Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Back to Bangkok - 18/12/2015


The trip back to KLIA2 to catch the plane to Bangkok was simpler than google had tried to make it, neglecting to tell me that there was a train station a minute walk from the hotel lobby where I could catch a train a single stop to KL Sentral to meet the bus to the airport. Instead it tried to take me back the same way I came in a couple of nights before, a route that involved a larger distance of walking before taking a similar single stop ride. I took the non google option. I left the hotel at 9am and had made the bus by 9.15am, arriving at the airport just 1 hour later in plenty of time to catch my flight. No matter what else you can say about the Kuala Lumpur, getting around by public transport is really really easy and really really cheap. These are both massive plus points in my eyes.

The gate for checking in that was specified on my Air Asia booking confirmation was Q19 and it only took a short amount of time to workout out the layout of the counters. It took a split second longer to see that the lettering system of the check in counters started at T and a split second more for me to bite down on my bottom lip to stop any choice words from slipping out of my mouth. I paused momentarily, recomposed myself a little, took a calming breath and approached the lady on the information counter to ask her to explain where I could find the missing Q19 counter. The answer forthcoming was thus.

Go to the electronic check in machine and print off the bording card.
Then go to the "Q" gate that was located at the bottom of the hall.

The Actual process was as follows.
Electronic check in - scan passport and print the boarding pass at the stand.
Ask someone else "Now What?"
Join another queue and wait 30 minutes in line whilst the staff on hand process check in luggage at a painfully slow pace (This could easily negate the need for and incorporate the previous electronic check in)
Go to the "Q" gate at the bottom of the hall, get scanned and enter the departure hall.
Sit around for 3 hours drinking coffee, eating junk food and changing up remaining Malaysian Ringitt into Thai Baht, before then heading off to the actual departure gate.
Remove belt, take watch off and empty pockets into the tray all at the same time. Walk through scanner as your hand luggage takes the easy route then fill your pockets back up,  put belt and watch back on,(releasing belt back a notch to allow for the junk food in take) and walk a few minutes to Q19, sit down and wait to board.
Get on Plane, eat prepaid food, drink complimentary water and pay for instant coffee (60 Baht)
Land at Bangkok
Get off plane and head towards Immigration, put on glasses to distinguish the "Foreign Passport" queue from the "Asean" one. Realise that you are now wearing sunglasses inside.

I had flown into Don Muang airport which is the smaller of the ones in Bangkok that Air Asia as well as many other budget airlines use. This meant that the queues for immigration were no where near as long, the luggage hall less vast so baggage was easier to find and the overall time from getting off the plane to clearing customs just a small fraction of the time it would have taken had I flown to the alternative venue. I grabbed my bag, pieced the bits back together, grabbed a mobile sim to cover my time in Thailand and headed out of departures to try find the yellow A1 bus which would hopefully get me to Mo Chit BTS Station. It couldn't have been much easier. Outside the main doors the bus was waiting right in front of me so I got straight on passed the welcoming, smiling driver and grabbed myself a seat. It almost feels too easy travelling here and it makes me feel uneasy. Don't they know I'm British, I'm used to having to walk miles through shitty weather before waiting in line for a transport that doesn't arrive, at least rarely on time anyway and never with friendly polite staff at the helm.

And so it continued.

The bus cost 20 baht and took about 25 minutes to reach the drop off point just short of Mo Chit BTS  station. Here I brought a day ticket to allow for later travel also, which cost 140 baht with the train arriving as I reached the platform. From here I continued for 7 stops until I had to change at Siam Square and as I exited the first train there, the train for the second BTS leg arrived on the platform which I then rode a further 3 stops to reach my exit station. I'm telling you now that these people just have no idea about how to run a public transport service. Where's the pain? Where's the frustration? Where's the extortionate price? That whole journey from the airport had taken around 40 minutes in total, with literally no time wasted waiting and had cost me less 3 english pounds and no raise in blood pressure. It had also taken me to just a 5 minute walk from my hostel, the same hostel that I stayed at the last time I was here.

Very little had changed in the hostel, the prices seemed the same, the colours and layout were identical but, with the exception of the cleaning lady that I recognised from last time, the staff were all different, which left the place with a more muted feel than I remembered it having.

But it wasn't just the atmosphere in the hostel that seemed to have changed, there was also a different feeling to Bangkok as a whole. I was just struggling to put my finger on exactly what it was that had gone amiss.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

KL - 2nd visit 16-17/12/2015

So 2 years after I had last been to Kuala lumper I was back again, wanting to give it another chance to impress. Last time I had stayed for 2 nights, this time I had booked for 3 to give me the 2 whole days. I wanted to see if I had been a little harshly unimpressed with my short sharp visit before.

This time I stayed near the central and chinese market,  a short trip on the bus to the shopping area and even shorter trip by underground to the Petronas towers where I planned to revisit and get some better photos than the ones I had from the last time I was there. Google maps was starting to get everything wrong as far as travel guides went, so instead I decided to ask the locals. The information they gave me was a lot more straightforward than that of the internet giant, but that should really come as no surprise to anyone. As helpful as that little guide in your pocket is, it still can't replace the local knowledge of local stops for local people. Not by a long shot.

So first stop (or 8th or 9th if you take the free bus which ran past outside the hotel) was Bukit Bintang, the main shopping district KL. I decided to get off the bus earlier than planned as everyone got squashed into each other as more and more people forced their way on. When a mad looking woman visually scorned at me for the very fact that she had tripped into me and I wasn't made of jelly or a similar low impact material, I decided that the travel conditions were no longer worth the rewards.

A few minutes walk and I found myself at the Plaza shopping centre, vastly spacious covering multiple floors filled with designer and high street outlets, the mall seemed to lack and sort of buzz on any of the floors than by the entry point or in the food court in the basement. Shop units stood mostly open but without customer, and I soon decided that this wasn't the place to find what I was looking for. An unexpected bonus however was that I managed to find a new blood testing monitor to replace the one I lost in Bali. Same make and model too, which means that all the blood strips I am already carrying can be used by both of the machines I now have in my possession.

I passed by and through a few other malls on the way to find Low Yat Plaza, which is known as Kuala Lumpurs main place for IT and Mobile phone shopping. 7 or 8 floors of different vendors selling the mostly the same stuff at the mostly the same prices seems like a waste of time to me, but still there must be a market for it otherwise the place wouldn't have been so full. It was a complete contrast to the big empty spaces found in the Plaza, here the room was much more confined, the place much more active but the end result was the same, nothing was shouting "buy me" loud enough to stand out from all the sellers also vying for your attention.

I rode the escalators to the top floor and then I rode the escalators to the bottom floor.
I seem to do this now in most of the buildings I go in, maybe taking lazy inspirations from the "Because it's there" quote usually referenced as to why someone climbed a mountain.
I take escalators, because they are there. Occasionally I also take the stairs in Asia, but only if there is suitable air conditioning.

The next day I decided to pay a visit to KL Bird Park, a teksi drive away and touted as the worlds largest free flight avery. It was nice to see birds although still capitive, mostly given more room to fly around in, large segmented areas enclosed by over head netting as pelicans, peacocks and many other types of bird pass you by or fly over head. It was a nice way to spend a few hours away from the city but I came away with very few photo's except for those of some monkeys as they tried and succeeded "Mission impossible" style to enter some of the more closed off areas on the site.

2 Years before this trip I been lucky enough to go up the KL Communication tower and see the city from the outside viewing area near the top of the structure, only observing the Petronas towers from the outside. This time I had booked tickets online to go inside at a cost of around 84 ringitt. The inside of the building is like many other large corporate buildings, with plenty of space and big shiny floors. During the tour your are taken up to the bridge that spans across the 2 buildings, as well as to the viewing area on the 83rd floor all the time being chaperoned and squeezed into lifts with your assigned group as screens inside display moving images of a view from a lift either ascending or descending depending on your direction of travel. Technically impressive, but maybe not as visually striking as it would be to just have some windows to look out of as you travel. But I'm sure the had their reasons.

