late.
oh, and in case you’re wondering…. no, of course japan didnt give a crap about onward tickets. when we got to immigration, they didnt even ask about that. thanks a lot garuda.
after gili trawangan, we came back to Lombok. as soon as we got off the boat we were swarmed by people selling cheap necklaces, watches, and glasses. they followed us around and wouldnt take no for an answer. eventually though, we escaped and got a bus to sengigi. we spent two days in sengigi. we rented a scooter and used it to get to the nearby towns which was a lot of fun. blazing down the road, dodging other scooters, horse carts, guys pushing fruit stands, cars, etc. at first it was a bit scary to deal w/ so much traffic etc, but i got the hang of it after a while.
at one point i was going down the road when all of a sudden a large insect slammed into my face. crap! but to make things worse, it somehow got wedged between my helmet and my face. the next thing i knew i felt a sharp stabbing sensation in my cheek. yup, the insect had been a bee and i had gotten stung in the face. it sucked hardcore. after i pulled over i had to pull the stinger out of my face. sheez, i have such crap luck.
one of the places we stopped at was a balinese temple at Lingsar. this was supposed to be one of the most spectacular things around that area, but honestly it wasn’t all that impressive. one of the cool things about that pace was that they have this pool of water w/ “holy eels”. you can buy eggs to coax the eels to come out. we bought 3 eggs, and the guy working there slowly put little pieces of egg into the water. nothing happened. then he put an egg on a stick and swirled it around. nothing happened. no matter what he did, no eels. in the end we left dissapointed. we began to wonder if the “holy eel” thing was a scam just to get you to buy eggs. did they really exist? who knows.
we also stopped by a remote village so caryn could buy some Ikat, the traditional weaving that people do here. well, in the end she wasn’t really able to find anything that was exactly what she wanted. a lot of the traditional weaving and threads had now been replaced by synthetic stuff. we also decided to get some massages. caryn had a good one and really enjoyed it. mine was horrible!! everything the girl did was really painful. it didnt feel good at all. i was literally wincing in pain and when i asked her to ease up a bit, she just tried to tell me that she wasn’t pushing very hard and that i should drink more water. riiiiight.
oh, and the roosters in this town. holy crap. the loudest roosters of all time. they were just driving me nuts and were crowing at all hours of the night. i just dont get what’s wrong with those damn birds. do they just sit there bored out of their minds in the middle of the night and just think to themselves “hrmmm. mighty bored. cant think of anything to do. wait… i know!! i just had a great idea. how about i just start yelling as loud as i can for a long time. that sounds like a good time!”. after a while i started concocting plans on a new device that i could sell to travelers.. a rooster muzzle. this could be the next big thing!
anyways, sengigi itself is a nice little town.. but also kind of a sad scene. it obviously was meant to be a big tourist center. tons of hotel, tons of restaurants, tons of tour companies, nice beaches, great weather… but no tourists. because of that, everyone there is just desperate for business. as you walk down the street people are constantly running up to you trying to sell you junk or offer you a ride, or whatnot. empty restaurants blast music to nobody while the waiters sit around inside looking bored. the whole town was like a huge party where none of the guests showed up. and because there were so few people, the touts outnumbered us by a lot. on one hand, it was soooo annoying to deal w/ people constantly interrupting our meals, walks, everything by trying to sell us junk, but at the same time i really felt bad for these guys. how many 5$ watches were they really gonna sell in one day? 1 maybe?
after 2 days, we took a ferry over to bali. just as the town of sengigi was, the docks were also full of people selling stuff. here it was mainly fried rice, fruit, and ramen. vendors were pushing each other out of the way and scrambling just to sell a bit of their stuff. competition was fierce. i ended up feeling bad everytime i told someone i wasn’t hungry. the instant noodles here are excellent by the way.. they’re called “pop mie” and they’re damn good.
