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I N D O N E S I A   II   ( N U S A   T E N G G A R A )

14.10.2011, 14:30   ---   From funky bemos to endless silence

Kupang, the capital of West Timor , doesn’t have all too much to offer apart from a pretty waterfall nearby and a daily night market with fantastic food. The city’s optic (and its sound too) is dominated by colourful, pimped-up minivans – called bemos – serving as public transport. The horns don’t just honk, but play some sort of annoying melody, accompanied by noisy music from inside the vehicle and the basses of the sound system beneath the rows of seats make you bounce with the rhythm involuntarily.
The Lavalon Bar is the usual hangout-spot for the few travellers and some expats, Edwin, the owner, is probably the city’s best source of information about ferry connections, sights and the like and by the way there was an unspoilt view towards the ocean, too.

After a few days of lazy relaxation I made my way towards the next island along with Scoutt and Joey (before Kupang we had already met briefly in Borneo) – Alor. The ferry ride took 17 hours (no, it isn’t that far actually, the boat was just unbelievably slow!), luckily we had decided for business class and therefore we could enjoy the comfort of cushioned seats and cheered for the Indonesian national football team on TV with all the locals – sleeping was hardly possibly being surrounded by that noise!
Once we reached Alor we headed straight for the little island of Kepa, a recommendation of two other backpackers from Kupang and truly wonderful. There’s only a single resort here on the island, we’re staying in a nice bungalow, the sea is perfectly blue, the food fantastic and the reef right in front of us is home to sharks, turtles, big fishes, small fishes, colourful fishes… an absolutely stunning reef and incredibly good visibility, but also a strong current at times (one feels a little bit like in a rollercoaster sometimes, or like the turtles in “Finding Nemo” ;-) ). The silence here on the island is amazing, there are no roads, therefore no bemos or motorbikes either and at night before falling asleep one only listens to the ocean and the funny sounds of the geckos. ;-)

17.10.2011, 21:00   ---   Hello Mister!

Wow, some exceptional days lay behind me… the Indonesian hospitality can hardly be beaten! Through Couchsurfing I got in touch with Melissa, an Indonesian girl from Kalabahi, and after leaving Pulau Kepa I stayed at her place for two days. She’s super nice, helpful, knows loads of people with all sorts of useful information and we perfectly got along with each other right away!
She always spends the Saturday morning at church and bible lessons, so I used the time to explore the area on my own. I went to Takpala, a small and very traditional mountain village. On my way there I bumped into Gabriel, an English teacher from Kalabahi, and his little son Christian. His wife is originally from Takpala and he offered me to join me and show me around, so I even had a translator by my side. :-) The 13 families of Takpala live in traditional Alorese houses and are unbelievably welcoming. I’ve been greeted everywhere overly friendly, some of the villagers invited me for coffee or tea, they fed me lots of fresh fruits and I learned heaps of Bahasa Indonesia.
After the visit Gabriel offered to take me back to Kalabahi, on the way we also stopped at his friend’s farm and at a little fish market and everywhere people were overly excited and curious at the sight of a foreigner. No matter where I went, I was surrounded by people calling “Hello Mister!” Usually that’s also where their English ends already, only very few people at least know how to greet a woman, too. ;-)
Back in Kalabahi Gabriel insisted to show me his house and introduce me to his family – his father, his wife and the 4 children. Surrounded by also a bunch of kids from the neighbourhood we had some drinks, fresh fruits and cookies and afterwards I also had to stay for lunch. Meanwhile Gabriel told me a lot about his students and everybody was very pleased with photos of my family and friends.
Finally it was really time to go back to Melissa and on the way there Gabriel told me about a German woman who lives right in the same street, she would surely be happy to have a German visitor – so we stopped there too! For almost 50 years “Mama Jerman” (the German mum) or “Mama Putih” (the white mum), as she’s known in the whole city, has been living in Indonesia, and over 20 years ago she opened the orphanage Damian. She seemed indeed to be very pleased about my visit and welcomed me very lovely. We had some coffee and cake again, with lots of pride and love she told me about her big family and all the kids, whom she gave a new home, and showed me around the orphanage – an incredible woman!