I took the tour at 8pm thinking that this would give a me nice view of the city at night and allow me to get a couple of photo's from a different perspective than the ones I already have. The view itself was nice if not breathtaking, but as the building is completely enclosed with uplighting from just below the viewing areas and with windows seemingly a little harder to clean, photographs were a difficult to come by. The overall view over the city here, in my opinion, isn't anywhere near as thrilling or immersive as the observation deck on the KL tower.

If your one going to go up one tower in KL, choose the KL Tower as for me it's just a better experience, however you can't take away that the Petronas Towers are still stunning looking buildings in their own right, but maybe more strikingly beautiful from the outside looking in, rather than the other way around.

Right behind my hotel lay a few small streets which collectively become the Chinese Night Market and it was here that I finally managed to finally get a few photo's that I was actually pleased with. Plenty of street food to eat, plenty of haggling to be done and plenty of banter to come at you from the vendors. I'm still not sure whether "Handbag Sir" was meant as a not so subtle jibe or genuine selling tactic but feel the sellers who notice you wearing a G-Shock watch and then say "Watch Sir, We have G-Shock" are missing the point. Surely asking people who aren't wearing one is where the real growth in sales is to be had? Still they take a polite "no thank you"  or a "Just looking" for an final answer, which is something that can't be said in a lot of other places I've been to.

So my impression on KL hasn't really changed much from last time. It's a city seemingly deep in construction, that has good transport links and dodgy pavements. It doesn't hold the same appeal to me as other cities I've visited in the past to be sure but that's not to say that it is without merit. It's just as the moment, Me and Mr Lumpur and dancing to a different rhythm.

Maybe that will change by my if i ever get around to visiting a third time.


Saturday, 19 December 2015

Ears Kuala Lumpur - 15/12/2015

I left Yogyakarta with a bit of a cold, a light sore throat and a little bit snively but nothing major. I had gotten over a few small headaches over the last couple of days and I felt like things were definitely getting better, right until that descent into Kuala Lumpur.

My left ear popped ok, a little painful as always but exactly the same as every other descent that I have undergone over the duration of this blog. The difference on this occasion is that my right ear didn't. Instead I was subjected to an excruciating pain, the kind that makes you pull a gopher face as you try to contain a grimace that you don't want anyone to see. This only got worse as the altitude dropped, and I was subjected to even more agony whenever I moved my neck or pressed and released jawline just below the ear. I sat there still for the next 15 minutes, face scrunged as if it was a rubber finger mask with 3 digits rammed in the back.  The Malaysian lady in the row opposite looked at the stewardess as if to say "i'll have what ever he's having".

She could bloody well have it as far I was concerned. I was completely deaf in my right ear and in such severe pain that I was concerned that somehow I had managed to perforate the damned thing. My mind does that, freaks out on it's own and tries to come up with explanations as to what the hell is going on without having suitable knowledge to base it's theories on. I decided to ignore it and try and read up on it a bit later.  As the plane drew to a halt on the runway at KLIA2 I still managed to find humour in the fact that I had travelled from Java to Malaysia on "Erasure" as the cabin crew pronounced it over the tannoy. I had to smile using only my eyes now though. All other facial movements had just become too bloody painful.

I struggled to hear the chap on immigration, with my arms out stretched impersonating an airplane and laughing along with him as it became clear that I was now deaf.

I struggled to hear the lady at the bust ticket counter as she talked to me, my own voice bellowing loudly inside my head making anything she said distant and inaudible. Struggled to communicate when trying to get a sim card to cover just a few days with appropriate data allowance rather than one that would last me until 2021.

And I struggled with the girl in the kiosk as I didn't hear the amount of money she asked for as I hadn't been looking directly at her, Point to ear, make plane gesture, laugh it up. you know the score.

I gave the bus driver the ticket, chucked my bag into the bus luggage hold and got on to find a seat. I didn't say a word, I couldn't be bothered to explain it anymore.  The experience that was already  wearing pretty thin.

The hour long air conditioned coach trip from the Airport to KL Sentral bus and train hub cost 11 ringitt (about 2 pound) and was comfortable enough considering my legs had been folded back on my myself for the last 2 and a half hours. From here I took the train a further stop towards my hotel (1.2 ringitt) and then tried to walk the rest of the way, about 8 minutes according to Googlemaps or about 25 when your having to work with a GPS that has a warped sense of humour. Mine was now gone.

I arrived about 7 pm I think. All I know for sure was that it was dark and the Geo Hotel sign on the side of the building that faced the main street wasn't lit up, so would have been fairly easy to miss. I managed to catch it through scouring every inch of every tall building that was around that area and eventually found the entrance around the back.


The check in process was smooth, the young man who processed me through their system was polite and helpful if not a little short on exercise, baulking at the idea of a 5 minute walk to get some decent food, suggesting instead the brightly lit 24 hour Texas Chicken establishment next door. After unpacking my gear in my 10th floor room with a view and having a quick shower to freshen up and clear my sinuses,  I decided to go for that walk instead to announce my arrival to Kuala Lumpur.

I don't think it heard me.


Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Leaving Yogyakarta - 15/12/2015

I write this as i am sat in the international departure lounge at Yogyakartas International Airport, which is a little smaller than I had imagined, The room in its entirety is barely enough to hold a 25m length swimming pool and with the floor tiles and echoey space reverberating the noises of talk and activity throughout, it sounds pretty much the same as one too. The "Fixed Price" taksi ride this morning that the more than helpful staff at the Aloha hotel arranged for me was 70,000 idr and took a little under 30 minutes with free flowing traffic most of the way. I needed to check in at 8:45, was at the airport at 8:35 and had baggage checked, cleared security and made "The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf" in the departure lounge by 8:40. If only all international check in's were that easy.  The minus side to that is I now have 3 hours to wait until departure with only a cafe, a Japanese restaurant and an "Indo Gift Shop" to fill my time. Still. I'll take that over long queues and endless checks and a mile and a half walk to your departure gate.

So the last few days were not the most hectic. I am in Indonesia in the Low Season so a couple of things I had hoped to do were not really an option, including climbing Mount Merapi which imposes itself against the skyline just outside Yogyakarta. Im told it takes quite a long time to climb, but can be quite dangerous in the wet and seeing as the weather cannot be guaranteed at the moment, the chances of getting in with a group tour that would actually go ahead, were a little unlikely.  So maybe thats one to come back to in the future.

I have been lucky enough to visit some other great places though, Taman Sari (or Taman Sari Water Castle) is the site of former gardens of the Sultanate of Yogyakarta an contains a series of different pools and areas where the sultan would entertain, meditate, watch performances and rest. The central large pool areas contained within the bathing complex were used by the Sultan, his daughters and other members of the Royal Family.

South of this, through the sultans resting and changing buildinh, lies a smaller enclosed pool area that was used only by the Sultan and his Concubines.

Just outside the bathing complex you can also find remnants amongst the narrow streets of the fortifications that were put in place when the castle was built in the mid 18th century, just the odd unmarked sign here and there that this was also built as a defensive stronghold as well as being a place of leisure. Here you will is also find a small chapel like building, which if you walk into will lead you down some steps, under the street to the right and then back up into a inside a large area that was formerly used as a mosque. A fully enclosed donut shaped building with a small pool in the centre with a central column of steps above that gets scorched by the mid-day sun, and obviously provided the perfect opportunity for great family photo's.

