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First Steps in South-East Asia

Singapore & Nusa Tenggara Province of Indonesia

sunny 35 °C
View Around The World in More Than 80 days on phileas's travel map.

I leave Auckland on a glorious sunny with one eye looking back with fond memories of good times and good friends, with the other looking forward to the adventures to come in South East Asia, first stop Indonesia with one day stop off in Singapore en route. It’s a bad idea to be cross eyed for too long. ‘If the wind changes direction you’ll stay like that’ as my mother used to say.

The flight takes us north over the Tasman Sea, flying directly over Sydney Harbour and the barron red landscape of the Australian outback, across the Java Sea to Singapore. The stop off gives me chance to acclimatize to the heat/humidity which is a massive shock and I sweat buckets, that and explore the city a little. I’m trying to find something good to say but to me it’s just another big gleaming cosmopolitan city - big business rules and the little people are dwarfed like a scene from Blade Runner with a face lift. The highlight for me was being turfed out of Raffles Hotel (birth place of the Singapore Sling) for an inappropriate dress code, free internet at the homestay, cheap camera equipment hyper markets (a new wide angle lense add-on) and the walk along the Singapore River promenade and the impressive Esplanade Theatre. Other than that the airport is very nice, but I hear that the island Pulau Ubin above Changi is more the authentic Singapore so I’ll check that out on my return.


The next day I fly into Denpasar on the sunny island of Bali, back tracking half the distance I traveled the day before, silly the way things work but at least I’m making a healthy contribution to global warming. I do hate the cold ; o) The airport is not actually in Denpasar at all so I don’t know why they say that, the closest city is Kuta which my home for the next couple of days. It’s a manic place so where better to say than the Bali Manic homestay, an ironic name as it’s down a little side street off Poppies II which makes it quite the peaceful retreat. The first night I take a stroll along the beach and discover it’s a good place to pick up a gay lover (run away!), that and be bitten by impossibly small red ants that hurt like hell. I try to head home but am sucked into the Bali hedonism meeting up first with some Indo-long timers discovering the power of Bintang beer, then onto the Reggae Club with live band and downing sickly sweet shakers of Illusion, then onto a club by which time I’m so drunk the name or music doesn’t matter anymore. The rest is a blur.

I awake mid-morning with a stinking hangover and realize the importance of stocking up with water before going out. It’s nothing that a day at the beach can’t cure tho so I team up with my new buddy Tobias from Sweden and we head to the beach picking up a whale of a surf board on the way. The waves are pretty tame which is good news as I’m scared of ripping my arm out of it’s socket but to my surprise it holds up a dream and I can paddle like a champ, not full strength but then again it never was so I’m stoked, dude.


The next morning I explore Kuta and the culture shock hits home – everything is missing a price tag and bartering is the way, constant offers of transport, buy this or that, massage/marriage, ah you wear sunglasses mister maybe you need another pair, t-shirts starting at 150,000 Rupiah and ending up for 2,000 Rupiah. I arrive home with some flip-flops with a shelf life of about 10 minutes, a necklace made of the finest plastic, and manicured nails (hands & feet), all that and an empty pocket. It’s all a bit much but I can laugh at my own vulnerability. Put in context blowing the equivalent of 20 quid is not that bigger deal but I’ll need to sharpen up and get to know the costs of stuff.


After recommendations of just about all that come to Indonesia I arrange a trip to Gilli Trawanga situated off the north-east coast of Lombok (the next island east of Bali), promising myself to return to Bali to fully explore. It’s a tourist trip which works out a 10x the cost than local buses (175,000 Rp) but I feel like treating myself (again). We start with a mini bus to Padangbai then a ferry across to Lembar where I meet my companions for the next week - 3 dutch brothers one of whom (Eddie) was born in Bodor just south of Jakarta (George Bush visited their this month), adopted at 4 years old moving to Amsterdam. It was really a home coming trip and they have many great tales of traveling through in the wilds of Java. Also meet a group of Brits between the ages of 21 and 60 who are doing an overland trip from London to Darwin (Australia) – wow! (See http://www.buckden-village.co.uk for details of their trip.) On the journey I ponder how the next month will work out I begin to hatch a plan to work my way East quick sharp and explore fully on the way back, we’ll see.


After docking I meet the travel agent to arrange the return ferry who insists my name is Phillips (like the light bulb) and we switch to a minibus cruising through stunning plantations, jungle highlands and dodging road-side monkeys to a small port called Bangsal to catch the boat to Gilli Trawangan. I’m hustled into buying some repellant for man eating, malaria carrying mosquitoes that of course don’t exist but at least the impact on the wallet is getting less with experience. Ha ha!

Gilli Trawangan is a beautiful little island – white sand beaches, palm trees, crystal clear water and reminds me of Fiji. It proves a great place to chill out and I discover the meaning of ‘Pilam Pilam’ (take it easy) with 3 days quickly turn into a week – snorkeling with turtles, relaxing on the beach, supping on a Bintang, surfing, boat trips around the islands and some night time antics - a sign on the main strip reading ‘Bloody F*cking Strong Mushrooms For Sale Here’ says it all. With no police on the island (except those here to party) every imaginable drug is available from marijuana to ecstasy to magic mushrooms. It’s all good fun until you realize the impact it’s had on the largely transient locals who it seems this is all they do for work and play, quite sad really. Anyhow the Bintang is great, local whiskey kicks ass and I discover my first Indonesian cuisine Nasi Goreng. Hmmm!


Also great to see money being spent by Project Aware (the PADI affiliate) who invest here in coral reef rejuvenation with the aid of electrified metal grids and a turtle sanctuary. It’s great to see and the local dive shops are happy with the extra trade, plus the extra income they get, very positive indeed! I’m not sure it should extend to collecting giant clams from other dive sites that you can now see off the north of Gilli Air but there you go.


