Down Under Part II

August 31st, 2008 by Riona

Old Bridge, Somewhere in New South Wales

We’ve been a bit lazy on the blogging front for a few weeks and also a bit busy, but I wanted to write a bit more about Australia before I forget it all! So as Eddie wrote, we had a fab time with our friends Michelle, Justin and baby Molly for our first five or six days in Australia. We got picked up from the airport, went for lunch in St. Kilda’s in Melbourne, saw the beautiful Mornington peninsula (where Michelle and Justin live), visited some local wineries, got well fed in both the parent’s houses and got brought down the Great Ocean Road for a weekend trip (saw Koalas, Kangaroos, Whales and of course the 12 Apostles), dropping baby Molly off first with the grandparents. Suffice to say, after six weeks of roughing it in Asia, it was a real treat. We then spent a night with a relative of Eddie’s who took us up the mountains to her daughter’s house for another dinner. We were well fed and watered again!

We spent 2 days in Melbourne itself and loved it. It’s a very friendly city and easy to get around. There was a free tram and tourist bus which went to all the sights so it suited us perfectly! We got our rental car after that to begin our five day trip up the coast to Sydney.

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Down Under

August 6th, 2008 by Eddie

Winter – I’ve finally decided that I have a favourite season and it’s Winter. After spending the last seven weeks or so in warm and humid places, it feels wonderful to be somewhere where I can wear trousers and warm clothes again and don’t have to worry about suntan lotion, insect repellent or trying not to sweat! Unfortunately we still have to take the anti-malarial pills every day (they need to be taken for four weeks after leaving an affected area) as they make me feel a bit sick and have the strangest and most vivid dreams nearly every single night.

Surfers, Great Ocean Road

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General thoughts on food/accommodation/all our woes

July 27th, 2008 by Riona

I have a bit of spare time here on free internet, so I thought I’d write a little bit about the stuff we haven’t mentioned yet but which have been important aspects of the trip so far:

  • The food: Its been good mostly, especially in Indonesia, where we were well fed on rice with tasty veggie dishes and lots of fish. Eddie has discovered he actually likes most fish and is now a committed tuna lover. You get gorgeous banana pancakes for breakfast everywhere in Indo, (more…)
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Creatures of the land and sea (jungle trip + more diving)

July 27th, 2008 by Riona

So we are now preparing to take our leave of Borneo, after a fun few days checking out the oranguatans, snakes, birds and insects of the jungle on a Kinabantangan river tour and at Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary. At Sepilok we stayed at Labuk B&B; a really lovely place with an outdoor jacuzzi and just ten minutes walk to the sanctuary. The jungle trip we went on to the following day was a two night/three day job with a company called Nature Lodge, and included four river cruises and three jungle treks; two at night time. It was pretty good; we were lucky enough to see wild Orangutans on the river’s edge and we saw some beautiful birds sleeping on the last night walk.

Sleeping Bird

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All the little fishes…

July 25th, 2008 by Riona

Here’s a couple of pics from our short diving trip to Mabul and Sipadan, off the east coast of Borneo. Apparently we didn’t get the best day of diving the area has to offer, but it wasn’t too shabby either – we saw loads of colourful fish (that we don’t know the names of) along with nudibranches, a good few turtles (including one absolutely huge one!), some sea snakes, lots of sharks and a pretty mean looking giant moray eel. The seascape around Sipadan itself is pretty spectacular – unlike most of the Malaysian islands, Sipadan doesn’t sit on the continental shelf but is the tip of an underwater volcano that drops around 600m to the seabed. The walls are spectacular to see with the trough between Sipadan and the other islands dropping to around 1000m deep!

We went with Seaventures, whose base is a converted oil rig just off the coast of Mabul. They were pretty good (just bring your own dive tables). The night before and after we stayed in the lovely Sipadan Inn in the poor (and smelly) town of Semporna. It cost a bit more than our usual accommodation, at 85MR per room- about 15euro- but was a great bit of luxury! We spent both nights relaxing in our room watching movies on HBO! Anyway, here we are in action!

Wall at Sipidan Island

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Low’s Peak

July 25th, 2008 by Eddie

Ever since seeing a Channel 4 documentary called ‘Into The Abyss’ about twelve years ago, I’ve been fascinated with Low’s Gully, so when I heard that it was less than two hours away from Kota Kinabalu where we were staying, I knew I had to go and see it!