Way too soon I had to leave Kalabahi already, but the ferry doesn’t run all too often, so one has to take whatever is available. ;-) I was heading for the island Lembata and by chance Melissa’s friend Foni was going as well. Her brother is getting married there, so the entire family came along. And even though I hardly even knew Foni, she offered me to spend the night with her family and to help me getting to the bus the next day, so nice! Around midnight the ferry finally arrived in Lewoleba, the entire family was taken to the brothers house, we had coffee and a delicious meal, everybody was absolutely lovely and with some English, a bit less Bahasa Indonesia, a dictionary and heaps of big smiles we got along with one another quite well! I can’t even tell any more how many meals and snacks we had the next morning, I felt like I was about to explode and then they also were so kind to take me to my bus, an exceptionally welcoming family which really made me feel at home!

29.10.2011, 21:00   ---   Slowly back towards tourism

Remoteness, whale hunters, crowded ferry, dreamlike beaches, octopus, earthcrack, coloured lakes, rice paddies, volcanoes… my last 10 days in fast-forward! :-)
So I was at the island Lembata. On the Indonesian scale of tourism it’s situated rather at the lowest end, there are regular power cuts and the roads are so bad that only trucks and motorbikes can go anywhere. On some sort of truck-bus (basically a bus with a bench on each side) I rode on a bumpy and dusty road through the bush until I finally got to Lamalera, a small village with a church, a little shop and a few hours of electricity a day – nothing else. The atmosphere is quite strange and somewhat spooky, can’t really describe or explain it. It feels like being a hundred years back in time and clocks seem to stand still. Very very strange… but nevertheless super friendly people! The village lives from fishing and they hunt just everything that crosses their way in the sea – fish, mantas, turtles, sharks, dolphins… and whales! And I saw their boats, they actually hunt those huge whales only with small wooden boats and bamboo harpoons, basically by hand! Indeed that’s dangerous, but also quite respectable. Yeah right, there’s an international ban on whale hunting, but these guys only catch such a little number of them in a year that nobody really cares apparently. My personal opinion about it is rather ambivalent, but one has to take into account that not the least bit of all those animals is wasted, everything is used and in the end there are only bones left! I was also offered to join one of the fishermen in the morning, but unfortunately that couldn’t happen in the end due to big waves. There was a volcano eruption in Flores, one of the neighbouring islands, which caused some sort of mini-tsunami… bummer.

So I went back to Lewoleba to take the ferry to Flores . Incredible, what a ferry!! Buses being packed to unimaginable dimensions is nothing new anymore, but this ferry was not any different! Packed to the last available space! Instead of letting people get off at the next harbour first, other people already climbed onto the boat, a few fell off the deck into the water, goods were unloaded across everybody’s heads… Indonesian order, insane! :-D

I spent my first days in Flores in Wodong, in a neat little bungalow by the beach, and enjoyed the silence. Indonesia is probably the most noise-intensive country I’ve ever been to, so those places of silence are even more enjoyable! Along with a nice French couple (Jaques and Christine) I chartered a boat, Captain Gani and his son took us to amazing islands, fantastic snorkelling sites and a tiny village, a great day! While snorkelling I saw a non-hiding octopus for the first time, just swimming around in the sea, beautiful creature, and there was also a huge crack in the ground of the ocean. Apparently it developed with the last tsunami a few years back, it’s about half a metre wide and it’s clearly visible that both sides would fit together like two pieces of a puzzle. In this place two tectonic plates of the earth moved apart, impressive to that this clearly. The ridges of two of those plates run all the way through Indonesia , which is the reason for all those volcanoes and regular earthquakes.

Next destination was Moni, a small village in the mountains, beautiful landscape, a pretty waterfall, a hot spring… and the tri-coloured lakes of Kelimutu. That’s another volcano of course and at its top there are three differently coloured crater lakes. Mostly one is black, one red and one turquoise, momentarily though one is black and the other two turquoise (still slightly different though). Anyway, it’s truly beautiful, especially once the clouds lift and the colours become even brighter in the sunlight. The colours are apparently caused by different minerals in the rocks and according to the believe of local people the souls of the dead go to these lakes (one for the young people, one for the old and one for the naughty ones, just don’t remember anymore who goes to which lake), accordingly a holy place.

