Thursday, 31 July 2008

A Lazyman's Guide to Climbing Volcanoes

With over a hundred active volcanoes to choose from in Indonesia there is quite a choice when deciding which one to visit. Have watched Anak Krakatoa erupt from the safety and sort of comfort of our boat it was now time to get to the top of a volcano and peer in. However, we weren't so keen on a 2am start to reach the top or on a ten hour trek so Tangkuban Prahu seemed to fit the bill. Only an hour away from Bandung it is possible to drive all the way to the top. Yes to the top! No arduous uphill struggle to reach the summit. Sounded perfect.

The problem with such an easily accessible volcano is that it was rammed with hawkers and guys offering rides on ponies with dyed pink manes. Also the view was not that impressive. It did smell of sulphur and have gas seeping out of the ground but as Hannah pointed out she would have been really annoyed if she had hiked for hours to get to the top only to be greeted by that view!

We did walk back down to the road though so weren't complete lazybones. A pretty steep downward trail led to a second crater with hot pools and rocks you could fry eggs on and after that it was a pretty easy walk back down to the road. I almost managed to convince Hannah that the monkey we saw was a panther but surprisingly she was having none of it.

I think we learned a valuable lesson here and realise that for gorgeous views and some excitement we might actually have to put a bit of effort in!

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Fusion Food

Since the delicious spring roll pastie at Lake Toba we have been witness to and unfortunate tasters of some rather random food combinations.

- Fruit Salad: well it was exactly what it says on the tin. Chopped up fruit, covered in thousand island dressing, on a bed of lettuce with half a boiled egg on top.

- Honey Pancake: After looking forward to my honey pancake I was surprised when it turned up to see that before the honey had been poured over the top the chef had sprinkled grated cheese all over it. Mmm.

- Croissants: Where can you go wrong with a croissant you may ask? Serve it with chilli sauce!

-Banana Surprise: Following the cheesy path this dessert was a combination of fried banana, cheese and chocolate.

- Toast: Our simple breakfast choice arrived with egg and chocolate sprinkles. Just what you need to get you going in the morning.


What the Lonely Planet doesn't tell you about Bandung is that it is a factory outlet mecca (it has to have something going for it really). Hannah and I have just spent pretty much the whole day trawling round all the shops in Jalan Dago and have come away with some great bargains! We're now weary and ready for a massage but I'm very excited about my new clothes. Luckily for me Hannah is flying home on friday and is willing to deliver my new purchases back to KL so I don't have to lug them round with me. We have barely touched on the available outlets so maybe we'll have to finish what we started tomorrow!

Monday, 28 July 2008

Partying Carita styleee

Following in a long tradition of sticking a stage in a field the people of Carita, a small fishing village, prepared for their long awaited concert. The musicians were great, the singers had fab voices even if they were dressed like 80's throwbacks and everyone was in a party mood. Games booths circled the field for our entertainment and we wandered over to have a quick game at darts to see what prizes we cold win. We were soon told that we could only play if we brought a packet of cigarettes. We looked puzzled. The rules were repeated again - you could only play a game if you brought a packet of cigarettes for which you recieved a ticket you could swap for a game. Yes EVERYONE around us was smoking and didn't understand why we would delay in purchasing a pack.

We soon heard a commotion around the stage and saw the MC was inviting people up. I narrowly got away without being hearded up there by the chief of police who was very keen I had a go. The contestants had to complete various tongue twisters and their prize was - you guessed it - a bag full of packets of fags!

Cigarette advertising may be banned at home but it is rife here. Billboards are everywhere and it really is encouraged wherever you are. We got away without buying a sackful of ciggies but the rest of Carita were probably not as fortunate.

Big Bang

The loudest ever recorded bang occured in 1883 when the volcano Krakatoa blew itself apart and sent a 40m tsunami crashing against the shores of Sumatra and Java. It threw up a column of ash 80km into the sky which rained down on land as far away as singapore. It is now a shadow of its former self and no longer active, however, Anak Krakatoa is slowly taking its place on the list of celebrity volcanoes and was the destination of our trip.