after an exhausting 5 hour ferry ride (the boat trip was actually only 3.5 hours, but then we sat around outside the harbor for 1.5 hours till we were able to finally dock), we arrived in bali. we were gonna stay in kuta just for a day until our flight to tokyo. in kuta we hung out w/ caryn’s friend becca and her boyfriend which was cool. kuta is INSANE. so damn touristy. there is like 100 mcdonalds, 50 starbucks, 40 kfcs.. etc etc. ok, maybe those numbers are a slight exaggeration, but really there are so many of them. this place is like spring break waikiki style or something. totally not our scene and we’ll be glad to get out of it!
after spending 2 days in labuanbajo, it was finally time for us to leave flores. our plan was to fly to Lombok, which is the island next to Bali.. it’s known for being similar to bali in natural beauty etc but less touristy. we got to the airport to wait for our 12 pm flight. the airport was *tiny*. after waiting for a while, we started wondering why the plane that was supposed to fly in and then take us to Lombok had still not arrived. 12pm rolls around, still no plane. then 12:30, and then 1pm. caryn went to go investigate. she ran into a group of nuns who told her that they had just received a text message from another nun who was supposed to fly in on the plane we were waiting for, and the message had said that her flight was cancelled. if that flight was cancelled, then obviously we would not have a plane here to take us anywhere. caryn went to go ask the desk and they had no clue why the plane hadn’t yet arrived and didnt even know that the flight might have been cancelled. apparently, when looking for info on flights, the airline workers are not as well informed as the nuns… go figure. eventually, half an hour later the news was confirmed. our flight was cancelled. we were given little packages of rice and curry (that we had to eat w/ our hands) and told to come back the next day. grrrrrr. we caught a taxi back into town and spent the rest of the day drinking beers w/ josh and keith in a bar with a beautiful view of the coast. not a bad way to send the rest of the day.
the following day we were back at the airport waiting for our flight. the nuns were back as well, and we kept a close eye on them to see if they might get any news that we werent aware of. this time the flight actually came in. an hour later we landed in denpasar (for a stopover) and then ended up having to wait for 5 hours since our connecting flight was delayed. always the same old story in this country… hurry, hurry, hurry, wait, wait, wait.
in lombok, we spent one night in sengigi and the following morning were off to the Gili islands. the gili islands are three tiny little islands off the coast of lombok. we initally planned to split our time betwen two islands, but in the end, we just spent all 5 days on just one of them: Gili Trawangan.
being on gili trawangan was like being on a little island paradise. first off, this island is small.. really small! it’s only about half a kilometer wide and maybe 3/4 a kilometer long. even though this was “the party island” of the 3 gilis, since it was the low season, there was actually very few people there and the beaches were fairly empty. the water there was the most incredible light blue color. actually, the slow contrast from white sand, to light blue water, to dark blue water where it gets deeper was incredible. just across the way you could see the beautiful greenery of Gili Air, the next island. the sand here was really unique. it was white sand, but just below the surface, there was black sand so when you walked across the beach or when you pulled your hand through the sand it would make patterns of black and white. most of the time that we spent on the island was spent just hanging out, sitting around on the beach, snorkelling, and chilling in the wide assortment of cafes. being able to sit around and do pretty much nothing except for relaxing for 5 straight days was absolutely perfect. we loved it!
some other things about Gili trawangan:
there are no cars or motorbikes on the island anywhere which makes the island even more peaceful.
unfortunately, the way some tourists get around the island is by horsecart, and all the horses on the island looked really sad and abused.
most of the people who lived here on the island were extremely laid back and friendly. their time was mostly spent sitting around in paradise and once in a while trying to get tourists to come into their shops. i wondered what these people would think if they were taken to NYC or some other crazy fast-paced bustling city. how would these mellow people interact w/ the manic super aggro people of the big cities?
hallucinogenic mushrooms are legal on the island and they are sold *everywhere*.
there was a huge mosque right behind our bungalow and it was LOUD. at one point it was so loud that i actually wondered if the speaker was right there inside our room.
the call to prayer from the mosque could be heard quite loudly on the beach as well. it was really a bizzare surreal thing to see lazy tourist chilling on the beach, bikini clad and sometimes topless women sunbathing, and snorkellers… all w/ the muslim call to prayer as the sountrack. such an odd contrast.
