A small taste of Chile
We left Puerto Natales on a very quiet Sunday morning in a bus to Punta Arenas. We didn’t know that these buses had a stop at the Punta Arenas airport on the way. We could have went straight to the airport instead of spending a couple nights in Punta Arenas.
After a short 1.5 hours bus ride, we arrived in Valparaiso. We walked to reach the Cerro Concepcion neighborhood where we had spotted a few hostels. We stopped in the one that sounded the most interesting but unfortunately they were full for the night. The owner was very nice and offered to call other hostels for us to find a place. He called our second choice, the Hostal Casa Aventura, and they had a private room available for our last four nights in Chile.
Bus to Santiago, flight to Canada
Hiking the W circuit in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine
First Day: Puerto Natales to Campamento Torres
Puerto Natales being the closest city to Torres del Paine National Park, we decided a good trek was needed to get our land legs back! Because we didn’t have a fixed schedule, we were able to wait for a good weather window. We took the bus from Puerto Natales bus station to La Porteria Laguna Amarga, one of the three entry points in the park.
On our way to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, we saw almost all the major animals living there: a group of guanacos, some rheas (ostriches looking bird) and a small type of deer. All from the comfort of our seats. We stopped in Cerro Castillo for a few minutes where we saw a grey fox rumaging through the garbage of the restaurant. From La Porteria Laguna Amarga we took the minibus to Hotel Las Torres after paying our entry fees. As soon as we arrived, we grabbed our bags and started to walk towards the Refugio y Campamento Chileno. We were just past Campamento Chileno, when it started to snow, quickly covering the ground.
When we arrived in snowy Campamento Torres, we had lunch and set up our rental tent. We had originally planned to wait for the morning to hike to the viewpoint, but as it was only 3 pm and we were already getting cold, we decided to make our way in the thick snow. We met many people on our way up and most of them didn’t seem too experienced in walking on snow. It was very slippery but we were rewarded with amazing views from the top. The towers were surrounded by some clouds, adding to the eerie feeling of the place and making it even better. The lake at the bottom of the towers was quite grey, but it was beautiful. As the sun was quickly disappearing behind the mountains and we were, once again, getting cold, we made our way back down to the campsite. It was cold and quiet so we had a good night sleep.
Second Day: Campamento Torres to Campamento Los Cuernos
We woke up in the snow, and started our descent down the valley. It was on snow until halfway back to Campamento Chileno. We could see the back of the towers and the Lago Nordernskjold so we enjoyed the Patagonia scenery for a while. When we arrived in Los Cuernos, we picked a platform to put our tent on. We weren’t sure which empty spot to choose, but when we realized we could have a camping spot with a view, it was easy! We set up our tent and cooked dinner while enjoying the sunset over the mountains.
When we went to bed, we had hung the food in the trees to avoid having mice feed on it. About one hour later, Seb had to get up to fix the food on a smaller string between trees as we already had mice running everywhere on our platform. The mice would have easily qualified for Cirque des Souris as they managed to walk on the piece of string, around the garbage bag that was now covering the food bags, and into said bags, where they managed to open almost every item we had brought. Needless to say, this was not a relaxing night!
Third Day: Campamento Los Cuernos to Campamento Italiano
In the morning, we made our way to Campamento Italiano, where we set up the tent and had lunch. After lunch, we started our ascent towards Britanico viewpoint. After the viewpoint, we continued on for a while but as the sun was setting, we turned around and came back to the campsite. Before going down, we took a break enjoying the views of Glaciar del Frances where we witnessed multiple avalanches.
Fourth Day: Campamento Italiano to Campamento Grey
When we woke up, we discovered that hanging the food bags between trees using a small rope was, once again, not mice proof. We had new holes in many bags and after two nights like this, there weren’t that many food items left untouched. We headed down the Frances valley. It was an easy trek to reach Paine Grande with very nice views along the way. We stopped in the Refugio y Campamento Paine Grande to use their kitchen area. We were also able to recharge our camera battery. After our lunch break, we decided to head up in a different valley, towards the Glaciar Grey. It was fairly difficult with all the ups and downs but once again we were rewarded with amazing scenery. Once we finally made it to the Campamento Grey after four hours and 11km since our lunch break, we put up the tent and left for the kitchen area. There were only four tents up and no trees to hang our bags so we decided to leave our stuff on the picnic table. We cooked dinner and talked to a couple from Germany and a couple of Americans, all on their first trekking day. When we came back to the tent, after dark, we found our bags and tent surrounded by fat mice. We chased them around with our headlamps and went back to the main building to pay for our camping fees, and store our backpacks in the lodge for the night. It started raining as we finished setting up the tent. We heard mice running around all night but overall we had a good night sleep.