Despite saying repeatedly that I wouldn't be going to see anymore temples, I still did. Some temples are more impressive than others, some have more steps than others and some are really just tourist traps surrounded by market areas, so you take the rough with the smooth. Undoubtable the best of the bunch for me here would be Borobudur, a 9th century Buddhist temple that was hidden for years under volcanic ash. The main temple consists of 9 levels each with of reliefs and carvings all around, and thankfully just a small amount of steps between each. On the top sits a large dome surrounded by bell like stone stupas each one containing a buddha carving, the occasional one exposed so you can see whats inside. It's a beautiful monument but again you read up on it and see that there are bits missing, given away by custodians at the time as gifts to foreign dignitaries or royalty. There are some of these items on display in the National Museum of Bangkok, so I will make sure I go there when I arrive to get a little more of a insight. Still a beautiful place, and one thats worth a visit. It's a little pricier than other temples operating a 2 tier pricing structure for foreigners and Indonsian people, but the conservation work and grounds are more than worth the price of entry and to be honest, we can probably afford a little bit more than the locals. They shouldn't be priced out of being able to see their own heritage after all.

And that really is that, I spent longer than maybe I should have in Taksis and Shopping Malls, but sometimes you just need to slow it down a little and give your body time to recover from aches, pains and illnesses. Yogyakarta was a great place to visit though, with some great things to see and some of the nicest, most welcoming people you are ever likely to meet. There's still plenty more to see around Indonesia that I haven't got around to yet, but you never know, I might yet get back to climb that "Mountain of Fire" in a few months time, it all depends on time restraints and obviously eeking out the last bit of cash when the time comes. 

Still it would be nice to come back and get a couple of good photo's, without some bloody fool getting in the way each time.

Next a short stop Kuala Lumpur


Saturday, 12 December 2015

Yogyakarta - Ok Google, where's the art exhibition - 9/12/2015

Now I had a few days to spare I went about drawing up a list of things I would like to see in the vicinity, partly based off a map of local attractions that the hotel staff had given me on my arrival, and partly off some rushed internet research I had crammed to get a feel for what else was about the place.

First things first though, I had a phone to get fixed.

Google located the "Sony Centre" for me, showing me it's location on the map and also informing me that it lay about an hour and half walk away and was open today at 9am.  At 9:30am the lady on reception called me a cab and upon it's arrival, came out and instructed the driver verbally where I needed to get to. I backed this information up further with a visual representation on my phone map as he still seemed a little unsure. How could this plan possibly fail? As I watched my faulty GPS bounce around what I hoped was at least approximate to my actual location, we got to a point near to where I wanted to get to and I instructed the driver that it was ok to pull over and I would walk the rest of the way. I also decided that the speed that he was driving at anyway whilst trying to find a location he was also pretty unsure of, it would be far quicker on foot anyway. Once out the car it didn't take me long to find the address I wanted.

As it turns out, Google doesn't actually know as much as it thinks it does. It's like the office bullshitter in electronic form.

After staring blankly at the bars for a couple of minutes in mild disbelief, I resigned myself to the fact that part 1 of the day had been a wasted journey. Luckily I had more than 1 part planned and I set backtracking a little of the way I had already come to find the main shopping street in Yogyakarta, Jalan Marlioboro. Again what seemed like a short 10 minute walk when looking at the map turned out to be nearer 30, and as I started to sweat in the already powerful mid morning heat I passed by numerous cafe's and eateries, at any of which I could have got a timely and much needed drink, but also a host of any other additional treats if I hadn't chosen wisely so I just pushed on through. As soon as I got to Jalan Marlioboro. I made a bee line for a the local chain of kiosks and indulged myself in a frozen bubblegum flavoured slush drink, taking quick, sizeable gulps to try and bring my boiling blood back down to a regulated temperature.


Damn they really do hurt.

and Damn, I must have shown Weakness.

"Hello" came a voice to my right, "Where you from?"
"England" I replied, "and hello".
"How Long have you been in Yogyakarta" came the next question, which as always seems innocent enough until you analyse it some more. This question serves to see just how green you are, how ripe you are for the plucking.
"A few Days" I said, "I'm here for a few more" I said. Now this response is almost my standard reply now, indicating that I have been around just a little while so not closing the offer of sincere help or information if it's genuine, but also leaving me a time frame to be able to palm people off a little if it's something other.
"Have you seen the Student Art exhibition? I will take you there, it's a free exhibition....."
And there it was, right on queue, my internal alarm went off.
"It's o.k" I said, I'm here for a while, I'll just have a little walk and then I can always come back if I want to". They hate this, they hate not being to get you somewhere for the kill, for either a con or a commission, but they will always try a few more tricks.
"Ahh, but it ends today, it's your last chance before it moves on".
A travelling student art exhibition, thats possibly a new one. "It's ok, I may come back later" I said and just carried on my way.

Of course, there's always the chance that there could have been a genuine student art exhibition, that it could have genuinely finished that day and I could have genuinely enjoyed it if I had gone. There is always the chance that you are missing out on something genuinely interesting and representative of the community your visiting, but then again.....

A few steps later I made eye contact with another gentleman. "Hello where you from?, Have you seen the Student Art Exhibition?"...

Did you use to work for Mediaphone I thought? It was all starting to sound very scripted.

The fourth and last guy who I encountered added in the nice subtext that the exhibition was closing at midday so I wouldn't be able to come back later. All these approaches came within a 25 meter stretch of bizarre like clothing shops, and I really don't think that I was missing out too much, I just don't think I was maybe as green as that frozen bubblegum drink had made me look.

"Excuse me....mr" came at me again, but this time gentler, less sure, less demanding. "Do you have any time?"
"How much time?" I asked, trying desperately not to seem offish, but also struggling a little to drop my guard completely.
"5 minutes maybe?"
"I.we.. are students and would like to know if it would be able to ask you some questions, for interview".
I looked cautiously at the group that consisted of 3 girls and one boy, all with the look of hopeful expectation on there faces, how could you possibly say no?

"No" I said.

How harsh would that have been? Of course I smiled and agreed, these sort of experiences are the best you can have when you're in a new location, listening to people who are genuinely interested in learning about foreign people, practicing their own foreign language skills and making you feel at ease with your surroundings. The leader of the group (identifiable by her go pro device at the end of a stick) decided that it was best if I was a bit lower and soon pulled up a stool from beside us for me to sit on, or "be more comfortable" as she put it and she would film and take photo's as the other 3 took it in turns to ask me some questions. These were along the lines of where was from, why I had wanted to come to Yogyakarta, My favourite thing about Yogyakarta and what would I like to see change there. I can't remember the responses I gave, I tried to be clear without sounding like a Dutch accented Steve McClaren, but sometimes you are aware that english can be difficult for other language speakers to understand, partly because we chain words together when we speak and don't leave a gap between, so 2 or 3 words can easily merge into one. Still, I don't think I sounded dutch.

I scored 1 out of 6.

after barely 5 minutes they were happy to let me on my way. I gave them my details and asked them to send me the picture through later if they could. A really nice group of students who I'm hopeful will do well in life. No mention of an Art Exhibition was made.

And that really should be it for this entry....except.
Getting a little lost on the way back due to again relying much too heavily on my inaccurate GPS I ended up down a few streets that maybe I wouldn't have ordinarily taken. The minus side to this is again I spent what seemed like an age sweltering under the oppressive sun, but the plus side was that I came across what sure must be a contender for the best pedal car conversion of all time.

I would try and get this back to use in the UK if I could get away with it, but you know the you UK Tax department would have me over a barrel on the emissions part.


Friday, 11 December 2015

Bali - Yogyakarta 8/12/2015

The flight to Yogyakarta from Bali was due to take around an hour and 5 minutes, but I think that's the estimate for travelling in a straight line. This one went up and down a fair bit so probably took a little longer due to the extra distance induced by needing to climb back up to altitude between drops. Still, after clawing back an extra hour by passing back into another time zone, I was still clear of the baggage collection by just after 2pm, partly due to the fact that the plane had come to a halt about 25 feet from the luggage conveyor belt just inside the airport.