it was also somewhat odd to see muslim women who were covered head to toe and wearing headcoverings running around on the beach giggling and chasing each other.
there were tons of cats on the island. i started wondering what would happen if you put one of these mellow island cats in the same place as a city cat. would they be able to relate? are city cats different than island cats?
a local we were talking to was telling us that he was spending time hanging out w/ an italian who didnt speak very much english. he was talking about how difficult it was to communicate and was saying that they had to “talk like tarzan” to understand each other. i thought that was kind of a perfect way to describe the way we often have to communicate w/ people around here. i constantly find myself simplifying my sentences to the bare minimum so as to get my point across… heh, soon i wont know how to speak normal english anymore!
our favorite restaurant there was called the Living Room. like all the other restaurants on the island, it had little raised platforms that you could sit on w/ cushions. it’s so perfect to just sit there, lean back on your cushion and feel the breeze flow by as you sip your drinks. ahhhhh. the thing that separated this place from the other restaurants was that the food was so damn good, and the waiter was ridiculously friendly. it’s sad though. the poor guy is from lombok. he had to leave there cause there are no jobs. he came here and is working at this restaurant, *7* days a week from morning to 11pm. he never gets a day off even when he is sick. he has no free time. he has no life other than the restaurant. yet that is what he has to do to earn a living. *sigh*.
we went on two dives on the island. caryn was a bit nervous since she hadn’t been diving since she got certified in egypt, but she got the hang of it fairly quick. the dives were really mellow, but we still saw a ton of stuff. we saw an eel, a bunch of lionfish, several cuttlefish (one of which was changing colors), a large sea snake and several sea turtles.
ding ding ding!!!
wow, it seems like every time i look at the calendar, it’s been 2 more months that i’ve been on the road. it’s starting to seem almost weird that i’ve ever had a life different than this. how is it that i used to spend my days before this trip? sitting all day in front of a computer working? ew. anyways, here’s a quick recap of what i’ve done i the last 2 months:
I’ve had my backpack almost stolen on an indian train; I’ve worn a skirt… ahem, i mean a longyi; I’ve befriended a guy from myanmar who spent two days showing me around his city; I’ve been secretly slipped hand written pro-democracy notes while on a bus in a country ruled by a military dictatorship; i’ve seen a buddha statue taller han a 10 story building and another buddha statue as long as a football field; i’ve gone on a two day boat trip w/ a burmese family to a spirit festival that no other toursit has ben to before; i witnessed two fights in two consecutive days; i was invited to eat freshly caught fish at a fisherman’s house; i hung out at a lake where people grew gardens on the water and rowed boats w/ their feet; i went trekking and slept in the home of a villager; i met up w/ my friend Ryan from home; i got a new camera from my parents; i got to drive scooters around again; i saw caryn fall off a dive boat and have to get a dozen stitches; i met up w/ my friend Jason from back home; i spent an insane two days running around and spraying everyone w/ water during Thailand’s water festival; i’ve been blessed by a buddhist monk in a watt on top of a hill; i drank a singapore sling in the bar where it was invented; i’ve walked on the rim of an active volcano; i saw Caryn teach people in a remote village how to do the electric slide while listening to Ice Ice Baby; I saw the ferocious dragons of Komodo island; i scuba dived w/ Manta Rays and also saw an eel over 6 feet long.
heh, every new 2 months brings new adventures.
anyways, i do this every two months, so here it is again. if you’re out there and you are reading this, please comment to this post. put whatever you want in your comment. if you dont have much time or dont want to comment, then at least put hello. otherwise, i have no clue who’s reading!
there’s pretty much nothing more imressive to see while scuba diving than a manta ray. i remember talking to a dive instructor in egypt who had seen a few here and there. he said it was the most amazing thing he’s ever seen. he said that when you see one, you immediately lose all sense of what you’re doing and where you are.. you’re just completely transfixed on the manta. even sharks dont compare to manta rays. some divers have been so mesmerized by these things that they’ve slowly drifted off after the ray, completely distracted, and then found themselves having to struggle to find their way back.