After a brief stopover in the mountain town Bajawa and meeting Jaques and Christine again I’m now in Labuan Bajo at the western end of Flores and have successfully passed all those freaking bus rides accross this island! Flores is absolutely stunning, incredible scenery with perfectly symmetrical volcanoes, extremely green rice terraces and a spectacular coastline, but also loads of mountains. Accordingly the roads are winding up and down and around those mountains, there are hardly ever 200m of a straight road, only slopes all over the island… and easily half of the passengers on any bus have a puke-plastic-bag in front of their faces – I’ve seen nicer things in life! ;-)

04.11.2011, 9:00   ---   Rendezvous with the giants

I spent one week in Labuan Bajo and the wildlife encounters around here can hardly be beaten!
Right off the coast is the Komodo National Park, lots of small and big islands with dry vegetation and white beaches, perfectly clear sea, beautiful reefs to snorkel and worldclass dive sites… oh well, and the komodo dragons. With a body length of up to 3m they are trhe world’s largest monitor lizards and this is the only place where they live.
Along with 4 other travellers I did a two-day boat trip to the national park, brilliant!! We had a nice crew, they cooked delicious food, we slept on deck and of course we wanted to see the dragons! We stopped by on Rinca and Komodo itself to hike for a bit. The giant lizards are indeed not harmless at all (only this year 6 people got attacked, a 6-year old local boy got eaten half) and therefore nobody’s allowed to explore the islands without a ranger – right at the first encounter we were really glad to have him with us. The Komodo Dragons are huge and quite scary, seem to be leftovers of the age of the Dinosaurs, and one voluntarily keeps yet some more distance! ;-)
But this experience even got beaten when we went snorkelling. We headed for the so-calles “Manta Point” and right at the surface we already saw huge manta rays – so quickly off into the water! :-) Wow!! They were not shy at all, came up to us very closely and all one feels so incredibly tiny… I followed one manta for a bit and all of a sudden I was surrounded by FIVE of these giant rays, the biggest one had a wingspan of about 5m, incredible!!!
Afterwards we wanted to snorkel at yet another place and when we anchored our captain pointed down to the water and said “There are thousands of fishes down there!” It rather looked like a big dark rock, but once in the water we did give it a glance and indeed: A huge school of fish as big as our boat rested at a depth of 6-8m. It’s absolutely jaw-dropping to dive and swim right through them, the entire school forming a tunnel like synchronised!! Sometimes I’d love to have an underwater camera! :-/

Now that I was here I mustn’t miss the diving of course and because it was so spectacularly great I even stayed for a second day. Wonderfully healthy corals, loads of sharks, turtles, napoleons, morays, lionfishes, scorpion fishes, mantis shrimps… and manta rays again!!! They enjoyed being cleaned by small fishes, danced around us and always come back to us, so cool!
On the second day we were just about to hit the water for our first dive when another boat announced that they’d seen whale sharks nearby! The dive could wait of course and along with a few other boats (two of them even followed although their divers were down at the dive site, wouldn’t recommend those dive centres!) we tried to find them. Once we saw them they turned out to be no whale sharks though, but 3 whales. When they surface to breathe only a very small part of their body is exposed at a time, but considering how long it took them wind along the surface with the entire body they must have been insanely huge, contrary to a tiny dorsal fin. We did some research later on and that must have been blue whales, with a length of up to 30m the largest living soul on earth!!! Unfortunately they only surface about every 5 minutes to breath, in between we could only guess where they were and try to follow and accordingly we were unbelievably lucky when they suddenly surfaced close enough to actually be able to see them under water… if our captain wouldn’t have missed the moment! Everybody was ready to jump, but instead of stopping the boat e kept cruising on full speed and we lost them. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and he messed it up – bugger!!
With a 2-hour delay we finally reached our dive site again and hit the strongest current I’ve ever experienced! There’s strong current at almost every dive site around here offering great drift dives, but this one was no fun anymore! Swimming was basically impossible as it would’ve instantly taken us away, so we literally had to crawl over the ground while holding on to rocks and corals, whatever we could grab. When there was nothing to hold on to we had to go with the current for a moment and quickly slow down again by grabbing the next available opportunity, we encountered quite some sharp and stinging corals as everything goes so quick and the fingers suffered quite a lot, under these physically exhausting conditions we ran out of air after only half of the intended dive time… I’ve had more relaxing dives in my life, but at least we were rewarded with uncountable sharks and huge schools of fish! :-)
Komodo is for sure none of the world’s easy dive sites, but it’s definitely the most stunning underwater world I’ve ever seen!!

14.11.2011, 11:00   ---   See ya again, Indonesia!