Fifth Day: Campamento Grey to Campamento Las Carretas
We started our day with the short 10 minutes walk to the Glacier Grey. It was very nice to see many small icebergs in the lake and to have a closer look at the glacier. Later on, we started our walk towards Campamento Paine Grande. We felt it was slightly easier, probably because we had just started our day! We stopped for our lunch break before heading towards our last campsite. It was a very long second half, most of it in the plains. We finally arrived in the mini Campamento Las Carretas after seriously considering sleeping on the beach. We secured our bags to try once again to make them mice proof. As AA went to the river to get water, a big owl flew over her head. The sky was clear so we enjoyed the very bright stars before going to bed.
Last Day: Campamento Las Carretas to Administracion
After a pretty comfortable night, we went to the kitchen area where we discovered no mice had managed to go from the very tiny string to our bags! After packing our stuff and having breakfast, we started our short walk towards the Administracion and the bus. It took us about 1.5 hours to arrive so we had plenty of time to sit at the picnic table and have some coffee. During our bus ride back to Puerto Natales, we saw many rheas, guanacos and geese. We also saw some foxes, and in Cerro Castillo, the little grey fox was still around the coffee shop trying to steal some food scrap and posing for the tourists.
We spent a few more nights at “home” at the Patagonia Adventure Hostel booking flights for our next destination and enjoying the small town of Puerto Natales.
Last moments of sailing : after over 2 months at sea
Cruising along the Chilean Patagonia
We made it to Chile today! In the afternoon, we entered the fjords through the Magellan Straight . It was so nice and different to steer while looking at mountains instead of endless water. We put the sails down and started to motor as the sun was setting.
We motored all night and the following day. We were lucky as the water was very flat. The sun was back as well, so we enjoyed a colorful sunrise over the mountains.
We spent the whole day enjoying the warmth and the sun, taking lots of pictures and just being in the moment. We saw a whale, some birds, magellanic penguins, seals, and sea lions. We picked an anchorage stop next to Puerto Natales and enjoyed a friendly sea-shanty competition and had to wait for the next day to clear the customs.
First step on dry land after over two months at sea!!
After being cleared by Chilean customs, everybody got in the tender for our first trip ashore since Antarctica. We were welcomed by a very cute puppy, who then followed us around town. In Puerto Natales, there are many dogs roaming the streets, about half of them have an owner, but are still free to wander. After our two and a half months at sea, we needed some well-deserved partying! We enjoyed our time in Baguales, a local microbrewery, where we practiced our Spanglish with our new amigos.
We spent a few days in Puerto Natales, relaxing and catching up on our almost normal life, and trying the many great Chilean wines. We took a room at the Patagonia Adventure Hostel for what we thought was going to be just 2 days, but we felt so at home that we extended our stay, while trying to figure out our next move.
Antarctica : Our Experience of the Coldest Continent on Earth
A Few Hours on the Land of Ice: Antarctica
Almost halfway through our Southern Ocean crossing on board SV Infinity, we were lucky enough to step foot on the southernmost continent. AA was steering with Gabo when he noticed what we though was an iceberg but turned out to be land: ANTARCTICA!!!!
It took us all day from the moment we first saw land to reach Cape Adare. We enjoyed the view of black mountains covered with snow. The water surrounding us was filled with huge icebergs everywhere. It took a while to be able to go through all the ice blocks, but with a team up in the crow’s nest and one on the bow, the Captain was able to manoeuvre the boat safely toward its anchorage spot in Robertson Bay.
On our way, while avoiding big ice chunks, somebody spotted some whales in the distance. We stopped everything we were doing and enjoyed a private show from the many killer whales that were busy feeding in the area. At first, they did not seem very interested by the boat, but as we were slowly getting closer to the beach, they came in to have a closer look. We even saw a mommy killer whale and her little baby.
Shortly after, while enjoying the magnificent views of the Antarctic continent, glaciers and icebergs, we saw a lone seal on his little piece of ice. We drove around him, getting very nice close up pictures. He seemed curious but not enough to actually move anything more than his head.
We approached land and anchored the boat close to Ridley Beach to go explore the area on foot. We could see many rookeries of Adelie penguins with our binoculars. We lowered the tender and everybody got ready. We had to split the group in three as we can’t all fit in the smaller boat, and we needed people to stay on board in case the anchor would not stay in place.
With the smaller boat, we landed on Ridley Beach. The beach was made of very dark rocks and also covered by ice. We jumped out of the dinghy as soon as we touched land, and tried to hold on to it so it would not leave with the waves. It took a few tries to bring the boat closer to the ice. We tried to attach a rope to a big chunk of ice, but it was not heavy enough, so we had to try again. It took a few trial and error, holding on to the boat, feet in the water before we could secure it.
One thing that we noticed as soon as we arrived on land, was the smell of penguin poo. A big seal watched us coming in, and it didn’t seem too sure on how to react. After a few minutes of us being too humans (very loud excited sounds), it moved a few meters away. We landed right next to an Adelie penguins rookery. They looked at us, some of them moving their wings at us, but mostly, they couldn’t care less about us.