After an hour and a half crashing over waves in a speed boat we saw the shape of Krakatoa in the distance and next to it was the pretty unimpressive height of Anak Krakatoa. It may have been short in stature (it only appeared 80 years ago so is pretty young in the grand scheme of things) but it is fierce and shouldn't be underestimated!

Withing ten minutes of us spotting it this baby volcano it spewed out a cloud of smoke and ash a couple of km into the sky and as we got closer we saw the glowing rocks that it was regularly threw out. After each episode it calmed down and then as if by clockwork it started belching smoke and ash again. Truly amazing to watch.

We then pulled the boat up to the beach to have a wander on the slopes of the volcano (not too close to the top obviously). Everything was covered in a thick layer of ash and the landscape had an eerie feel to it. Amazingly some hardy plants are able to survive there! We were soon also covered in ash too. We were half expecting the ground to shake as the volcano geared up for its next eruption but the place was spookily still and quiet until the calm was broken by an almighty bang. Time to make an exit.

We washed ourselves in the clear blue waters next to the original Krakatoa and donned masks and snorkels to have a look at the underwater life. What a great day!

Don't stand so close to me!

I'm big on personal space and generally like to maintain a no fly zone around my being. Don't get me wrong I do like hugs and cuddles, but I only want to get close with people of my choice - even brushing up against a stranger in the street can send shivers through me. Unfortunately the concept of personal space does not exist in Indonesia and mine is being invaded. Of course some of it is by necessity - when you squeeze six people into a row of three on a bus you are going to get a little bit squashy - but some of it is a bit over the top.

The worst has to have been when we left Jakarta for Carita. Before our taxi had even pulled into the bus station touts were running alongside it trying to open the doors and get us on to their bus. We were then half dragged to a waiting bus and deposited on the back seat where approximately half the male population of jakarta came to have a stare, chat, or stroke.

A cacophony of voices simultaneously demanded:
"Where you from?"
"What your name?"
"you want water?"
"I love you"
"Where your husband?"
"Where you go?"
"What you do?"
And on and on.

When we weren't being shouted at we were being stared at. Eventually I stuck my i-pod on full and stared determinedly out of the window but this was not enough to deter one man who even kicked my legs to get my attention. I'm sure you can imagine this did not go down well.

However, after a less than enjoyable journey we were able to settle into our lovely room by the beach ready for adventure and a resolution to put up with less s*** on on our next bus. We'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Minibus Madness

Question: How many passengers can you fit into a 10 seater minibus?

Answer: 19 silly..... plus a dog!

The Warm Fuzzies

While seeing orangutans at the rehabilitation centre was great, I was particularly looking forward to jungle trekking in the hope that we might actually see them in the wild. Our wonderful guide, Erwin, said it was possible to see on but that we shouldn't count on it on only a one day trek. Although he pushed for a two or three day trek we passed up on the opportunity of sleeping in the jungle - I've clearly turned soft and Hannah squeals every time she see's a crawlie. I knew it would be a great trip anyway and I tried not to get my hopes up too much. So you can imagine Erwin's surprise when we saw not 1, not 2, but...... wait for it........12 orangutans. I know!

The first three we saw within about half an hour. One was playing in the tree tops with her baby (soooooo cute) and the other was busy making a nest which she soon curled up in and stared down at us staring up at her. I was still excited when not much further on we came across a big male hanging from the branches and looking very regal. He knew he was boss. Later when we retraced our steps he was crashing through the canopy, hot on the heels of a young lady. Luckily his ardour was dampened when he noticed the small audience - I really could do without watching orangutan jiggy jiggy.

We kept walking further and further into the jungle, listening to the sounds of cicadas, hornbills and gibbons, and kept stumbling across more hairy beasts. I don't know who was more excited me or Erwin, who kept high fiving me and jumping up and down gleefully. He really couldn't believe we had seen so many and kept reminding us how lucky we were. Although after a while he started to look worried and mentioned that he hoped we didn't bump into Meena - a particularly nasty tempered orangutan who has allegedly taken chunks out of 80 people! I was glad when we didn't see her.

