Saturday, August 27, 2011

If you eat the crystals, make sure they're organic

Well, Ubud may have been the seat of ancient Balinese kings and it is still the cultural capital of a remarkable society. But the hippies are taking over.

Not the farm fresh flower children who took their cues from Tolkien in the first modern mass experimentation of living like hobbits.

These ones have money baby.

It's the millionaire Noordhoekers and Kalk Baaiers who eat well, dress for all occasions, look fabulous, and love their yoga. Elizabeth Gilbert singles, clutching that book, and seeking their own personal Katut. Or maybe their own Philippe?

There are Paul Smith and Polo boutiques, and more designer yoga outlets than the whole of Cape Town. Im sure if we keep looking it's only a matter of time before we find the Fendi and Balenciaga.

And squitched in-between the upmarket guest houses, temples and tour companies, there are a few absolutely fabulous organic world-food cafés. Just our thing.

And yet amidst this all the Balinese lifestyle endures, rich and authentic.

Gamelan rocks us to sleep, while we wake to watch early morning stretch itself in the thousand year old wheatgrass green paddies.

Family compounds have been supplemented with beautiful guest accommodation, but the exquisite shrines still hold pride of place in the home, and rival the doorways and entrances for higher grade sculpture.

Ganesh is a welcome sight wherever you stay, adorned with frangipani flowers and blessed with the daily offerings.

We were going to stay two days, then 6. Now 8 is looking more likely.

Ok, off to our first yoga class. . . .

ps. Elizabeth Gilbert gives an absolutely fantastic presentation on TED. Check it out.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Scrubbing up in KL

The flight from Sumatra to Malaysia took less than an hour but the culture shock couldn't have been more extreme.

We loved Sumatra for the landscapes and biodiversity, but KL has different charms. What a city!

Slick, clean, cosmopolitan, safe, with unbelievable (to South Africans) public transport and cheap, good food. And shopping that made our eyes pop.

Built on a tin mine & carved from the jungle, KL impresses with fabulous east-meets-west architecture and infrastructure to rival the best in the world. This is the city Jozi could be.

We whizzed around on the tube, ate dirt-cheap excellent street food, dined at an Italian bistro with a few tapas accompanying our many cocktails and grappa, took in the aquarium and amazing KL Bird Park, took in movies back-to-back, and shopped like Sandton kugels released into a new mall with complementary credit cards.

In short, we were total mall rats this week, and absolutely loved it.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

some chillin' - a hundred shades of blue, steel and grey over the water and mountains during the darkening

Magical Toba

Indo ferry innovations part 2. Armchair and car steering wheel serve For The Pilot's Comfort

Indo ferry innovations part 1. Tattered lifejackets delightfully arranged as bunting.

On the waters' edge!

Little girls playing and loving the Big Day - 66 years of independence after 350years of Dutch rule.

Independence Day traditional dances .... princess waiting nervously for her act to get underway

Scooter Diaries, Sumatra

Batak lifestyle and village life seems quite traditional for the most part

Batak architecture is alive and well, and even if new houses are not being built in the old style, the existing ones are numerous, ooold, but indestructable

Batak village, complete with sarcophagus of long-dead king, adorned with washing...

Hot Springs - sulphur cake thick underfoot...

Friday, August 19, 2011

Pondok Pisang and Wild Pig Curry

So it turns out the goat curry was actually dog. Yep.  But that's about the worst of it, as far as Toba goes.

The Bataks do things their own way.  Their history is difficult to understand, and seems to be not well documented, in spite of unique language, religion and culture, and -even to the untutored foreign eye- noticeably different features.  But there is Batak music, Batak architecture, Batak food, Batak clothing and textiles, of course the Batak language (little Bahasa here!), the Batak flag, and their own brand of animistic Catholicism.  Only finally defeated by the Dutch in 1904, the Batak were also a iron thorn in the side of the colonists; Indonesian Independence Day was celebrated this last Wednesday and the locals rightly partied hard if only, for just one day, Indonesians, and not just Bataks.