Every few meters, there was another penguin group followed by another group and so on forever. We spent some time watching them and taking many pictures. We saw more lazy Weddell seals, countless Adelie penguins and some skuas, amongst other birds.
We walked around slowly, going towards the oldest building in Antarctica. We walked some more, meeting more penguins. One even came straight towards us and stopped a few feet away probably wondering what kind of creature we were. We stopped moving and after a moment, he walked right around Seb, smelling around, and kept going, not worried at all.
Our Captain found a different penguin in one of the group. It was a chinstrap penguin, by himself, hiding in a large group of Adelie penguins. Some penguins were walking in groups following each other and sliding on their bellies. It was awesome to watch!
The scenery was amazing; many icebergs, mountains, deserted land, blue water and even a colorful sunset in the distance. We enjoyed the area for a while but as soon as the sun disappeared it started to be much colder.
We made it back to Infinity, changed into dry and warm clothes and tried to process our day. There was a lot to take in, almost too much, like an overload of awesomeness. We were waiting for dinner to be ready, hanging out in our cabin and talking about our day, when we heard something about Sea Shepherd and heard some unknown voices. We went upstairs, and we had company!
The Sea Shepherd encounter
Who would expect to get visitors in this isolated part of the world, after being alone at sea for a month. Four guys from Sea Shepherds took their zodiac and came up to ask us to help them. They were trying to keep the Japanese whalers from killing as many whales as possible as part of their “research” program. The whalers are a group of harpoon ships and support vessels and one processing ship. The Sea Shepherds have three big ships and as soon as they get close to the whalers, the Japanese support vessels follow them to prevent them for taking any actions on the main ships. They wanted our help to act as a decoy, making the whalers follow us instead of them so they could get away from their tailing vessel.
We gladly accepted the mission and quickly went around to shut all the lights so the Japanese ship would not see us. The Steve Irwin came in the bay, followed five miles behind by the Japanese vessel. They shut all their lights coming in the bay so we could trick the Japanese into following our boat instead when we would turn our lights back on. We slowly made our way out of the bay, dodging ice bits and waited to see if the plan would work. The Japanese ship started following us going west. The Steve Irwin waited a little longer for all of us to be far enough so they would be undetectable on the radar and then would try to go around the cape and find the processing ship. As soon as the sun came out, the Japanese ship noticed their mistake. They must have been furious to have been following the wrong ship for part of the night!
They came rushing towards Infinity, double checking their mistake, and showing off their powerful engine by circling us, before storming off to find the Steve Irwin once again. They unfortunately caught up with them before they could escape. We were very sad that they missed their shot by about half-hour, but we have to admit this was a very funny adventure! (to read more about the Sea Shepherds and their missions in Antarctica or to read their account of our encounter visit:
After the Japanese realized their mistake, we returned to our anchorage spot in Ridley Beach so the last group of people could go ashore. Later in the day, the Steve Irwin came back towards us, unfortunately followed by the Japanese ship. We attached our boat to theirs and they transferred quite a lot of fuel to top up our tanks as their thank you for helping them. It was very funny to see everybody excited to meet new people, on both boats, as they too had been at sea for a long time. After the fuel transfer, we went out of the bay and south into the Ross Sea, hoping to reach a different anchorage in prevision of the storm that was coming up our way.
Sadly leaving this wonderful place
During the night, we had to speed through thick ice and slushy water. We then gave up finding the new anchorage location and decided to face the heavy winds in the open sea, far off coast. We headed East for a while until the winds where too strong and we then motored through the storm. We were motoring forward and were pushed backward by the winds and currents for a good part of this storm. For a change, we had to look behind us for icebergs. We had to make a reasonable decision and changed our original plans. We tried to go back to Ridley beach but this wasn’t possible due to an excessive amount of ice in the bay. We had to give up and leave Antarctica to head East for Chile as we still had a long way ahead of us and the sea conditions were changing quickly.
After getting the first glimpse of Antarctica in company of Gabo, AA steered as we watched the continent disappear slowly and said our farewell to the frozen continent. We will be back one day, but until then, we are off to South America!
Sailing the Southern Ocean
66 days at sea : Crossing the Pacific on board SV Infinity
We left on board the sailing vessel Infinity in the night of January 31st. We said our goodbyes to dry land for what was an estimate of 8 weeks at sea. We didn’t know what to expect or even the basics of being on a sailboat.
During our first day entirely at sea, we encountered our first rough sea. We ran everywhere, trying to secure everything that could go flying around and become a hazard. Almost the entire crew had to take breaks and go sit outside for a while when cleaning up as we were getting slightly seasick. Luckily, we weren’t seasick except for a couple of episodes in the first days.
During our two months on board, we often had to change or adapt our plans to the weather. A sailing vessel being dependent on wind, we sometimes had to tack, which means sailing in a zig zag patern. Other times, the wind was so light that we had the choice to either use the motor or let the boat drift until the wind picked up again.