Before I left the small luggage hall I headed over to a taksi booth that was fronted by a couple of smart looking ladies and enquired as to how much it would be to get from the airport to my hotel which I estimated to be about 30 minutes away. The sum I was hit with was 100,000 IDR, which to me seemed a fair deal and worth almost that price alone to just avoid the transportation scrums which lay in wait just outside the next doors. With the figure agreed I was then led through crowds of travellers and hagglers for a couple of minutes to where a car soon arrived, my luggage chucked in the trunk before instruction was given to the driver and we headed headed off hassle free to find my hotel in Yogyakarta. A shortlisted contender for the best fiver I've ever spent.

After checking into the "Aloha" hotel and being given the friendliest, warmest welcome I have received to date, I went up to my room to shower and organise a few things to take to the laundry that happened to be located just around the corner. Before I had the chance to go though the rain started to fall and I opened the room door wide just so I could listen to the rain falling outside through the open roof of the hotel, running down the inward sloping roof and dropping into the open pond below, resplendently placed on the floor below complete with goldfish and plants including open water lilly's. As I sat there entranced by the audible patter being made by the giant droplets of water against anything they hit, the brightest flash of lightening whited out the sky, immediately followed by the loudest, longest clap of thunder I had ever heard in my life, that then rolled and echoed for a maybe fifteen seconds or more as it rumbled off away into the distance as I contiued to sit there in awe. I have never heard anything as loud or as menacing before, but the rain didn't seem to care. It just carried on regardless. The 30 minutes or so that I had become accustomed to rainfall lasting for during my travels came and went and the rain kept going, and going, and going, and going......and going.......aaaand going. Eventually, as I became more watchful of the time I concluded that I needed to just say "bugger it" and get my clothes to the Laundrette before they closed. Borrowing an umbrella from reception from downstairs and taking the little shelter it offered, I waded down what had become a small river outside, with the water at times lapping maybe 3 inches or more above my ankles. I could at least take a little bit of comfort knowing that at least half my face wold remain dry under the cover of the umbrella, aswell as the fact that I wasn't wearing socks, so one less thing to dry later.

When I got to the launderette I was informed that my Laundry would take 3 days due to the following day being a public holiday. 3 Days!! By now I was getting used to having everything cleaned by the next day at the latest, but I soon reasoned that this would be ok as it meant my clothes would be fresh and ready for collection on the day before I planned to leave and I probably needed to replace some of my more tired, well travelled clothes anyway. With the deal agreed and bag left behind I sloshed back to the hotel with umbrella in hand and waited out the rain for the next couple of hours, using google translate to try and learn a couple of basic Indonesian phrases, as well as watching the downpour fall through the the purpose let gap onto the landscaped garden nurtured in the midst of the hotel. When the rain finally subsided I was able to go and try and find something nearby to eat, politely declining the umbrella on offer this time but taking with me a dry pair of shoes and my first learned phrase.

Terima Kasih

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Kuta - 6-8/12/2015

I'll keep this one short. I think it's probably for the best.

The Taksi ride from Tanah Lot was pleasant and longer than it should be, same thing as getting anywhere in Bali, close on the map but an age to get to in the car. At least the driver was friendly in a genuine kind of way and it gave me a good last chance to take in the landscape of Bali and commit what I could to memory.

I wasn't going to visit Kuta, having heard a few things about it I had kind of decided that it wasn't for me, being to Australians what Magaluf is to the British. But then again, I've never been to Magaluf.

I booked a small room in a place that was located just a couple of streets away from the Airport for 2 nights, and when I arrived I was shortly reminded of the scene in the Blue Brothers where the Elwoods apartment was rattling from the trains on the tracks located outside and Jake enquired how often the trains go by. "So often that you won't even notice it" and this indeed rang true for the airplanes nearby, but not so much for the 10 dogs or so that were kept by the apartment owner, who would often start arguing amongst themselves, usually in the dead of night for maximum disturbance,
The owner was really friendly though, as were the people staying there and the first night was sat around with a few of his friends and couple of fellow travellers around a barbecue, chatting, eating  and drinking beer, along with occasionally telling the dogs to shut up.

In the morning I walked up to the nearest mall on a quest to find new shorts and "easy-dri" t-shirts to replace some of my dying items. With this a failure I wandered up to the next one and this is where things started to get a little more uncomfortable. Stepping onto the road to avoid a crowd of Masseuses that were gathered on the pavement in front of me I responded to my usual, very polite "No thankyou" upon hearing the familiar call of "Massaaa". However this obviously caused the older lady to take some kind of exception where she carried on "Ah, why you like that Mr, Why you like that?". The other thing I didn't really like here was the word "Sexy" that had been put in front of "Massaaa". For me that gives he whole thing a much darker tone, and one I'm really not all that comfortable with.

Leaving the Next Mall again empty handed I walked up again towards the main front strip in Kuta where the bigger hotels were and the last of the local shopping centres lay, but instead of walking along the front I decided to cut through some of streets that ran behind. It was one of the toughest walks I have ever undertaken.

It was impossible to take more that 3 or 4 steps before the next person would grab you to try and get you into their roadside shop, or a madam would either try to pull you over or rub you on the side before offering you a "Sexy Massage" or "Young Sexy Girl". I found myself muttering a few choice words under my breath on several occasions on the way through, mostly to other tourists who had that same exasperated look on their face. "You look tired sir" was met with a simple "I'm not". In that heat, for that period of time in those conditions, you don't waste time on witty responses. You're breath is important and after nearly an hour in the draining heat and powerful sun getting pushed, pulled, grabbed and stroked I was more than ready to get irked. Luckily at the right moment, the mall I was looking for came into view.

I think it's probably a sign your in bad shape when you get 3 "ice cream" headaches in quick succession, each as painful as the one before it, but even time one faded, my next sip of my Mango Smoothie unleashed another. I decided at this point that I was probably dehydrated or something and decided to abandon the quest for clothes and sloped into the closest decent looking diner to get a grip on things. "Tary" the waitress on the door led me to the coolest place in the restaurant and got me a litre bottle of chilled water a cooling towel and left me alone with the menu for some quiet time. Over the next hour or so whilst I had some food and took more liquid she came over a few times to ask how I was feeling. Christ I must have looked rough, but the food was great and the service from Tary and the rest of the staff there helped numb my built up angst from the hour or so before. I think I titled my trip adviser  review "Cafe Sardinia - The best thing about Kuta" or words to that effect and that's still the kind of way I feel. I was glad to have only booked for a 2 night stay.

On the way back to the hotel I wandered along the long sands for which Kuta is known, with surfers the water, people sunbathing nearby and a bit further away beer being guzzled under the tropical shade all under the watchful gaze of Mount Batu in the distance behind. If you didn't know what led in the streets behind, it would be easy to fall for the perfect image this almost portrayed.

You see, I can 't say that Kuta is a bad place. I was only there just over a day so that would be a tough judgement to make on a place after such a short period. I also have enough photo's to back up the argument there is enough to like about it life in Kuta, But for me, personally,  after a 2 night here, on this occasion I'm just glad I didn't book a 3rd.

not quite it.....

I should also note here that I had 2 amazing meals at "Batan Waru", a restaurant that lay just a few minutes walk away from my hotel. The manager there made a point of coming over on the second visit and shaking my hand for coming back, but with staff like "Ayu" who dealt with me on both nights why wouldn't I? The second night in there I just had to nod to the suggestion of beer and for dessert she knew all I would want would be an expresso, christ I must have looked rough. She was also good enough to go through several options on the extensive menu I had shortlisted in order for me to make the correct choice. I just get the funny feeling that there wouldn't have been a bad one whatever I had picked.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Tanah Lot to do here - 4/12/2015

Tanah Lot lies about 20 miles from Ubud, but thanks to Bali not having the straightest of roads, it takes about an hour to get to by car. The couple I had stayed with now earned their last little bit of money from me giving me passage to the "Natya" hotel I had reserved online, and at just after 3pm the formalities of checking in were all completed by the humourless "Lurch" like character on reception.