Low’s Gully is a 1600m deep rift that hit the headlines in 1994 when a group of five British soldiers got caught up in its depths for thirty one days. The Malaysian army came to their rescue after three weeks of searching and just in the nick of time as many of the badly trained group were on the brink of starvation (even though they were surrounded by all sorts of food – tapioca, sugar cane etc. according to a local woman we spoke to). Despite their best efforts, the army team had still only managed to descend about one third of the gully – it wasn’t actually bottomed until four years later when two of the original army team returned with a new group and threw as much equipment as they could at the rift – they rigged it with 5000m of fixed rope and successfully sneaked through. Known locally as ‘the place of the dead’, locals believe that the gully is a kind of purgatory where the souls of their ancestors pass through on their way to heaven or hell.

Via Feratta on Mt. Kinabalu

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Malaysian Borneo

July 20th, 2008 by Riona

Well we’re in Malaysian Borneo and we’re liking it so far! It’s quite different from Indonesia, a bit dearer for one thing, but also more developed than I expected. For some reason when I thought of ‘Borneo’ I thought of wild jungle land and indirectly, abject poverty. It’s only now that I’m here I realise the importance of the word ‘Malaysia’ before the word ‘Borneo’. I didn’t actually realise until we started out on this trip that Borneo is not a state itself, just an island made up of three countries: The northern strip (Sabah and Sarowak) is part of Malaysia; there’s a tiny bit on the north west coast which contains the rich kingdom of Brunei and the remaining majority is Kalimantan, which is part of Indonesia. We’re in one of the most visited parts, Sabah, as there’s lots to do here and it’s a bit more developed than the Indonesian bit so it’s easier get around. Don’t get me wrong, its not like Europe or anything, it’s just not as poor as Indonesia. Its not as hot either, which is actually very welcome after a month of profuse sweating!

Kota Kinabalu Harbour at Dusk

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Surfing in Bali

July 20th, 2008 by Riona

After the Perama boat trip (which was a major highlight of Indonesia as we saw so much, ate so well and met some cool people) we decided to dedicate our last week in Indo to our original reason for going there: surfing. We then did a lot of talking about where to go before deciding to head back to Bali, as its just so much easier to get around – it’s much more set up for tourism than most of the other Indonesian islands so everything is just less hassle. We landed on our feet as it turned out, because we got a pretty cushy number in a surfcamp on the Bukit peninsula, South Bali, near Padang Padang beach and the famous Uluwatu surf break.

Ulu Air

Its a very small world, as we discovered that Josh, the owner of the camp is a good friend of a friend of Eddie’s, and he sorted us out well.

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Here be Dragons

July 14th, 2008 by Eddie

Before we left for Lombok, we provisionally booked a place on a boat trip to Flores and back – the big attraction was going to be a trip to Komodo Island to see the dragons, but we reckoned the journey itself would be a bit of craic and there were going to be thirty others on the boat so it would be a good opportunity to make some new friends.

Komodo Dragon, Indonesia

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Gili Trawangan

July 12th, 2008 by Riona

So from Ubud we went on to Gili Trawangan, one of the Gili islands northwest of Lombok (the island next to Bali). We spent almost a week there and I spent the first four days doing an SSI Open Water Diving course. It was good; all theory and pool sessions for the first two days, then four dives over the last two days. I actually nearly bottled it on the morning of my first dive, I got a bad attack of the nerves about some of the tasks we had to do, but my instructor was very encouraging and calm and convinced me to at least get into the water and see how I felt.

The Parking Lot

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The Last King of Ubud

June 27th, 2008 by Eddie

We’ve been and gone to Ubud since the last time we sat at a computer, crossed from Bali over to Lombok and are now on Gili Trawangan, a small island just a few kilometres off the north west coast of Lombok. Ubud was great, a very different place to Kuta – it’s the cultural part of Bali, and is the place to go if you want to see traditional Balinese dances or other performances. Altough it’s a popular tourist destination, you get the feeling that they’re really serious about their traditions there – all of the performances are done by local groups and all of the kids in the village seem to be out selling tickets – it reminded me off going to a play in the parochial hall in Ballyhaunis not so long ago! We went to two performances, both quite different. One was similar to something you would imagine seeing in China, and used two-man monster costumes, it was very well done and very realistic looking. The other performance involved a group of over 100 men doing a monkey dance – both were unusual but very enchanting!