We have enjoyed the authentic village life and peace of Toba.  People used to come here to party hard, which still seems a little odd.  Toba has a slow-down quality to it that leaves you puzzled and changing the subject when people ask what you've done the last week.  Well, nothing much.  And thats not because of the 'shrooms, good as they are.

We've enjoyed some of the frankest and best conversations with Indonesians anywhere here - Achenese and Malayan Indonesians seem much harder to access as a visitor. We've enjoyed seeing women and girls being themselves in public, the Muslim part of Sumatra locks their women away and even a 2 second flicker of eye-contact across genders and nationalities is a small victory.

We've enjoyed the touring through beautiful landscapes, and following people's everyday village living.  Guesthouse owners are as likely to run a local spaza shop and rent motorbikes as farm the family's rice paddies.  Multiple sources of income are the way of life, although tourists are too often seen as walking ATMs.

We've listened to the Arak fueled guitar parties, which seem to start up around 11 every night. Most Batak are fairly competent with a guitar and a few old Bon Jovi songs. But there is the odd squawking rooster with an untuned guitar who plonks himself next to you when you're trying to enjoy a quiet Bintang.

And we've also enjoyed the unique Batak-ness of it all.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sumatran wanders....

Leaving Weh was tough. Seldom have we found a place that we both felt we could stay put indefinitely. The beach life, double-time downtempo owing to Ramadhan, suited us just perfectly, even though only two of the six restaurants were open, and then only illicitly. We had to place orders the night before, or in the morning for the evening, and pay in the evening. In this way we neatly sidestepped the Imams' edict that no food was to be sold to tourists during daylight hours.  Of course, other than evening, we had to take meals back to the dive centre or our rooms, but this was only a minor inconvenience.  And amidst this intercultural dance the muslim divemasters were eating three meals a day inside the dive centre, and the the famous Mama Donut was in plain site pushing her irresistible coconut cakes, spring rolls and, yes, donuts on starved divers freshly returned from the reef. Industry and Religion make strange bedfellows at times.

From Weh we backtracked via taxi, ferry, flight, and minibus via build-up fall-down Medan, the overwhelming capital of Sumatra, to Bukit Lawang, a small frontier town that borders on the enormous Gunung Leuser National Park. A bit touristy, but once we were in the jungle staring at the magnificent Orang Utans, this didn't seem to matter that much. The experience is authentic, and humbling. Watching the great apes swing and tumble gracefully through the trees, quick-slow and quiet. Overshadowed by the hugest trees I have ever seen, jungle tracks as much walking as using lianas and trees ourselves to climb upslope and down, in between tangles of ferns and roots. Peace.

We are now in Lake Toba, having decided almost on the spur of the moment to brave the madness of the Trans-Sumatran highway and make tracks for what was once the Koh Pangang of Sumatra.  The island of Samosir, situated in the middle of massive Toba, is wall to wall with jaded tourist infrastructure, but no tourists.  The locals live their (fascinating) lives but from a visitors' perspective, this place is ideal, and a little weird. A resort ghost town.  Like the Bandas, and Goa, the parties started, peaked and then moved on. The death knell was the Bali bombings, and the lake fell back into slumber, belying its catastrophic origin 100 000 years ago when the greatest volcanic explosion on Earth nearly put an end to life on earth.

Sumatra is a land of extremes - we are cold here at Toba and loving the thick rain, oily on the pancake top of steel blue Danau Toba, when we baked on cloudless Weh.   The violent origin of Toba is obvious to the eye, and leaving Bukit Lawang we were reminded of the terrible floods of 2003 which destroyed most of the town and killed over 300. Weh itself is still recovering from the tsunami of 2004; the rebuilding is a slow process. And leaving pristine jungle we passed through 6 hours of palm oil plantation to reach Toba, distracted fortunately (for us) by the traffic, which can not be recommended to beginners.  We were to stay in Toba for only a couple of days, but it seems we will be here until next week....