I had shortlisted my potential hotel selection to the final 2 on the previous day, and despite this one having the air of the "Crossroads Motel" about it I decided this was the still going to be the better choice. It wasn't that reports of the Natya were stellar or anything so conducive. It was more that one of the reviews for the other hotel that was vying for my business described the place as just "Creepy", and that one word was enough to sway my decision away towards "Natya".

It Costs money (30,000 idk) to get into the Tanah Lot complex where my Hotel was located. For that you get a little paper ticket with the price you paid printed on it and the freedom to peruse 3 streets of bargain laden clothes shops. A small market area that mostly consists of paintings and more clothes is also crammed in, as well as coffee shops, various Warungs which lead to gardens that front onto "Pura Tanah Lot", "Pura" meaning  Temple, "Tanah Lot" meaning "Land in the Sea".  It was around the beach in front of the temple that I spent the next couple of hours, trying to line up a good position to take a picture later on against a plain ocean backdrop without the crowds getting into shot. It's nice to have a picture postcard / iconic photo of a place, but it's easy sometimes to lose sight of what else these places can be about, and in the end I was happy enough to grab a couple of selfies and other random shots before my battery became exhausted and I just sat there watching groups of all nationalities, colours and faiths, gathered and mingling together for the one simple pleasure of watching the daylight draw to a close in a picturesque surround.

As the masses dispelled I went back to my hotel, past vendors hurriedly shutting up shop which in hindsight should have been a warning. After a quick shower I made my way back up to the main street which by this time now lay in complete darkness and devoid of any sign of life or activity, everything abandoned. Spying a lone security guard I quizzed him if there was anywhere still open that I could possibly get something to eat and he marched me back down the road to the hotel just up from mine, "This is good, not expensive" he said and then disappeared back into the night before a young waiter came over to take my food order which consisted of an indoesian dish for the main, a couple of fried bananas for afters and to wash it down, a compulsory bottle of lager.

When the food arrived it looked almost good enough to eat but as soon as I bit into one of the chicken satay sticks I knew something was amiss. I took the plate back up to the counter and asked them as politely as I could whether the food was supposed to be hot or not and the older gentleman barked something at the young waiter who then snatched my plate and disappeared from view. "We'll get you another" the old man tried to assure me but I was already past assurance. When the same plate returned a couple of minutes later after a quick blast in a microwave, I decided to skip the main and just tuck into dessert to minimise any risk, but still the next few hours were spent praying that no unwelcome side effects were going to come from this event, and filling myself up on a Diet Coke in the comfort of my air-conditioned room in attempt to appease the hunger.

In the morning I headed out early to the "Gloria Jeans"coffee shop which lay on the corner of "street 2" and "street 3" where I squinted ineffectively at the menu to see if there was anything other than blurred lines on offer. The waitress behind the counter tried to help by handing me a menu with writing so small that I actually tried to read it by touch, but being ineffective I was left with no choice but to go "Old School" and just ask if they had anything "breakfasty" available.  Thirty seconds later I had been sold the dearest "breakfasty" thing within a 5 mile radius, but it tasted ok, ws properly cooked and was the first proper food I had eaten in nearly 24 hours. I drew that breakfast out through a few long coffee's and a couple of hours, there was very little else to do here. It was kind of like that "now what" feeling of being in Tenby when it's raining outside, except here it was 30 degree heat with barely a cloud to shelter under.

Late afternoon was spent just people watching really, from the couples taking pictures together in front of any of the cliff top views to the surfers being thrown about on the crashing waves below, before I slowly ambled up towards a different vantage point than I had been at the previous night. As I climbed the up the winding narrow street lined with trinket stalls I became aware of a pair of eyes looking intently at me and I glanced over to what initially seemed to be a couple of soft puppet toys placed up in the tree beside me, until they both moved. It was only then I also noticed the giant bat hung upside down below them with large wing unfurled, nibbling his fruit contently in front of the sign that said "Luwak Coffee - 25,000".

Now Luwak coffee is expensive, maybe double that price in Bali and more than that overseas, mainly due to the unique way it's sourced. The coffee is made from the beans that have been passed through the animal itself and I think I read somewhere that this came about because the planation owners barred the workers from using any of the coffee beans to make coffee with, but some clever soul obviously worked out that the beans would go through through digested system of this animal unscathed, the in joke being that from this bean you can make "catcrapcinno".  Most of the places I had seen around Bali selling this coffee would have one of the cats in a small cage as a form of advertising, and it's not the sort of thing i'm ever happy seeing, but this guys Luwaks were treated as pets, left to roam free and play in the rafters and it was clear he had a lot of affection for them. Of the 3 he had 2 were playful, agile and active. The other was just lay around on which ever flat surface he could find to do so, it was still daytime after all and these are supposed to be nocturnal, but his eyes still watched you intently, he wasn't going to let a bean get passed.

SO how did it taste? Well, it tasted just like coffee, very nice, very smooth and not offensive in taste or smell in anyway imaginable, unless of course you get offended by coffee. Still one cup was enough for me and as the light started to dim again, I found carried on up to my vantage point before finding a table for one that looked over Pura Tanah Lot as the night closed in around.

No crowds,

No fuss.

No light.


Friday, 4 December 2015

Bourne Again - 2/12/2015

On returning to my homestay in Ubud it quickly became apparent that I had managed to lose my Blood testing kit somewhere on the way back from Gili. The last time I remembered testing was on the fast boat on the way back to Bali but in all honesty it could of fallen out of my bag there, in the Taksi back to Ubud or in the carnage and hustle that lay between, each as likely as the other and each giving me very little chance of finding it again. Knowing that this is the one bit of equipment I can ill do without I brought along a spare that uses the same testing strips and a finger pricking pen that uses the same, er, pricks. A short walk and a couple of fresh batteries later and I was able to get my blood level checked and put myself back on the straight and narrow. It's a bit frustrating however that in the last few days I have managed to break or mislay not only this, but my primary phone and my Manfrotto Pixi tripod. However, I know it could be worse so we just carry on and I will try and source more back up gear when I get to the next big city. I did try to get my phone repaired or replaced here but the costs are just as high, if not higher than the UK for a new one and a repair could take 30 days or so, the luxury of which I don't have.

Back in town the following day I decided to sit down and have a brew in the Coco Bistro on the Main street. A tasteful bar serving teas, coffees, health drinks and tonics as well as a good selection of food. As is becoming the norm now I started off with a drink to give me a chance to check my levels to decide whether to eat or not, what isn't the norm though is that for some reason I blurted out the words "Could I try the Detox Tonic Please?" instead of the expected "Could I have an Ice Tea?", ordering a mixture of ginger, mint and lemon all thrown together in something that resembled a jar of garden pond with a discarded saucy stick in it, making it much more appealing. After I had scrutinised it closely and throughly to make sure there was no sign of either frog spawn or pond skaters in the mix I cautiously gave it a taste, and it thankfully tasted a lot better than it looked. Still I wasn't brave enough to try another just incase this one came with a discarded shopping trolley or empty fag packet in it. The next time I ordered, I said the words right this time....

Klaatu Barradda Nikto....

Oh, and a smoked salmon wrap please.

A little while later, just as I was starting to delve into my lunchtime platter I saw one of the waitresses walk by and then, out of the corner of my eye, stop, walk back and come over. "Hello Again" she said with the kind of self assuredness that only a professional hustler or a genuinely sincere person would ever have. "Welcome back, how are you doing?" she carried on.
"I'm fine thanth , how are you" I tried to mutter back with a mouthful of salmon.
"Oh I'm good, we haven't seen you for a while, how is your food? is everything ok?"
"Foo ith gooth" I carried on "Reaay gooth"
"Ok" she smiled, "Well welcome back and enjoy".
"Thanth" I managed in almost perfect slob speak, before managing to get rid of my food down my throat and get round to taking a much needed sip of water.