I spent my last week in Indonesia in Lombok and Bali . On my way to Lombok I met Jaques and Christine again on the ferry and then went to Mataram for two days, the islands capital. Not really much time though, but just enough to explore a little bit of the island by motorbike. The landscape is absolutely gorgeous, lush green, and in addition to heaps of mosques there are also some beautiful Balinese Hindu temples. Next I went to the small island of Gili Trawangan . So many people I met on this trip told me how extraordinarily nice it is… well, I was rather disappointed. Indeed it’s nicely quiet and relaxed (no motorised vehicles are allowed there), but otherwise just too built-up, touristy and overpriced and also the beach didn’t exactly amaze me. The best thing for me were actually all those horses. ;-)

So time to go to Bali then! I lived with the couchsurfer Owain and his 3 cute dogs and had a great time! I visited the Ulu Watu temple, beautifully situated on top of a high cliff, huge waves breaking down below and inside the monkeys enjoy stealing all sorts of things from distracted tourists. Jewellery, glasses, phones, shoes… nothing’s safe, but in exchange for some food they usually let off their thieved treasures. And in the evening a traditional Balinese Kecak dance was performed on the temple grounds during a spectacular sunset, beautiful!
One day I went to Kuta, the most touristy place in Bali , to go shopping – the shock of my life! When I was in Bali 5 years ago I stayed there for a few days and remembered an indeed touristy, but nevertheless nice place (I gotta admit though, that it was just shortly after some bombs scared away most foreigners…). Nothing’s left of that!! A massive traffic jam, thousands of people, the simple small hawker huts have been replaced by fancy boutiques and large shopping centres… unrecognizable!! If I didn’t know it for sure, I wouldn’t believe I’ve ever been there before!
My last day in Asia was planned to be spent on the beach yesterday, but when huge black (!) clouds appeared in the sky we rather skipped it and instead got some beer and put a chicken in the oven – no kidding about the rain in Bali .

And then it was finally time to say “Bye bye Indonesia , bye bye Asia !” I had a great time in this continent and will definitely be back, but for now I’m looking forward to a rice-free diet! ;-) Off to Australia !!!

14.11.2011, 12:00   ---   What’s the best place???

For almost 14 months I’m in the road now, right now I’m happily on the plane to Australia and therefore I have more or less geographically passed the first half of my trip. The probably most frequently asked question I’ve been asked for the last months was “What’s the best place?” Almost during the entire trip I was unable give a definite answer to that as the single countries are just too different and each one had been a great experience. But then I got to Indonesia and BAM… that’s it, my obvious favourite among all those countries on this journey until now!
Nevertheless, as I said, every country was great in its way, so this is my personal ranking (order is no valuation):

Best beaches
Tanzania ( Zanzibar )

Most breathtaking scenery
White Desert , Egypt
Petra , Jordan
Namib-Desert, Namibia
Mount Bromo, Indonesia

Best food

Most present history

Friendliest locals

Most impressive wildlife
South Africa

Best Diving
Tanzania ( Zanzibar )
Malaysia (Borneo)

Most impressive Monuments
Pyramids/Temples/Tombs in Egypt
Petra, Jordan
The temples of Ankor , Cambodia

Best Travel-mates

Greatest diversity

Scariest moment
Rhino-attack in Namibia
Sick in Malawi
In the front row of a night bus in Indonesia with a real hell driver behind the steering wheel

Marriage proposals of strangers in Africa
Being helped across the street by old grannys in Vietnam
Rice meals at McDonalds in Asia

Most impressive wildlife-encounter
Cage-Dive with the Great White Shark in South Africa
Eye contact with a huge male lion in Namibia / Etosha NP
Being surrounded by 5 huge manta rays in Indonesia / Komodo NP

Most relaxed places
Dahab, Egypt
Cape McClear, Malawi
Pai , Thailand
Don Det, Laos
Koh Tao, Thailand
Pulau Kapas, Malaysia

Nicest travel on public transport

Craziest parties
Oktoberfest in Munich , Germany
Tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos
Fullmoon Party in Koh Phangan , Thailand

Least touristy areas
Zimbabwe (despite Victoria Falls )

Local languages that I enjoyed the most
Arabic ( Egypt , Jordan , Dubai )
Swahili ( Tanzania )
Bahasa Malay / Bahasa Indonesia ( Malaysia und Indonesien, almost identical)

Places that I missed most after leaving
Vilanculos , Mozambique
Koh Ta o , Thailand


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