Learning the ropes of sailing is not easy and was very stressful at the beginning. Every little thing out of the ordinary made up for a lot of stress, for example, trying to stay on course while other small fishing boats were coming in to have a closer look at our big vessel. We learned a lot and soon we were able to steer on our own, with a supervisor team always available to help us when needed.
After a few weeks, the days started to blend all together and it felt like all we did was our watch shifts, daily duties, sleeping and eating.
With a crew of 16, we had to organize ourselves with watch and duty schedules. The watch schedules changed a few times according to the needs. At the beginning, we were in teams of two, one steering and the other keeping an eye out for any threat. When we arrived in the icebergs area, we had to be in teams of three, adding one person for the radar watch job.
The daily tasks that needs to be done on a sailing vessel are numerous and varied, ranging from baking bread and making coffee, cooking the meals for the crew, cleaning, maintaining the equipment etc. Every week, when getting the new watch schedule, everybody would pick a daily task they wanted to do.
It can be hard to live in a closed community like on-board Infinity as we never have anywhere but our cabins to go and rest, or have some alone time. Between the stress and the lack of sleep, there were some tensions sometimes, but surprisingly, everybody got along just fine. We will be happy to have some time to ourselves without having to steer, but sad to let our new family behind.
Deep Sea Oil Drilling Protest
After a few days of sailing along the New Zealand coast, catching some fish along the way, we caught up with the MV Duke to help Greenpeace with their protest against oil drilling and the surveying of the ocean floor near Wellington. Infinity’s part in these actions was limited to following the main vessel for a few days, transmitting messages from the local communities of Kaikoura.
After a few days circling the area, the main boat left at a impressive 10 knots speed. We all wondered why, but quickly realized what was going on when we saw the waves getting bigger and the sky getting darker. It was forecasted to be 15 knots wind but it was more like 45 knots. It was very challenging to drive the boat in these stormy conditions as we had to hang on tight every time the boat would rock.
When we were getting closer to the village of Kaikoura, we spotted some Hector’s dolphins. The dolphins followed us for most of the day and some of the guys ended up going in the water with them. Later at night, during AA’s watch, the dolphins were back. It made it very difficult to focus on the on upcoming big boat, lowering and changing the sails, while hearing the dolphins flip flap on both sides of the boat!
South of the 60 parallel, home of the icebergs
We met with some heavy storm weather on our way to the Ross Sea. We were keeping the lights out to help us see potential icebergs as the sky was very dark and cloudy. It was a little bit daunting to be sailing on a fairly rough sea, in pitch dark nights, in the middle of the Southern Ocean.
During the storms, we would sometimes motor instead of sailing in order to be able to avoid the potential icebergs. One day, we were motoring and the wind was so strong that we were actually going backwards and had to look behind us for icebergs.
We saw many massive icebergs on our way South. The shades of blue in the ice, the waves smashing into the iceberg and the many small pieces floating around were incredible. We spent some time circling around some of the first icebergs with the boat and everybody loaded their camera cards with pictures. Most of our shifts were spent dodging icebergs, and some days we could easily count 10+ at any given time.
Many animal encounters
With our new dolphins friends in Kaikoura, we saw a lot of wildlife. Some whales were obviously curious to know what was that big thing in the water, while others didn’t look interested at all.
One day, while we were sleeping, we heard some of the crew of the deck getting all excited. We ran up and watched the five fin whales feeding close to the boat. We were often surrounded by many albatrosses and sea birds such as the Antarctic and Cape petrels.
Good times and good stories
We had very good moments and very challenging ones too. Some of the funny memories were not so fun when they actually happened, like Seb’s unwanted salty water bath in the middle of the night after a huge wave washed the deck. He had time to hold onto the railing which allowed this story to be a funny one instead of a dramatic one. We also encountered some snow, enough to built a snowman on the deck and have a good old snowball fight!
During one of our night shift, Seb noticed some lights in the sky. We were lucky enough to witness some Southern Lights. They were quite faint but still very impressive to get to see them in summer time.
We were ecstatic when we got our first sighting of land! During the whole journey, we had just spent a few hours on land in Antarctica (details and pictures to follow in the next post). We hadn’t seen mountains or land in so long that it was actually very odd. The smell of land was also very new, we had almost forgotten about it. We entered the fjords of Patagonia on April 6th and spent two days steering while looking at mountains before arriving in Puerto Natales the next night.
About halfway though our journey, we were lucky enough to be able to reach Antarctica and spend a few hours on land. This day was so awesome that we though it needed it’s own post. Keep an eye out, it will be coming soon!
The most epic adventure ever!
The walk from our hostel in Kuala Lumpur to the station was not that easy as the sidewalk sometimes disappear all of the sudden. We made it to the station and into the shuttle bus. It left a few minutes late, but we arrived early enough as there was no traffic in the early morning hours. We checked-in and went through real security this time. Our eight-hour long flight was uneventful and we arrived on time in Sydney.