It was a truly amazing day and I've still got the warm fuzzies thinking about it. Erwin was a fab guide (he is able to speak orangutan, hornbill and gibbon and he quickly picked up Hannah speak copying her squeals perfectly!) so if you're heading to Bukit Lawang look him up. Indonesia is going to have to work really hard to trump this day. My grin is huge.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Aping Around

The draw of Bukit Lawang? Orangutans. We headed for the morning feeding at the rehabilitation centre this morning and were treated with sight of seven of them. All gorgeous and furry you could just take them home!

No Smoking? Not in Indonesia!

Well the smoking bans that are taking hold across the world will certainly not get far in Indonesia. Everyone smokes. All the time. Everywhere! People don't even bother with the pleasantries of hello and how are you, but instead get straight to the point and ask 'do you want a cigarette?'.

After already having travelled by boat and minibus (yes with our knees by our chins again) we boarded a bus heading to Bukit Lawang. Within seconds nearly the whole bus had lit up. Although we had our window open the interior was fogged in no time. I think I must have lost 10 years of my life in a 3 hour bus journey.

To be honest the bus was more of a dodgy nightclub on wheels. Not only was it smokefilled but it music was blared out at high decibels. First we were treated to the strangulated Indonesian power ballads by Ms. Cat. A. Wauling, followed by the happy hardcore versions of Somewhere Over the Rainbow and Achey Breakey Heart to name but a few choice titles. Of course no nightclub experience is complete without some rampant flirting in this case between the girls who didn't want to pay and the bus boys. I have never seen so much pouting and eyelid batting in my life. Looking forward to the trip back on Wednesday!

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Old Dogs

They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks but today this old dog is proud of herself. Normally content with sightseeing from the back of a professionally driven moto-taxi or the lovely Ange (about the only person I trust on a motorbike) I had to finally face my fear and rent out a bike all of my own. It was a bit of wobbly start and it took me a while to reach speeds above 20km/hr but eventually I was whizzing round Samosir island wind in my hair - Lake Toba to one side and the steep sides of the volcanic crater to the other. A hairy moment when two fighting dogs rolled into the road infront of me was soon forgotten and I was soon weaving round chickens, dogs, waterbuffalo and children.

We stopped off in Ambarita to see the traditional batak houses and the stone chair where the king used to try criminals. If found guilty they were cut with a knife to let out the evil spirits, then lemon and chilli was rubbed in their wounds before they were beheaded. The King would then eat their heart to receive their strength. Mmmmm.

A similar fate awaited the early Christian missionaries who arrived in the sixteenth century only to be killed and devoured by the cannabalistic Bataks. It wasn't until much later that christianity was finally embraced and church spires can be seen among the padi fields.

Hannah has papped away with her new swanky camera so there will be lots of photos of the beautiful scenery of Danau Toba to come.

Friday, 18 July 2008

A random day in Indonesia

The first day of the holidays saw Hannah and I up before the call to prayer- ugly o'clock indeed- ready for our flight to Medan. The day really couldn't have run any smoother. From the airport we were straight into a taxi who dropped us at the bus whose engines were running and ready to go, then we were dropped at the boat which backed away from the dock within minutes and promptly deposited us at Tuk Tuk on Lake Toba. No waiting, no Indonesia time, no delays - wonderful. Admittedly sitting with my knees up to my chin for four hours in the minibus wasn't ideal but we are there.

However, it was a slightly random day. First we were serenaded by the happiest guy in Indonesia who kept announcing how happy he was and then bursting into song. Mainly Celine Dion and other cheesy movie tracks. His smile was infectious and it was a great start to our time in the country. While we were waiting in the minibus we tried our hardest to ignore the hawkers banging on the window to sell their fare - finally the guy managed to shout through the small gap in the window that the rambutans he was holding were a gift for us. Yes we felt a bit guilty....until Hannah realised that they were crawling with ants and now they were crawling all over her in a confined space.