Shadow Puppet Show The Gamelon

Dancing Children, Ubud

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Bali bo

June 22nd, 2008 by Eddie

We’re in Bali at the moment (in Kuta, the main tourist area by the sea) and although we didn’t get a good first impression, we’ve quickly settled down to the routine of eating, sleeping, a bit of surfing and a lot of sweating :-) We’ve come to the conclusion that what you first think of any place is mostly down to expectations – we didn’t expect too much of Kuta as we heard it was supposed to be like the Canaries for Ozzies, but it’s not nearly as hectic as we thought it would be. It’s great to be relaxing for a few days and not having to catch buses and trains! We’re staying in a really relaxed place called the Secret Garden Inn, just off Poppies Gang I (this is where a lot of the cheaper accomodation is in Kuta). A really clean, large room with air-con and a fridge is costing 240,000 rupiahs per night which is about €17. That includes breakfast and a nice swimming pool. We thought that Kuta would be full of backpacker types, but there are lots of families with kids around (most people here are either Australian or Japanese). Bali is a big surfing destination, but most of the breaks are for advanced surfers – Kuta is one of the few places that’s suitable for folk like us, but even at that, it’s great compared to a lot of Irish beaches! We both had a good session today and we were easy to spot from the beach being the whitest people in the water! We’ll probably be moving inland to Ubud in the next few days, but don’t have any definite plans yet.

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Week no. 1 – Hong Kong, Yogyakarta and Borobudur (Java)

June 19th, 2008 by Riona

So we are here a week today! Here being Hong Kong and Java, but it already feels like we left home ages ago – probably because we’ve travelled so much already. We’re already very grubby and although Eddie is a bit more used to it, I have never sweated quite so much! Its hot here, but not unbearable (until you’re walking around, a bit lost, with rucksacks on and there’s no shade). We were in Hong Kong for three days, which we loved, we’re definitely hoping to return sometime. Highlights were the Peak, the shops (even though I didn’t purchase much!), the escaltor up to Soho and the Man Mo temple, which was so peaceful we could have stayed for hours.

Scarves for Sale, Jogyakarta

So we’re in Java now, which is the biggest island in Indonesia and well known for its coffee. We’ve spent a lot of time here travelling on trains and buses, so we are wrecked already! The first part of the journey was on one of the better trains from Jakarta (Argo Dwipangga, 180,000 each) to Jogyakarta so it was just like getting the train to Dublin ten years ago, only maybe better because the lights didn’t go out at all and we were served breakfast and free tea! We stayed in Yogyakarta for a day or two and spent a lovely few hours wandering around the Kraton, a large elegant palace where the Sultan of Yogyakarta has resided since the 18th century. Yogyakarta was the first place we really saw in Indonesia (we just spent a night in Jakarta and didn’t see much) and it was really cool to get out and explore its hot and busy streets. We took our first ride in a local taxi – a bicycle with a seat attached for two which faces out in the traffic, so once you get in you can’t see the driver (cycler!); you are just thrust out head first into the bustling traffic, at which point you sit back and hope for the best!

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The guilts in Jakarta

June 19th, 2008 by Riona

So after absolutely loving Hong kong and wishing we had more time there, we landed in Jakarta on Monday night and I got a bit fat dose of the Western guilts! We had read in the Loney Planet that we should go to our hotel with the reliable Blubird taxi company, so we had our eyes peeled for the ‘Bluebird’ signs as we left the airport, only to be greeted by countless non-Bluebird taxi men all offering their services. We started with the ‘”No, thank you’s” as we looked for, and found, the Bluebird queue – it was the line of white people headed by a smart looking man in a suit. I was wondering if they had all read the lonely planet too or what was the story. The Lonely Planet has a lot of power. It seemed really unfair that most of those taxi men were finding it hard to get customers, when probably 99.9% of them are decent self-employed men and not trying to kidnap you or anything. But once the seed of fear is planted, it feels too risky to take a chance. So we headed off in the fancy (by local standards) car owned by some big company in search of our hotel which had not actually held our room! Anyway, we didn’t spend long in Jakarta, just found another hotel and the next morning we boarded the train to Yogyakarta.

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