On our first day in Sydney, we woke up around lunch time, thanks to our jet lagged bodies. We spend the day visiting some of the touristic sites. We walked towards the old Sydney and the Opera house. The city is very nice, clean and modern. The port is also beautiful.
We also spent some time in Sydney shopping for warm clothing to bring on our next adventure. We will have to come back to Australia for a proper visit as this was a very short transit on our way to Auckland in New Zealand.
The service on our Quantas flight to Auckland was very good, we enjoyed the meal and movie. When we arrived in Auckland, we waited in line for the immigration. The immigration officer was very funny and very smooth in obtaining all the info he needed without even looking like he was asking. After this long process, we picked up the bags and waited for what felt like forever to go though another immigration line, but this time for anything that needed to be declared. In both Australia and New Zealand, we had to declare food, hiking boots and anything that went into fresh water (as they are surrounded by salt water) among many other potentially dangerous items.
|Auckland, New Zealand|
Auckland, New Zealand
We spent the first few days doing some more shopping and getting ready for our next epic adventure. We joined the crew of Infinity, docked in Viaduc Marina. Infinity is a 36 meters sailing expedition vessel. The crew consists of 16 people from all over the world. We will be sailing from Auckland to Puerto Natales in Chile. On our way we will attempt to visit Antarctica, depending on the sea and weather conditions. It is the craziest adventure of our lives by far! We will be at sea for about two months, sharing meals and personal space with our new mates, while learning how to sail. It will be quite the adventure! Obviously as soon as we get back on dry land we will share new posts about our experience.
|Infinity, our home for the next little while|
As of some of you may have guessed, we won’t have any contact with the outside world for around 10 weeks. We do have emergency communication devices, navigation and safety equipment, and LOTS of warm clothes to make this trip safe and awesome! Meanwhile, have fun!
Seraya Island and Kuta Lombok, Indonesia
The day after our Komodo dragon experience, we followed the group going to the semi-private Seraya island, in a nice line through the village. The boat ride was only one hour to reach Seraya with its white sand beach and little bungalows. Once we arrived on the island, we enjoyed the view for a few minutes before deciding to rent masks and snorkels. We went in the water but it was not easy to get a proper fit with the equipment, and AA wasn’t feeling as brave as the day before, especially when some jellyfish swam right in front of her eyes.
Our few days on Seraya were spent snorkeling, relaxing and playing in the sand. Seb saw many fishes again and even some stingrays. Unfortunately the high tides brought in many jellyfish everyday during our stay. We played island explorers a few times, walking on different sections of the island, where we found a lot of garbage. We celebrated the new year with a German family and a European couple around a nice fire on the beach.
|The small bungalows, basic but very nice view and location.|
|The only way to get there!|
|The deserted beach of Seraya Island|
|Storm coming through|
|From the top of our island|
On our last morning on Seraya, we needed to get a ride from a small motor boat to the main boat as the water was very low. When the guy was loading one of the suitcases on the boat, he went straight through the flooring, into the inside of the boat where the motor was located and we could see some water in there. Needless to say we didn’t feel very safe once again… we kept the flippers close by and ready to use just in case!
We left our almost private little paradise island and went back to the smelly port of Labuanbajo. We walked under scorching hot sun back to the airport. The airport is being worked on so anybody coming in has to get through a big puddle of mud. Obviously one of us had to slip and get his feet a mud bath before getting in the airport… We cleaned up as much as possible in the grass and made our way in, through “security”. At no point in the process we were asked for a piece of ID. It had been the same on our flight from Bali to Labuanbajo. We had a good laugh when we saw the metal detector not even turned on and the ladies working the security actually playing Majong on their computers.
Our flight from Labuanbajo to Lombok had a good connection in Bali but as it was late leaving from Labuanbajo it was much shorter than planned. When the plane landed, everybody walked out on the tarmac and waited for the bus to arrive and bring us to the main building. When we walked in the building there was a very small sign saying “Transit”, so we thought we would follow it, but it led outside, by the conveyor belt. We were very confused. We came back inside, double-checked with a security guard and went back outside. Finally a bus arrived to take us to the departure building. We went through the area where people pay their departure taxes, but as we were flying with Garuda Indonesia, the taxes were already included with the ticket, so we just walked by and went through security. This time the metal detector was on, but people working there didn’t seem to care more about security. We checked the status of our flight on the screens, but it hadn’t been updated so our gate number, and flight information where not even on the board yet, with only 2 minutes to the boarding time. We were starting to wonder how to find the proper gate when we heard the last call for boarding our Garuda flight to Lombok. We rushed to the right gate, hopped on the bus, who then drove us right back to the same plane we had just left!
|On the tarmac at Denpasar International Airport, Bali|
Our friends had told us that the easiest way to get to Kuta on Lombok was to take a taxi and buy the pre-paid ticket from the boots before getting out of the airport. They were asking 84 000 Rupiah (8.40 CAD) to get to Kuta. We had read online that it should be less than that, but at 8 pm we didn’t feel like shopping around with taxi drivers. All of the process from the airport to the room was so easy, we kept wondering where was the catch. But no catch, it was just that easy!