off the coast of Komodo, there is a dive site where people often spot manta rays. it seemed like kind of a once in a lifetime opportunity, so Keith, Josh and I shelled out hella cash to go dive there (it costs a lot since it takes 4 hours by boat to get there). the boat ride out there seemed to take ages and since we had set off at 5am, i tried to get a little sleep on the boat. i was woken up by being splashed in the face w/ a bunch of water. the ocean was super choppy and the boat was rocking like crazy, sending water spraying onboard. looking out of the boat, i could tell why indonesia had 17,000 islands. there were islands *everywhere*. small islands, tiny islands, medium sized islands. everywhere i looked there would be little mountainous green patches jutting out of the blue ocean. the scenery was fantastic!
eventually we finally got to the dive site. the instructor warned us that there would be some hard currents and that there was also a lot of surge so we should be careful. when we descended, we were instantly surrounded by an insane amount of fish. the divemaster had told us before that this would be like “swimming in fish soup”, and it really was. you almost didnt know which way to look first cause there were so many fish everywehere. this was probably the most beautiful dive i’ve ever done. there was just such a huge variety of colorful fish and also the coral here was just astounding. soon after we started the dive, the divemaster made the sign for manta and pointed off in the distance. try as i could, i just didnt see it. the visibilty wasn’t too great. later on he spotted another manta, but once again, i missed it. i started worrying that i might never get to see one. yeah, the dive was absolutely spectacular even without mantas, but still… dammit, i wanted a manta!
the current down there was really strong just as the instructor had said. and the surge totally rocked us back and forth. we had to kick as hard as we could to move at all when the surge was pulling us back, and then it would just rocket us forward. eventually we got to a part where the current was so strong that we literally couldnt move forward at all. the divemaster told us to ascend. we were really close to some huge rocks jutting out of the water so we had to swim away from them to get to the boat. we swam and swam and swam. when i turned around, the rocks were still just as close. we weren’t getting anywhere. eventually, the boat had to maneuver closer to us and then they threw us a rope which we had to grab and it towed us away from the rocks. by this point, we were already all exhausted and could barely hold on to this rope. once we were away from the rocks, we clung to another rope along the side of the boat and tried to remove our gear. the boat kept rocking up and down though and we were constantly in danger of having the whole thing come down on our heads. luckily everything turned out ok (except for josh losing his weight belt), and soon we were on deck, tired and hungry.
after waiting around for an hour, we did our second dive. i was really worried now that i had come all the way out here and wouldnt get to see any mantas. i would be so pissed! luckily, that’s not what happened. instead, only a couple minutes later, we saw a manta. it was so amazing. these things are absolutely enormous. they are about 15 feet wide!! yes, really, that big. they garcefully travel through the water, slowly raising and lowering their “wings” as they move about. they are so insanely graceful and majestic. watching the manta slowly glide by feels like watching an angel or something else not from this world. seconds later i found myself crashing into some rocks as i had totally lost sense of what i was doing or where i was. it really was a magical experience. a few mintes later we saw another manta slowly glide by. then another. and then another. for the rest of the dive we kept seeing mantas proabbly every 5 minutes or so.
the sign outside the dive shop had said that this might be one of the best dives of your life, and it’s totally true. there really isn’t anything like diving w/ mantas. aside from the mantas, we also saw the hugest morray eel known to mankind. this thing was a bit over 6 feet long, and a couple feet wide. usually when you see eels, you only get to see a tiny bit of their head peeking out from a cave or from under a rock. not this time. we actually got to see the whole thing swimming through the water with its jaws open looking all menacing and vicious.