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Just back from rafting in a rainstorm, cold, wet and happy. T with Irwan- awesome guide.

Old Men of the Forest

Monkey gazing.....

Battle of the Sumatran grandmasters. Tension is high. Beer essential to calm frayed nerves!

Back in the village, in our little bamboo hut on stilts, set high up on a slope above all the other houses with cracking views of the river and the forest. Four Orange Men in trees across from us this morning!

Beautiful streams, waterfalls and campsites. Pristine jungle throughout...

Visitor to our campsite, swimming up and down stream in front of our tents

Good times in the rainforest looking for Orang Utans, Gibbons and other random monkeys. Incredible experience.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The other journey...

"Now I know why people worship, carry around
Magic emblems, wake up talking dreams
They teach their children: the world speaks.
The world speaks everything to us."
William Stafford

Friday, August 5, 2011

Time has ceased

We can barely tell you what year it is, let alone day or time. This may make planning our eventual departure from Weh a little tricky.

And it seems it is not just us- everywhere we go on Weh we find Ramadhan somnolescence.

Masterfully otherwise were the psycho macaques who chased us up and down earlier today, while we were still mastering the scooter with T on pillion screaming Go! Go! Go! like some scene from the Italian Job.

We did not find the Hot Springs, but we toured pretty much every road on Weh and found beautiful coconut meadows high up on the central mountain, tsunami sunken boats in the harbour of Sabang, heard a haunting call to prayer from one of the many many chrome plated iridescent aqua blue mosques, found a cool little south africa owned resort on the east coast complete with a bar and dining area unmistakably saffer in design, complete with photos of lions, and drove through large portions of uninhabited forest, for all we could tell still pretty much primary jungle.

Typical Weh beach, thick with coconuts

Cruising the forested lanes of this quiet island is awesome until some psycho monkey chases you or a careless driver comes whizzing past unannounced.

Having just completed our OW1 dive course and about to set out for the Deep Blue

Gapang Beach, Pulau Weh. Jus' chillin...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Things we like about Indonesia

1. African time, Indo style
2. Banana pancakes, with thickest and gooiest banana batter ever
3. Familiar faces, familiar food and words
4. Indonesian smiles
5. Polka dot Clown Trigger Fish
6. Huge barrel sponges, pitch black and ribbed, looking like .... early experiments from Mordor?
7. 30C, 80% humidity, gentle ocean breeze. Every day. Boardies and Bikinis. All day.
8. Coconut shakes. Hey, this one should be higher up the list! (T)
9. Beach trees spaced just right for King size hammock.

Things we don't like about Indo

1. Not having our friends here with us

Monday, August 1, 2011

@ Crazy Horse - huge limestone caves with bolted routes, inside and out

Pulau Weh... as close to tropical paradise as it gets

I've lost my slops. The compulsory footwear that saw me through thailand's Koh Tao, up and down the busy little beach street, have been left at the door at one of the establishments on Sumatra's Pulau Weh. Who cares. On this 500m island beach, slops aren't necessary. We've traded western loo's and showers for the most exquisite turquoise bay, palm trees, and a VERY chilled vibe. Even more so now, as Ramadan has just begun and the small community of locals living here do very little during daylight hours.

Life on Gapang Beach centres around Lumba Lumba Dive Centre. Onno and I are have just completed day 3 of our 4 day Open Water 1 course. Really fantastic. We went down to 18m today, and finished up all the necessary underwater skills. Favourite sighting today: a polka dot fish. Actually called a Clown Trigger Fish. Yesterday, a Green Turtle. :) a TURTLE!!!

So we reckon we'll bunk down here for a while, continue to navigate the local rules around Ramadan (we order our breakfast and lunch in the evenings, which makes it ok for the local beach restaurants to give us the food the next day), snorkel, swim, explore the island by scooter, practice our free diving and a little more scuba. And wait to see which bug bites us next. X