In Kuta, we woke up the first morning to the sounds of the mosque at 4:30am. The mosque being visible from the guesthouse, is was very loud but earplugs did wonders for the other nights. Kuta could easily look like any other Indonesian village but the beach was different. The sand was more of a golden colour and the waves much stronger than the other beaches we’ve visited so far. It is a well-know area for the surfing community. We walked on the beach for a while, meeting women and kids selling sarongs and bracelets, but also locals enjoying the water. During every lunch and dinner, we were interrupted every few minutes by kids selling bracelets and sarongs.They can be pretty persistent with people not knowing how to say no firmly. We spent about a week in Kuta catching up on work, sleep and movies.
|Kuta Lombok Beach|
|Kids selling jewelry on the beach|
The last night we tried to phone Blue Bird Taxi in order to book a taxi to go to the airport the next morning. We got through and even got somebody that spoke English. The only thing is, they can’t come to pick up tourists anymore as the locals won’t let them. Locals will block the roads for any empty taxi coming in. We were expecting an answer like that coming from hotel staff, but never would have expected something like that from the biggest taxi company in Indonesia. The local businesses charge between 120 000 and 150 000 Rupiahs, when the going rate with a meter should be around 50 000. The hotel owner called his “friends” and got us a private car for 80 000. While waiting for the friend to call back, he said that the other option would be a motorcycle ride, which he could do for the same price. The price of gas or any other excuse doesn’t hold up if the price they say is the same for a car or a motorcycle. Indonesian attitude and felling ripped off all the way to the last night…
When we landed in KL, we knew exactly where to go this time. Between the traffic and the rain, it took a while to get to downtown, but by the time we arrived the rain had mostly stopped. We were again very impressed with the customer service skills of the receptionist, reminding us that we were back in Malaysia. She showed us the hostel and our AC room, with WiFi! We spent a few hours looking into our next crazy adventure before going for supper in the Central Market. We spent a few days in Kuala Lumpur, enjoying the warmth in prevision of our next expedition. We also booked our flight tickets for the first legs of this new adventure: Kuala Lumpur to Auckland via Sydney. Exciting times!
Ceningan Island to Komodo National Park, Indonesia
We decided to spend Christmas on a small island, a short distance from the main island of Bali. We took a minibus from Kuta to Sanur where we followed the driver to the beach. We stepped in the water to hop on the very basic and no so fast “speed boat”. It took about an hour of boat to reach Lembongan and just before reaching the island we saw some dolphins swimming nearby. We crossed most of Lembongan island on our way to the yellow bridge leading to the tiny island of Ceningan. The hotel had a small saltwater pool and only two bungalows. Our bungalow had a huge bed, a balcony overlooking the pool and a small ocean view. The bathroom was located just at the back of the bungalow, outside with only half of it covered by a roof.
December is rainy season in this area, so we had many rainy days. We relaxed, enjoyed the swimming pool and the stress free island life.
|Our bungalow for a few days over Christmas|
|The view from the neighboring restaurant|
|Where the restaurant ends and the ocean begins…|
|The hotel’s pool|
After a few days of quiet holidays, we had to leave our little island and get back on the main land. The two guys working in the hotel gave us a ride to the boat on their scooter. The sea was a little rougher than on our way to Lembongan, but this time we saw some flying fish. As soon as we started walking in Bali we remembered quickly what we didn’t like about it the first time.
Labuan Bajo, Flores
The morning of our flight to Flores island, we woke up slowly before our alarm. We were looking at things online when Seb saw an email from Rina Kembar (using a yahoo address) with “info SKY” as the subject line. He opened it and it was saying that instead of 11:30am, our flight would be departing at 9:40am, it also included a reminder that we needed to be at the airport two hours prior to departure. When we saw the message it was 7:50am. We never packed our bags so quickly! We had picked a hotel located about 10 minutes walk from the airport so we were able to make it on time.
The views from the sky were very pretty; turquoise water sprinkled with green lush islands, exactly how we had envisioned Indonesia. We landed in Labuanbajo earlier than we had first expected, and decided to walk the two kilometres to the beachfront. We hadn’t book a room before so we walked around, asking for prices before settling down on the little bungalows of the Gardena. We were walking in the village as the sun was setting when Seb’s foot fell right in the whole left by missing bars on a sewer grid. Luckily only his knee was bruised, it would have been really easy to break a leg with the depth of the whole.
The next day, we had decided to book a four-day boat tour to Lombok. The owner was there and he told us that because of the rough sea his boat had not made it back, so it would not be leaving the next day. We were quite disappointed especially as we were already debating leaving Indonesia earlier than planned. We decided to take the one-day tour on Rinca island and then spend the following three nights on a semi-private island owned by the Gardena before flying to Lombok.
|Aerial view of Bali|
|Nice small island viewed from the plane|
|Our anti-flies friend|
Rinca Island, home of the Komodo dragons
The boat was very small, and didn’t look too sturdy with its two wooden benches. The engine was so loud, we had previously thought it was helicopters making all the noise. Once we left the quay we realized there were also no life jackets on board. The ride to Rinca took about 2 hours, following the coast, in the slow and very noisy boat.