eventually the dive ended and we sailed home. when the sun set, we noticed all these tiny little phosphorescent dots glowing in the water. some kind of little glowy plant or animal. the cool thing is that it turned on it’s glow when it detected motion, so as our boat sailed, only the ones near the boat’s path lit up. it looked like the boat was shooting off sparks as it swam through the ocean. the view was especially cool when looking from the back of the boat, the whole wake of the boat was glowing and it looked lke we were some kind of rocket ship sending out a blaze behind us…
when i was a little kid, my parents took me to some zoo, and i was absolutely shocked and amazed to see that the zoo had dragons. they were *huge* scaley and loooked freaky as hell. Komodo Dragons are actually techinally a species of monitor lizard, but to me these enormous monsters were almost as good as the real thing. actually, some people think that belief in dragons originated from people who saw these giant reptiles. there are very few of these dragons on earth, and they only live on two small islands off the coast of Flores: Komodo island and Rinca island.
we took a boat from Labuanbajo to Rinca along w/ Keith and Josh, two british guys that we met at our hotel. when we arrived, we nervously got out of the boat and walked towards the ranger station. we had good reason to be nervous. the dragons are huge, growing larger than 10 feet long and their bite is often fatal due to insane amounts of bacteria in their mouths. these guys eat their prey whole, and can swallow an entire goat all at once! add to that the fact that they can run faster than humans and things get a bit sketchy. at the ranger station we got a guide (who was armed with a big stick) and we were on our way. only a couple minutes later, we saw dragons. we were passing by the ranger’s cafe, and this is apparently an area where the dragons congregate cause they smell food.
it was really quite a sight! there were 6 or 7 of them ranging from tiny little 2 footers, to one huge one that was probably about 10 feet long! most of them were just laying around and not doing anything.. somthing that reptiles are quite good at. the ranger tried to throw some stuff near them to get them to move around, but they weren’t having it. only the smaller little guys would run about, eating small bugs and stuff. on one hand, we kind of hoped the huge beats would do something exciting, but on the other hand, it was probably good not to have them get too crazy!
our guide then took us on a hike around the island. we saw the skeleton remains of a buffalo that was eaten by dragons. we also saw one live buffalo munching on grass and also saw some monkeys. that was pretty much it! of course, the island was beautiful w/ some incredible views, but we were hoping for a bit more wildlife. and we also didnt see anymore dragons that day.. apparently they’re just too lazy to wander very far from the cafe!
after taking a few last photos of the dragons by the cafe, we left the island. even though the dragon experience had been rather short, i was still so excited to have gotten to see them! it’s something i’ve been interested in ever since i was small, and really, not everyone can say that they’ve seen a real dragon!
…more on Flores…
after being used to the *huge* food menus in thailand, where there are hundreds of different dishes, the food in indonesia offered much less variety. the two main dishes served everywhere are Nasi Goreng or Mie Goreng which is fried rice and fried noodles respectively. often these are served w/ a fried egg on top. although the fried rice is usually not too exciting, the fried noodles are often really really good. other than those two things, people here often eat chicken or beef satay which are skewered meats w/ an incredibly delicious spicy peanut sauce, and Gado Gado which is vegetables w/ peanut sauce. these four things will be on pretty much every menu, no matter what, and other than that there isn’t much else unless you’re in a touristy restaurant that serves western food.
most cultures we’ve seen so far have some kind of spicy sauce to spice up their food. in the middle east it was harissa which had a bit of a bitter spicy taste. in india they use carrot pickle which is bits of carrot mixed w/ bitter mellon and packs a lot of kick. in thailand, people either use chili paste, tiny peppers in fish sauce, or chili flakes. here, they have something called sambal. often you get it in a little condiment container and it’s mildly spicy and tart. but sometimes you get the homemade stuff and it is HOT!! this stuff is so crazy spicy. you put just a tiny dab on your food and stir it in and your mouth is on fire. this must be straight up ground peppers and not much else!
pretty much everyone here, no matter how little english they know, knows how to say “hello mister”. except the way they say it, mister is more like meester. we are constantly having this yelled to us by people from everywhere.. and yes, more often than not caryn is a “meester” as well. little kids constantly run up to us and yell “hello mister” to us. adults do too. often times, since that’s the only english they know, after we say “hi” back, they’ll just stand there not knowing what else to say.