The food was delicious it has to be said, but thats nothing new in Ubud. What was new was that this was the first time that I had opted for something a little more western in style and taste, and again the flavours and quality didn't disappoint. The Salmon wrap was delicious, the accompanying salad was fresh and crisp and the portion of fries tasted perfect when dipped in the portion of delicious ketchup with which they were accompanied. Almost as soon as I was finished my plate was cleared away and the friendly waitress then brought me over a plate with sealed, fresh tooth picks on it, just before anther waitress tried to do bring over the same. "I guess thats what I always have" I thought, and played "the yellow rose of Texas" on the teethaphone with no success.

Fully plucked, I asked to pay and again the same waitress came over to bring me my bill.

"How long are you here for this time" She asked?
"Oh, Just a few days" I replied, looking her straight in the eye trying to work her out.
"3 more days, but hopefully I'll get back again soon"...

"Oh...Ok" she said as she took away my payment, "Enjoy the rest of your stay and hopefully we'll see you again next time?" she enquired.

"Hopefully" I replied, still not knowing who she bloody was.

I've never been there before in my life*

*not that I know of.............

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Gili Gone Island - 1/12/2015

When I first set foot from the boat onto Gili Trawangan to recover my dumped half buried bag from the perfect soft sands in which it lay, the initial impressions were good. After quickly taking in my surroundings and clearing the crowd of other disembarkers, I took a minute to attach my bags together again before switching my phone across to display a map of my current location and waited for my gps to pinpoint my exact position. Before I had left Ubud in the morning I had entered the place where I was due to be staying, so after just a second or so wait my GPS location was locked onto and I started to make my way to the marker on my map. Within a minute or 2, or by the time I was ready to come off of the main tourist street however my impression of the island had changed a little. 

There are very few motorbikes on the island, and the few there are electric powered. Everyone else rides pushbikes if they have them, or walks if its convenient. The local taxis come in the form of a cart pulled by a small pony, usually to take new arrivals to their accommodation or do a lap of the island. Heavy goods are also transported by cart pulled by a pony, with bags of rice, building materials and the like being hauled to their destination in an eco friendly way. Some of the people I saw in carts being pulled by a pony could probably be classed as both passenger or heavy goods, but I don't know if the rates of carriage for each are the same. While this all may sound rather quaint, the main gathering point for these mule carts is as you first reach the road after leaving the beach, and it doesn't take long before your breath is stolen away by a upper cut nasal punch of beach donkey urine that wafts up in the dry air from the hot and sandy street. Luckily it's a smell that quickly passes by and one that I only encountered occasionally over the next few days, but still, welcome to paradise.

So my initial impression was something along the lines of how I imagine Morocco to be crossed with Weston-super-Mare, with empty bars and restaurants lining the dusty afternoon streets and the smaller dusty roads that lead to my stay behind them, quieter less tourist driven affairs. I almost felt a little like Clint Eastwood's "man with no name”* as I walked up towards my destination with people walking past nervously unable to make eye contact, past wild chickens and a gleaming white mosque, past birds In cages awaiting their tea time fate and slightly stocked shops with slightly stocked owners in hiding. The only things missing were people snapping the window boards shut upon seeing me and a wild dog for me to “shoo” away.  It's an island completely without dogs but plenty of cats that meow as you walk past, but "shoo" ing a cat doesn't seem to have the same cinematic value to it.

I arrived at my bungalow for the evening, coming off of the almost 3rd world street into a small complex set in an oasis of colour. I had my own detached air conditioned building which comprised of a large shower and toilet room and a bedroom with a very large, very comfortable bed and I set about unpacking my gear, enjoying the peaceful settings in which I found myself, planning on having a quick shower to wake myself back up again before maybe heading off for a quick dip in the ocean if time allowed. Just as I was starting to relax the noise of distorted audio came blaring through the back wall and I tried to get my head around where it was coming from. The building I was in wasn't connected to any other buildings and as I searched for the source of the disturbance it suddenly dawned on me what it was.

Now, I have nothing against people's beliefs regarding their gods, and I have nothing against the call to prayer even if it does kick off in the morning at 4:30, but I just wish for 2 things. Firstly, If your god requires you to use an audio system to reach out to his devoted flock, please get one capable of relaying the message at the audio quality your god deserves. Secondly, and this might be pushing it a bit, but is it too much to ask for someone who doesn't sound like a hundred and ten year old Max Bygraves muttering woefully into the microphone? The poor man on vocal duty sounded like he was dying a long and painful death while being forced to recite passages from a holy book. Think Cliff Richards Millennium Prayer on 45 turned up to 11 and slowed to 33rpm,  then you maybe able to get close to my distress that this was causing. 

And there is no escape. The call to prayer is 5 times a day and is audible all over the island through distorted audio.

After a late afternoon swim I decided to wander the strip looking for a place to eat. It was a little early and the beach front bars and restaurants were mostly deserted with the exception of the eager staff waiting at entrances to try and get you to eat in their establishments, but the thing is about the smell of donkey urine is it can really kill an appetite. I venture down further until the bars and clubs became less frequent and then stopped, turned around and walked back, hoping that something would jump out at me a little and persuade me to go in and eat. When eventually I did have something it unfortunately fell some way short of the excellent food I had been eating until then. So rather underwhelmed, I finished my beer, grabbed some overnight supplies from the shop opposite and slowly made my way back. Back past the still empty, still brightly lit bars now playing pumping beats to non existent crowds. Back up the dimly lit recently watered sand / mud road and back in to my not so humble abode and promptly fell asleep. This was my first nights rest in a cool environment for a good couple of weeks and I don't think I stirred even once.

In the morning I headed out, stopping on the front in an cool little place called the Kura Cafe which also sold a range of natural products based around well being, at a premium cost of course. Still, the breakfast Burrito here is a work of inspired genius and after washing it all down with the requisite Iced Tea I decided to head up north and do a loop of the island, a journey which the guy at the stay reckoned should take around 3 or 4 hours, but adding helpfully that he'd never done it himself. I estimated the distance to be around 3 miles or just over so a couple of hours limping max. 

A few minutes into walking up the buildings become less frequent and the area starts to feel a little more rustic and run down, with some of the bars seemingly made up of a few boards chucked together with brightly painted signs declaring happy hour times and other roughly daubed slogans. It's always nice to read the one that states “Come in as a stranger, leave as a friend”, but when you're mind instinctlevely changes that to “come as a stranger, leave in other people's bellies” it's best to not not stop moving, unless your into that kind of thing of course. I just kept on walking.

As I walked around the beach at the northern tip of the island several booming claps of thunder echoed around, at least I hoped thats all it was. Being that this is a region with recently active volcanoes, again your mind does start to think “or is it….?” , especially as a bit further west in Indonesia is where Krakatoa used to stand, a volcanic island that basically blew itself apart back in 1883 and something of which I know both too little and too much to be comfortable. I was relieved then as the rain started to patter down around me making little dents in the sand that indeed it was nothing more sinister than thunder and I headed to the nearest safe looking bar, ordering an ice tea to sit and wait out the coming storm which stopped before my drink had even arrived.

I made it about 1/3rd of the way down the west side of the island before I became bored of walking the nearly deserted road, past luxury villas, unfinished building projects and buildings just seemingly abandoned to the elements. When the opportunity arose to cut back up the hill to my accommodation I decided to take it, walking along dirt track roads sheltered with coconut trees, littered with an alarming amount of discarded waste including non perishables such as plastic bottles and cans, perishables such as discarded houses and a particularly aggressive turkey. The sad thing about this island is that it's devastatingly beautiful in places, and almost just devastated in others. Usually in finding a picture perfect location that would be able to grace any postcard, widening your scope of view just a little out of that shot will also reveal a less appealing view and whichever way you look at it, it's a slant on what we are, what we do to places. 