The rain followed us the whole trip and although we thought we had outrun it on the boat it soon caught up with us in Tuk Tuk. We attempted to stretch our legs after our long journey in the gentle rain - but soon it was torrential and we hid in a bar, beer in hand. Unfortunately, the storm led to a power cut which caused some very bad pool playing in the dark. There was nothing else to do but eat, so off to dinner we went. It was delicious, but could only be described as a cross between a spring roll and a cornish pastie. Yum!

Today has been wonderfully relaxing. We've had a gentle wander, a massage, a nap and gazed out over the lake. We're well rested and ready for a bit more adventure tomorrow.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Half a Term in Ten Minutes

Well I guess my blogging report this term would read 'Must try harder'! I admit I have been totally slack and anonymous I'm sorry I have let you down. My excuse? Hmmm.... well firstly I felt sick (still ...yes boring boring) and didn't have the energy to write and didn't have that much to write about. THEN I felt better (hoorah hoorah - trumpets, cheers, fireworks etc) so wasn't sitting around the flat feeling sorry for myself and have been out and about making friends again. So busy busy I have been so here is a little round up of the last six weeks - I'll try and get it in order but will probably fail.

- First Rachel M came to stay and we pampered, shopped and gossiped and she finally met the new boy.

- Jules was hot on her heels and popped over from Hong Kong for the weekend. We went on the Malaysia Eye - which freaked me out totally, nearly giving me a coronary every time it stopped and we were left swinging - I clearly am getting more and more afraid of heights - how did I ever jump out of a plane? We wandered through a food festival and I watched enviously as she ate. And we had our tarot read in a funky little backstreet bar - we'll have to see how right she was!

- The government raised the price of petrol by 40% overnight. Literally. It was announced at 7pm that it would be going up at midnight. Carnage! I now wish that I didn't drive a gas-guzzling beast.

- As I now no longer spend a large chunk of my time in bars I have become a cinemaholic and have recently seen: Kung Fu Panda, Iron Man, Prince Caspian, Definitely Maybe, Indiana Jones and many more....

-I was promoted! Yey!

- I drank wine for the first time in 3 months to celebrate new job. I had two glasses and was a giggling, rosy, very cheap date! And more importantly didn't suffer any horrible after effects.

- I saw the Malaysian Philharmonic orchestra playing Prokofievs Cinderella.

- Boldened by my increasing good health I have started eating a more excited range of foods (including chocolate!mmm) and occasionally having a glass or two. Two and I'm merry. Three and I'm a giggling wreck - hey ho! At least I'm well and long may it stay this way. Although I would love to go and sign up for the next champagne brunch I am still taking it easy and am not going to undo all the good work I have done over the last months. It has only taken 8 months but I am now feeling myself again.

- Rachel P came to stay and we shopped til we dropped. Then we ventured up to the Sky Bar and enjoyed a coctail with a view of the iconic towers before us.

- I ate chocolate cake at a 2year olds birthday party and felt the biological time bomb go into warp speed.

- I played Singstar at Hannah's shamefully winning with a Barry White song. My voice isn't that low is it?

- I was treated to high tea at the Carcosa and rolled home full of tea, sandwiches, cakes and scones.

- And finally this weekend I enjoyed participating in a pub quiz at the British High Commision (oo-er) with the crew of the HMS Kent!!!!!!

Writing it all down it doesn't seem that much but throw in more than a few hot dates and time kinda flies! But looking back at how awful I felt 6 weeks ago and how great I feel now I feel I have come a long way. I have a huge smile on my face, the beginnings of a new wardrobe (thanks Rach for pointing out that my clothes really were too big and that I should buy some more) and an exciting holiday looming.

Yep it's just three days til the end of term and I will be off to Indonesia. Two weeks with Hannah and then two weeks with Craig. My rucksack is ready and so am I. Bring it on!