once we left maumere, the first thing we wanted to see was kelimutu. this is a huge volcanic area that has 3 small lakes all near each other, with the spectacular thing being that all the lakes are a different color. one is aqua, one is brown, and the last one is black. people aren’t exactly sure why the lakes are different colors, and apparently these lakes slowly change color over time too. we got to the town by Kelimutu late at night and were told that the best time to see stuff was at sunrise. ouch! we were so sick of getting up early for sunrises by now! i mean, yeah sure, sunrises are nice and all, but honestly they’re a bit overrated i think. although, i guess in general almost nothing is worth getting up at that time of morning!
anyways, we got up way early, got a bemo ride up to the top of the mountain and hiked out to the lakes. i gotta say, i was rather dissapointed. first off, only two of the lakes are next to each other, while the third one is kind of off to the side. second off, the brown lake and black lake… i dunno, they just aren’t that exciting. the aqua colored one was really cool. especially cause you could see vapors rising from inside it making weird little whirlwind patterns on it’s light blue surface. it was cool to watch the lake swirl about as the mists moved. but still, considering that this was supposed to be the “most spectacular sight on flores”, i wasn’t too impressed… or maybe i was just really sleepy.
part of the reason i was so sleepy was the damn roosters again. even *with* ear plugs, they were still so loud that they woke me up over and over during my sleep. so annoying!!! not only that, but around 4 in the morning, all of a sudden the hotel staff started clanging this bell super loud outside our door. this went on for a long long time… i’m startiong to wonder if i’ll get any sleep ever in this country!
Bajawa is a small town with not much to do, but lots of people go there to see the traditional villages that are nearby. one of the main reasons to come to flores was to see how some of the small tribes live, so we booked a tour with a guide to go see them. one of the crazy things about this town were these humongous nasty grasshoppers that were all over the place. these things were HUGE! lots of times you’d be eating in a restaurant and then all of a sudden one would come flyng in and start crashing into random things, almost falling on your table. ew!
anyways, the following day, the guide showed up w/ two scooters and soon we were on our way. the roads on the way to the villages were utter crap. all over the place, the pavement would break down and we would be trying to go over random rocks and other debris. at one point the scooter that caryn was on ended up falling over. totally sketchy. but the shite quality of the roads was made up for by the incredible scenery all around. green rocky volcanic hill formations everywhere. trees w/ nutmeg, coffee, vanilla, and avocado. enormous bamboo that was so large that if i put a hand on either side, my fingertips wouldnt touch. incredible.
finally we got to the first village, Luba. this one was supposed to be the less touristy one. i expected our guide to take us through the village, help us interact w/ locals, show us different homes, etc etc. but no. he sat us down and gave us a 10 minute lecture on the way the people live and then said that if we wanted to walk around, we could. there werent really any villagers in town to be seen since most of them were out working in the fields. so basically, the “tour” was really dissapointing. of course, seeing the small thatch houses that the villagers lived in was cool, and the stuff we learned about them (mostly stuff about their animal sacrifices and how they worshipped) was interesting, but still… we had taken a *10* hour bus ride to get to this area, and honestly we hoped for more.
after this village, we went to another village called Bema. this one was visited often by tourists since it’s in the guidebook. as we walked up to the village, we heard music and saw a bunch of people dancing. it turned out that this village had recently won a soccer match against a neighboring village and they were celebrating. as we got closer, we saw that the music was coming from this huge stack of speakers… not exactly what you’d expect in a traditional village. the villagers asked us to dance with them, and soon everyone was totally excited about caryn’s dancing. no matter how much she told them that she wanted to rest, they kept begging her to dance more. even the old grandmas in the village were asking caryn to keep dancing!