After 7 days chilling to sub zero temperatures it’s time to head back to Lombok, stopping first to abuse the mosquito scam guy is trying to pull the same trick on a new batch of tourists. On the way through the highlands, the door of our overloaded bus decides to open and an English girls falls out onto the road. She’s ok, a little shaken with cuts, bruises and suspected broken wrist but it could have been much worse – yet another thing to check before getting on a bus, and don’t believe the re-assurance of travel agents who talk of responsibility as ours washed his hands clean of this quick sharp.

By the time we arrive in Mataram, I’ve decided to head east to Sumbawa. I’m dissuaded by a motorbike driver not to buy from travel agency for trips on other islands, instead to take the local bus. I already knew it’s much cheaper this way and perhaps a more rewarding experience but a new ingredient for the mix is that the ticket may not even by valid when you arrive. OK, so his advice is to trust nobody which turns out to be sound as he then rips me off for some unauthentic locally grown tobacco. I wonder if I can trust myself, or my instincts, but that might get confusing as I might try to double bluff myself which in turn might become a double negative. I decide damage limitation is the best way forward for now until I can resolve this conundrum.


Now alone once again I take a bus to the port of Labuhan Lombok then a ferry to Poto Tano, Sumbawa followed by another bus to the town of Dompu. The latter leg of the journey is in darkness so I miss the apparently glorious countryside which is a shame but perhaps I’ll see it on the return journey.

I arrive in the village of Legara 6kms east of Dompu at 2am where I’ve arranged to stay with the family of the travel agent from Mataram. I realize my error when the bus speeds away leaving the taste of dust in my mouth that I don’t know the family name let alone where to find their house and panic sets in. After what seems like hours but actually was a matter of minutes, from out of the darkness I hear a voice calling ‘Phillips’ and relief washes over me.

The family welcome me with open arms and after a good nights sleep and a refreshing bath in the river I meet all 22 members of the family and I tell stories of my travels, share fresh fruit and tobacco, teach the children some English and I learn some Bahasa. It’s a very rewarding experience and the frustrations of the deception the day before are gone.


Time flies by and it’s soon time to head off the Hu’u to the world famous surf mecca Lakey Beach. I travel on the back of a motorbike with a full backpack and discover a new level of pain and perhaps an effective treatment for cellulite removal.

Lakey Beach features on the Pro World Surf Tour offering 3 stunning surf breaks within paddling distance of the beach – Lakey Peak, Lakey Pipe and err, Lakey Something Else. I’m a little cocky thinking my snowboarding skills and extensive 5 days surfing experience will carry me through but I soon get my ass kicked and reside to shore. The quality of the surfers is unbelievable with riders representing from all over the world including Brazil, France, US and England (hooray!) but all are outshined by the locals (mainly 9 to 13 year olds). I’m thinking maybe I should have saved this place for when I can actually surf, too much too soon perhaps.


I try my hand at surf photography; my camera is on the way out so only a few pictures work out but some good results nonetheless. I now have absolute respect for those guys in the water as the optimum place to be is also the place for maximum wave power destruction and at times I think I’m going to drown under the relentless >2m swell.


I befriend a local guy (Brum) who invites me to eat with him that evening, providing I pay for the food, not a problem. When the shopping list begins with 2 whole tuna fish (a snip at 25,000 Rp) I realize that it’s not just the two of us dining tonight but I go along with the plan. I spend a total of 100,000 Rp (6 UKP) which includes some Bintang and local wine to wash down the meal. As I expected we’re feeding all his friends and it turns into a real party and Brum begins to act strange as it becomes obvious of his scheme. I explain to Brum earlier I knew what was happening from the start and their was no need to try to con me into it, it’s only 6 quid to me after all and was well worth it to make the party – I would have done the same if he’d been honest. He gets quite upset and tells me it’s just the way it is here - if you don’t do it you go hungry which is really sad that he’s forced into lying to survive. But then again, maybe if I/all tourists didn’t he would have to make a trade and become independent, it’s very difficult to know what is best to do.


With my surf bug fulfilled or more like quashed under the awesome power of the Lakey Breaks its the to head off to Flores to seek a life long dream of meeting a Komodo Dragon face to face in its natural setting. I take the easy option of a car with the owner of the hotel to Sape, again a pricey affair at 200,000 Rp where I can catch a ferry to Lambuan Bajo, the main port on Flores. We pass through more spectacular scenery; barren sun burnt red landscapes turn into lush, green irrigated farmland with paddy fields and populated by Raedon-esque characters and water buffalo, salt farms and some villages with traditional rice drying huts on stilts.


We arrive in Sape to discover I’ve missed the boat (story of my life) by only 1 hour, bad information from the locals. With time to kill I catch up on some rest and take some time to learn and practice Bahasa. Very proud of myself, I take a shopping trip to buy a mosquito net (kelambu) and using Pictionary skills and some broken Bahasa I manage to find one for only 20,000 Rp, that and trade some unwanted underwear for some mangos. I meet up with some French travelers who fell to the same fate as myself of bad information and have to turn back as no time to see Komodo before their flight home. I’m introduced by the owner of the hotel as an Indonesian travel expert; I try not to laugh but perhaps my new hard nosed approach I role played when I arrived is working.


So I take the ferry for a bargain price of 39,0000 Rp for an 8 hour journey across the Flores see, alone once again except for the 1000 or so people packed on the boat that is. And so a new adventure begins...


Posted by phileas 00:15 Archived in Indonesia

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Sorry readers, the photos failed to publish. It's now fixed! The 2nd installment is in the pipeline with some stunning shots around Komodo both and below the water. Watch this space!

by phileas

We demand an update!!!
p.s.when you going back to blighty for a visit?


by debeastie

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