The scenery was very nice with many green lush islands and some white sand beaches. When we arrived on Rinca island, we met the local rangers who quickly showed us on a map the path we were going to take. As in Nepal, the guides where only equipped with wooden sticks, but this time it was the 2.0 version, with a fork end. We went toward the few houses of the locals as some Komodo dragons like to hang out there and eat food scraps. After looking at them for a few minutes, we went on the main path where we were lucky enough to see three more dragons. Everybody took many pictures with the guide encouraging us to go one by one to have our picture taken near the dragons. We were walking in the forest when suddenly AA noticed a small funny shaped branch on the ground. It was a baby dragon, about 1 m long. Up to the moment they are tall enough, the babies live in the trees in an attempt to protect themselves from the adult dragons. The Komodo dragons are not fussy eaters, they will eat whatever they can catch, ranging from small animals to deer or even water buffaloes. They can smell food from 5 to 10 kilometers away. Apparently it is very hard to get data on them because as soon as they die, other Komodos will feast on the dead one and leave nothing behind.
The tour then continued on through the forest and up a hill to a nice viewpoint. The tour was a little short for our liking, but as it was very hot, coming back on the boat allowed us to cool down a little thanks to the breeze. We moved on to Pink beach, a small island, about an hour of boat away. We stopped there for our hour-long snorkeling session. The coral was very cool, filled with many fishes of all the different colors and patterns one could think of. Seb also saw a black and white stripped snake swimming close to the surface. It was a nice snorkeling experience.
|On the boat to Rinca|
|Small fisherman village|
|Viewpoint on Rinca Island|
|Dragons hanging out under the houses|
Then, we just had to go relax for the evening and get ready for our trip the next day. We are going to spend New Year at a very special place.
From Java Island to Bali, Indonesia
In the morning, we walked to one of the many malls of Singapore to buy coffees and tickets for the metro. As we were carrying our coffees we noticed one of the numerous signs reminding people that drinking or eating in the metro is punishable by a hefty fine. No wanting to gulp the coffee right there, we hid the two coffees in AA’s purse. The subway was quick to get to the airport and getting out of Singapore was very easy. The process to enter Indonesia was also straight-forward; we entered the building, paid our fees, went through immigration to get our 30-day visa on arrival, grabbed our bags and out the door we went. We had read about a bus to the city, so coming out of the airport we walked on the left side, followed the signs and bought our tickets to go to Gambir station. The bus took a while to enter the city, about 1.5 hours, most of it stuck in the terrible Jakarta traffic jams. Crossing the street was as challenging as Kathmandu, but we made it to Six Degrees, one of the nicest hostel so far.
Jakarta on the way to Bandung
We stopped in Jakarta only because it was our entry point in Indonesia. We didn’t visit anything; the lack of interesting sight, pollution level and hole filled sidewalks did nothing to encourage us to go for a walk. We booked a train ticket to get out of Jakarta as soon as possible. We had bought our ticket in first class, which is more like an economy class anywhere else in the world. It was a train with service, so they were walking by quite often, offering foot massage, taking food order and even selling from the train boutique. On our way to Bandung, everything was very green, lush and tropical. When we arrived in Bandung, we realized we had forgotten to save the hotel location in the phone, but managed to find it anyway. We were pretty impressed with our talents to find our way in cities we don’t know. The hotel was very basic but nice. We spent the major part of the day indoors as it was pouring rain. Bandung looked and felt like a Jordanian city; dirty and noisy.
We went to bed quite early as Seb was not feeling too good. He woke up a few times during the night, so in the morning when it would have been time to wake up, take the bus and explore a volcano, we realized it was not going to be an option. As we had already bought our train ticket out of Bandung, we couldn’t postpone our departure so we just had to skip this volcano.
|First class in the train from Bandung to Yogyakarta|
Kaliurang and Gunung Merapi
Getting from Bandung to Kaliurang was quite the adventure. The first part was easy, a direct train from Bandung to Yogyakarta. We arrived in Yogyakarta just in time for the rain to start. The girl working in the city bus station directed us to the right bus station, about 1 km away. When the right bus arrived, we were soaking wet. after the short bus ride, we got off and started walking on the street leading up to Kaliurang village. Seb asked a guy waiting on the street corner for directions and he told us a minibus would bring us closer to the village. We waited for a few minutes and a brown beaten-up bus showed up. The guy confirmed this was the right bus and we got on. We knew the bus was stopping in the village of Pakem and we would need to get a motorcycle taxi. For some reason we were expecting a motorized tuk tuk.. but no! It was actually a motorcycle where we had to sit behind the driver and hang on tight. It’s in those moments that you think maybe we should skip some details of the trip for our parents! It was a stressful ride but we made it safe to the Vogel’s hostel.