On a different note, one of the great things about travel nowadays is that you are able to buy a whole bunch of items which should make your trip safer / more manageable. Waterproof cameras and phones and IP rated waterproof bags all give you the illusion of safety that at least your important documents will be safe if the boat sinks, or you get caught out in a tropical storm. As a solo traveller this also allows you to keep your important items on you rather than risk leaving it alone on a beach somewhere as you head off for a paddle. With my diabetes I like the idea that I can keep my phone close so in the case of a medical emergency I would be able to at least put a call to someone. I haven't had the need yet but it's a situation that could occur especially as I struggle in the over 30 degree heat. To this end before I left the UK I brought a few waterproof bags and also invested in a sony Xperia z2 waterproof camera (ip rated to withstand 4 and a half foot of water). This I thought would give me a little bit more of the safety I wanted. The only thing that keeps the x2 waterproof are a flap each side of the phone, one of these flaps is held nicely in place by my camera case, the other was more exposed and as I didn't want to risk this flap accidentally opening up, I added an extra level of protection by sealing the flap down with some of the heavy duty gaffer tape I had brought with me in order to do any emergency repairs to bags etc. With everything sealed tight what could possibly go wrong?

Entering the water I had a small amount of money tightly sealed in a water proof bag and the reinforced waterproof z2 zipped into my pocket, this I felt was the safer option than leaving said items alone beach side (on display or not) and I was was only planning on having a quick dip after all. After just a few minutes cooling down I was happy enough head back out, doing an almost perfect “out of sea stumble” as my legs made the uncomfortable transition from water to sand, continuing uneasily back up to my beachside table where, now nice and cool again, I ordered myself a nice strong balinese coffee, complete with all the bits.

You see, the nice thing about paper money is that it doesn't take long to dry back out in the hot climate. The girl on the table next to me looked on inquisitively as first emptied the water from my waterproof bag before I laid each note onto my hand towel and patted it dry, as gently as it was my own new born child. I did think about making a quip about money laundering at this point, but most the other tourists I have encountered so far haven't been fluent enough in English to get the reference, you know, Germans, Americans, Australians, people from Birmingham etc, so I decided to save my breath and concentrate on just getting some money into a dry enough state to at least pay off my tab without feeling like an idiot.

Pressing the button to wake my phone back up caused the familiar vibration to occur of the phone  switching on, immediately concerning as I hadn't switched it off. Then the familiar Sony logo came into view before graphically glitching out and going black again and I tried in vain repeatedly to wake it back up. It was now that the phone decided to get hot and with no way to shut it off thanks to its faux waterproof design and sealed in battery, it just got hotter and hotter and hotter. I ripped off the tape to get access to the sealed flap to see if there was any sign of water, and although nothing was immediately apparent the sim card when I removed it did have a cold / damp feel which indicated to me that water had somehow got in. When I got back to my apartment I laid it down on the floor, as far away from anything flammable as I could, fearing the thing was about to combust through an internal thermonuclear malfunction. After 2 technical failings in one afternoon, I'm left pondering as to whether I have misunderstood the term “Waterproof” for the last 40 years, or whether over that same period of time the term itself has come to mean something different?

The problem I have now is that if I try to return it under warranty (a difficulty in itself being I'm thousands of miles away from where I brought it and it's receipt, and I'm in a county with no Sony Centre that I am aware of) then they will obviously say that the flaps were open, and therefore not covered for the fault under those circumstances and no doubt show me proof of water damage inside the unit. However I would argue that I have no doubt at all that it has suffered from water damage, I would just question as to how water managed to get into that waterproof unit, when the moveable flaps in question were definitely shut tight. So whats the point. Anyway you look at it I'm now a helpful device down and a couple of hundred quid out of pocket, with that unit lasting me just over a month of a lifespan i expected to be much longer. It serves me right again for buying into a sellers claims. Side street market or big multinational corporations are interested in your money after all, fabrication of the devices capability just goes to sell more in the long run. 

Luckily I have a back up phone with me, It's not water proof and has never claimed to be and the GPS is often inaccurate showing me as being several streets away from where I actually am. Not a the best then for finding a location in a hurry or in dimly lit streets where signs often don't even exist, but it is better than nothing at the moment and at least puts me in a very rough area, but hopefully not in a very rough area. I can see that its only a matter of time before I need to seek out another replacement though. this time I may be seeking proof of any claims before i walk away with anything. 

The last couple of days on the island I completed a full lap around its shore, taking just over 2 hours to complete including a couple of drink stops on the way, much perspiration and giving me little bit of sunburn on my underexposed shoulder which in turn led to me snorkeling the next day with a t-shirt on to keep said shoulder covered. For one and a half hours I snorkeled up and down just off the North West tip of the island hunting for turtles, past schools of tropical fish, too many species to remember but all breathtaking, stopping occasionally where the waters became too deep to see into and my fear of Jaws came back to haunt me. Eventually I started to feel exhausted and queasy which led me head back to land and check my blood sugar levels which had dropped from around 15 before entering the water to a reading of 1.8 (dangerously low), know wonder i felt a bit off. I no longer have (or never did have) the safety net of a waterproof phone to use in the case of an emergency, so It's really a warning for next time that I need to keep my timing in check and not get too carried away enjoying myself. Diabetes is only a step or 2 away from biting you on the arse…...harder than a great white rubber shark ever can. 

So I got to see loads of cool tropical fish, but alas I didn't get to spot any turtles. As I sat there sipping on my iced orange juice and chomping on Menthos to recover I reasoned with myself that I had still had a really enjoyable swim and seen an abundance of marine life and coral. It was then that the couple next to me pointed out a large boulder like object slowly moving under the water just a few meters from the shoreline and I quickly grabbed my snorkel again and dove back in for closer look,  spending a minute or so just swimming with this creature as it watched me and I watch it back before I finally stood up to let it leave. It decided it would instead just swim around me again, only this time much closer and then tapped me playfully on the back of my left leg with its front right flipper before finally carrying on it's way. "What is it about that bloody left leg?" I thought, "what the bloody hell is it??" 

But try as I might I really can't hide my disappointment at not being able to find a turtle to swim with in its natural environment. I guess finding a gigantic marine tortoise with flippers instead of legs is still pretty special though, it's just, you know, not quite the same now is it? 

To round it off then, My feelings towards "Gili T" are pretty much as I described earlier, a beautiful island let down by mans ability to mess things up although hopefully not critically. The food isn't as universally good here as some of the other places I have been and the whole thing feels like it's divided into 4 main areas, busy tourist, quiet tourist, abandoned tourist and living quarters surrounded by some breathtaking scenery and unarguably beautiful clear waters. 

There is a chance that I could be being little bit harsh on the island though, maybe I just visited it at the wrong time personally as I'm still struggling to get fully into things, let myself go and get really absorbed. A young couple I spoke to who had been travelling for a couple of months around Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia answered “here” with resounding certainty when I asked them where their favourite place that they visited was and to say that the place hasn't got it's charms would also be treating it unjustly. However I just feel that to every positive here, there is also a negative within a clear line of view.

Another way of looking at it is that maybe I just need to worry a little less too and just get in to what I want to do. The last time I travelled I would have made the Money Laundering quip anyway regardless of the chances of it being understood, just because I would have found it funny to do so. 

At the moment however I'm still a little bit off of that mark

*"The man with no name" was actually called “Joe” but I guess that was less marketable in america”

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The Bintang Monologue - 24/11/2014

At 8pm and 25 degrees centigrade, I'm sweating like an Englishman in Bali, which I am.
2 large bottles of initially ice cold Bintang (they don't stay cold once released into the wild) have flowed in relatively quick succession but to no long term relief. The sweat keeps coming and I start to crave my old coke habit again as a form of comfort. A 1.5 litre bottle of "Zero" costs around 28,000 idr from the nearby Circle K, the bigger bottle helping to keep the liquids inside cool for slightly longer than it takes to walk the 632 steps back to my room.