eventually, they put on some western music especially for caryn… “jump” by house of pain and “ice ice baby” by vanilla ice. it was so crazy! so, when vanilla ice comes on, caryn started teaching the villagers how to do the electric slide. they were all totally psyched to try it out! so all this is going on when another bemo pulls up w/ some more tourists. i cant even imagine what was going on in their heads… here they are arriving at this small old traditional village, expecting to see people living life as their ancestors did… and instead they see a bunch of people doing the electric slide to Vanilla Ice being pumped loudly from a wall of speakers!! hilarious!!
before we left, they put on this song that was really famous in indonesia. it was a song about their home town, Bema and said that bema was very famous, so famous that people had heard of it all the way in america. it was pretty cool and heartwarming to see how proud these people must be about their village and their village’s reputation. that was really cool.
soon we left bajawa and took the 10 hour bus ride to labuanbajo. at one point this kid hopped on and started talking to me. he was complaining about how hard it is to find a job in indonesia (something we’ve heard very often). he said that he had thought about it and had decided to go abroad to try to get more money, maybe to america or maybe to europe. he wanted to know if i had some advice for him or if maybe i could help him. the thing is, i actually get this a lot, and i never know what to say. of course i’d love to help these people, but i dont really know what i can do for them. first off, i know nothing about visas and whether there’s anyway i can help someone acquire one. in egypt, a guy wrote down my address saying that he would write me for some visa help when i got home. i told him i wouldnt be home for almost a year, but he said that was fine. he solemly folded up my address and put it in his pocket saying that he hoped i would remember him a year later and help him. he was a school teacher, yet he earned so little that he had to spend all of his evenings driving a taxi. i desperately hoped that maybe wheni do get back, i can actually find a way to help… but who knows….
the second part of the problem, aside from visas, is that i really wonder what kind of jobs these people would find if they did come to america. to them, america is the promised land. it’s heaven. they cant conceive of the fact that there is unemployment and homelessness there. to them, this can not be possible in america. they think that once they make it there, they will instantly have everything work out, but the thing is, it’s so not true. but i dont want to be the one to say anything. what do i tell him “oh america? dont bother… if you go there you’ll either end up not having a job and living on the streets or you’ll get some crap job like working at mcdonalds for minimum wage”? cause realistically, most of these people have little or no education and also little or no english skills. if they had at least one or the other, it might be ok, but with neither… i dont know what america has to offer them. it’s a sad situation. so as usual, i just smiled and nodded saying “ah nice one. that’s a good plan. good luck!” while inside feeling like crap.
finally after days and days of struggle and travel, we made it to Labuanbajo the most western town in Flores. this was a really nice relaxed town that is famous for it’s great seafood and scuba diving. after the long days on buses, it was a relief to have finally made it to the end of the island. we were looking forward to not having to drive anywhere for a few days and just enjoy ourselves. we got a small bungalow room with a beautiful view into the harbor and overlooking the small islands that were scattered on the horizon. as advertised, the food here was absolutely delicious. ahhh, we were glad to be here.
looking back on the thigs we had seen in our weeklong drive across flores, i gotta say, a lot of the things we came to see were not really all that great. kelimutu was a let down. seeing the traditional villages was a letdown as well. but the overall experience made it all worth it anyways. i guess flores isnt really about the sights that you see.. it’s more about seeing how people live in these small towns, taking scooter taxis over bumpy roads, bus rides w/ chickens, eating at tiny little restaurants that serve only 5 dishes, and chatting w/ locals. all these things made it all worthwhile!
these three photos should have been in yesterday’s post, but i couldnt upload them yesterday, so here they are now.
I’ve gotten a bunch of comments and emails from people wondering what happened to caryn’s blog (GirlCrayon.com). basically, her site used to be hosted by one company, but that company sucked so she switched to another. although she transfered the actual site, she had forgotten to transfer her domain name to the new company. everything had been running smooth for months and months but after one year was up, the old company turned off her domain name. so temporarily, there’s no Girlcrayon.com. she’s trying to get things fixed, and hopefully it should be up and running again in less than a week (crosses fingers).
anyways, in the meantime, she’ll be posting entries in her old livejournal blog, so if you want to read her entries there until Girlcrayon is back, go to: http://www.livejournal.com/users/girlcrayon.