The next morning, we woke up at 3:45 am and went to the restaurant where Christian, the owner, had set up a table for us with breakfast. He did his briefing of the mountain, showing us a video while we ate. We then met our guide and started walking. We walked across the village, very quiet that early in the morning before heading into the rainforest. We watched the sun rise over the valley, walked across a lava bed and visited what is left of a village that didn’t survive the 2010 eruption. We saw the damages of the last two major eruptions, in 2006 and 2010. Unfortunately it was very cloudy so we didn’t get to see the whole volcano, but when we were walking back towards the village the clouds were moving so we saw the last dome. It felt good to be back in the nature after visiting bigger and busier cities.
|Lava bed – Gunung Merapi|
|Cloudy Gunung Merapi|
The next morning, we took our bags, cuddled the hostel kitty one last time and crossed the street to wait for the minibus back to Yogyakarta. When we arrived in front of the cell phone shop, two guys and one girl were already waiting. We sat with them and tried to have a conversation, with Aida being the translator. We waited for about one hour when Christian drove by on his motorcycle to tell us he was going to find the bus. The ride down to the city took about 45 minutes and the driver dropped us north of the train station. We walked towards the Sosrowijayan neighbourhood, filled with many tiny streets, Losmen (homestays) and restaurants. We looked into our options to get to Bromo: the train schedule was not very convenient so we decided the tourist minibus that stopped in Bromo on its way to Bali was an easier choice. The minibus stopped at the office in Probolinggo where we had to get off and get our vouchers for the hotel and next day bus to Bali.
|Helicopter ride Ma’am? – As the driver would ask…|
|Yes, you can transport anything on a motorcycle|
We had a very early start at 3:45am. We headed down from the village into the sea of sand. We followed the jeeps and when we arrived at the bottom of the hill we asked a local where to go for Bromo. He must not have understood the question, because he pointed us not quite in the right direction. So it was the middle of the night, the sky was lighting up slowly and we were trying to find the white rocks surrounding the path in the dark. Two motorcycles drove by us and when the second one came back, he asked if we wanted a ride to the bottom of the staircase. We had said no to the first one as he was too pushy and asking too much, but with the second guy, the sun was already starting to be up, so we agreed on a price and both sat at the back of the motorcycle for the few minutes ride in the sand.
We arrived at the stairs, walked past a group and made our way up. Bromo is very impressive when seen up close as it is very much alive. It is breathing and spitting smoke. We walked on the edge of the crater, which is not fenced off, taking many pictures and enjoying the morning light. There are many jeep tours available. The jeeps usually go to the higher viewpoint and then bring tourists to Bromo, so when we arrived at the volcano there was just two small groups. It was very quiet and we could enjoy the views almost to ourselves.
After our volcano expedition, we got on the minibus down to the city. We were dropped in a different tour office where we waited for over 2 hours for the big bus to arrive. It was a very long bus ride with just one stop where to eat and use the toilets. We took a small very slow ferry to cross over to Bali island and finally arrived in town at midnight, local time. We were very happy to have decided to book a hotel while on the bus so we didn’t have to start looking for a place at midnight. We shared a taxi to town with two other fellow Canadians.
|Foggy morning so far…|
|Gunung Bromo – The crater!|
|Quite a steep crater…|
|The fog is dissipating slowly|
|Walking on the edge|
|Gunung Bromo’s smoky crater|
|Watching the sunrise from the edge of a volcano’s crater, check!|
We spent most of our days in Bali relaxing and enjoying the hotel swimming pool, just going out for dinner. We visited the main tourist street, which looked like any waterfront cities in the US with its beach, bathing suit shops and fast food restaurants. But we also walked in the less crowded and often forgotten small alleys and streets where the locals actually live. It is an interesting contrast and we enjoy seeing both sides of the medal.
|Small convenience stores are everywhere in the back alleys|
|The small shelf on the left contains used mismatched bottles of vodka or other drinks.
They are full of gas and for sale to anybody looking to fill up their motorcycle.
|One of the entry point to Kuta Beach|
|Oops! That makes you trust the infrastructure right?|
|That’s a lot of stuff to carry on her head|
During our walks, we were asked many times to stop for a survey, encouraged to “come and have a look” in the shops, asked to buy something or rent a motorcycle, etc. We found it very annoying to be always asked for things like that, making us feel like walking ATMs. As soon as you get out of the touristic area, the feeling is different. Most people seemed curious and truly happy to see us when they where greeting us. They were also not trying to rip us off and we even bought a bathing suit for 3.50$ instead of 50$.
It is the first time in our travels where we are both unsure if we like a destination. We have mixed feelings for Kuta, Bali, or even Indonesia so far; the beaches are nice, but people can be rude, and are often trying to rip us off.
This year is going to be our first Christmas without snow. You will learn everything about it in the next post…