Today was mainly notable for one reason, or four as it later became. After just over 1 week in Bali, this morning I noticed my first insect bite has arrived. An annoying little chomp on the top of my left calf. By the evening I noticed a further 3 bites have come up. One just on the shoulder line of the right side of my neck, one on the upper part of the right calf and another on the outside of my left ankle. There must be something about this left leg that excites mosquito's as this was also singled out last time i travelled as the focus of their attacks. I'm now drawn towards the conclusion that mosquitos are the leg men of the insect world, only unable to wear beige macs and round glasses due to the obvious difference in weight and size ratio of ebject to pest. At least I had the first week free from nibbles, but I guess from here on in normal service will be resumed.

The last few days here have been spent exploring the area in and around Ubud, both on organised tours and just wandering off the beaten track. With temperatures in the day exceeding 30 degrees it's imperative that I remember to carry plenty of fluids with me as well as a few packs of sweets to combat the constant dips in glucose levels that seem to occur in this warmer environment. A walk around the rice fields of Ubud yesterday evening that I thought would take about an hour or 2, in fact took nearly 4, having to munch my way through 2 packets of menthol's over that duration just to get back safely. A beautiful walk that took me past vast rice fields where I studied some of the simple gates in use for controlling the flow of water onto the terraces, through forests and rivers past unabashed locals bathing,  past lizards and frogs, dragon fly's and the one barking dog as I headed back towards the town slowly as the evening sun disappeared from view, enjoying the views a little too much and eventually having to rely on my pocket torch to light the narrow path in front of me whilst also making myself visible to the stream of scooters from both directions that were making the trip to and from Ubud at the last throws of the day. Still, a nice way to spend a few hours

So a quick breakdown of the excursions I have done and places I have visited over the last few days,  in no particular order other than what my fingers decide to dictate.

Antonio Blanco Museum.
When reading up on places to visit when in Ubud, the Blanco Museum is a name that pops up quite a lot. One opinion piece I had read that stuck in my mind as I wandered around the museum looking at the art on display (paintings/ drawings / poems / collages) was "the best thing that could be said about Antonia Blanco, is that he managed to be a success despite his lack of talent"*. My opinion is that nothing could be further from the truth. The art here is of a varying standard to be sure, as an artist it seems he was never afraid to try new styles and techniques with many images reminding me of Da Vinci sketches (which I have been lucky enough to see examples in the past), in the sense that one particular area would be singled out and perfectly detailed, with the rest of the composition being less so, but composed in such away that you feel the artist was always leading you to exactly what he wanted you to see. Other things started to become more apparent as I wandered around examining his paintings.  It was obvious that Blanco was a fan of the female form but often the body would serve as the framing or subtext for superbly detailed features elsewhere, on the face or hands for example, but make no mistake, the occasional nip did have a fair bit of effort spent on it as well. It may be fair to assume in this case that unlike the humble mosquito, Blanco wasn't really a leg man.  You start to notice on some of his pieces that his paint work (sometimes details or maybe a wash of colour ) would come over onto the frames, knowingly breaking that boundary between subject and viewer to great effect. Once noticed it apparent enough, but also remarkably subtle, so much so it wasn't until viewing the pictures on the second floor that I noticed exactly what he was doing. It's after this point you notice not only how the subject of his art was important, but how the choice of frame was paramount to his pictures as a whole. This was also an artist who wasn't averse to the odd visual "name drop", with painted pictures referencing fellow spaniard Salvador Dali along side collages of him with Michael Jackson and Rolling Stones homages.  To say this was a man who succeeded despite his lack of talent is a huge disservice to the man and the work he produced. Whilst everything there may not be to everyones taste, some of the pieces are technically breathtaking and it's a collection that should be seen at least, if not adored and all set in the grounds of the artists former Ubud home.

eco cycling tour.
Starting at a view point looking over Mount Batur, we cycled (or coasted) along 26km of roads and paths, stopping at temples to take on water before coasting again past school children "high five"-ing and "hello"-ing us as well as non "high five"-ing villagers. As the day progressed and the temperature rose it became more common to see rice scattered out in heaps the middle of the road, much like you would see sand scattered on an large oil spillage back in the uk. Like Bobby Charlton the rice needs a comb over now and then, but rather than serving a purely aesthetic purpose (unlike Bobby's), the rice comb over was to enable it to dry throughly using the heat generated from the sun and retained by the tarmac
During the 2 hours or so on the bikes we only had 3 very short but brutal inclines to overcome. These would have been more manageable if the bike I was on didn't seemingly have a phobia of anything uphill, completely throwing off it's chain in a strop when any real force started being applied through it and leaving me with nothing else to do except either swear, shout and hit it with a branch that had been conveniently left just off camera to the right, or just push it up the bloody hill. Over all though a good experience which has left a lasting impression, mostly on the back of my left hand as it caught the sun badly from resting in the same handlebar position for a prolonged period of time.

Mutiny on the buses.
Less of a pleasant excursion was a day trip to see the temples around the local area. With 5 of us in a mid size van we had plenty of space and comfort, but all of us were suffering from the heat as the driver seemed to have an aversion to putting the air-conditioning on, meaning that each time we returned sweltering from one of the temples with caves bereft of air or a climb of seemingly endless steps, we returned to a van which might as well have had a selection of vegetables cooking in it (which you could argue was very soon the case). Unfortunately though you are a tourist and these trips undoubtably take you to places in order for you to part with some cash. The view from Mahagari resort where we stopped for lunch later that day undoubtably had a fine view of mount Agung and the surrounding vistas, but the food there is bland, soulless and expensive. The coffee plantation where you get to try some of the chocolate and coffee that is grown in Bali is interesting enough, but as usual ends up in the onsite gift store where expensive goods visually fight other expensive goods for your attention. "these products are only available here" after all. Before the end of the tour the overall feeling among all of us was that we had all just seen enough for the day. The last 2 places the driver tried to take us to we decided that we weren't that interested in, and decided just to push on back to Ubud and write that one off.

White Water Rafting on the Ayung river
A better experience was White Water Rafting on the Ayung river, although a more accurate description would probably be river rafting as there were no major drops or anything to cause any major fear or concern, still a good trip though. After being kitted up in a blue and yellow lifejacket and passed my safety helmet I realised that my decision to wear a yellow and blue t-shirt had now made me look like someone going to a despicable me party in costume that had been hastily put together. A short waddle later followed by a steep decent over steeply dealing rock cut steps we arrived at the river, received basic instructions from our guide and set off down stream. We passed around and over rocks, descended mild drops facing either forwards, backwards or sideways, continuing to paddle forwards through scenic setting after scenic setting for the next couple of hours, under rope bridges, past carvings that had been cut into the cliffs and drifting under waterfalls both natural and ones created by little pipes that could be seen protruding through the foliage, at times momentarily ruining the illusion of being surrounded by natural unspoilt nature . The river is busy with lots of people doing the same thing, but rather than being an unwanted distraction this leads to an almost ancient desire to acheive naval superiority, silently approaching unsuspecting rafts before launching a salvo of water scooped ferociously from the river with much oar and a side dish of verbal abuse. The cool water being a shock to the unsuspecting victims, but the return volley is usually a welcome relief from the heat the would building up all the time. The end of the trip ends at a deeper part of the river where you are able to fall in and just drift down stream for little to cool down completely, a much needed couple of hours break from the almost constant onslaught of the Balinese temperature.

So a mixed few days really, some good, some bad but all experiences I can put down to have had.

One thing that can't be disputed is the quality of the food I have eaten at many different places in Ubud. All Varied, All different and several making the grade as "The best I've ever tasted".
It may be too early to declare this yet, but I would imagine that the one of the main things hat will stick in my mind from Ubud is the amazing quality of the food here. Topped only by the amazing hospitality I have received from the owners of the homestay that I have resided at for the last few days. They have offered me a far better experience and stay in Ubud than I would have in many other places I'm sure and given me guidance and suggestions of things to do whilst here. Its people like that who help make place worth going to.

All I have to decide on now, is where I jump to next...

* paraphrased as i can't find the original source.