Today I was walking down the street and some kids (maybe 5 years old) in their school uniforms walked up an introduced themselves. They had pretty good english, and I shook all their hands one by one. Now that we knew eachother, they felt comfortable getting to the meat of the conversation and asked me for money.
Since I'm a cheap bastard, I said no (and they were being punks!).
After they tried to steal my sunglasses, I decided it was time to walk away. One of them yelled after me "Fuck you, man!"
My first experience where someone asks me for money or tries to take something, and it's from a bunch of punk 5 year olds!! The kids these days...
Later the same day, I was in the shop, and a nice Indonesian couple came in. I talked to them for a bit, then they sent someone to buy some drinks. The guys came back with a tea, a coke, and a water bottle filled with light brown liquid. It turns out they bought the local alcohol from Manggarai (A district on this island) called sopi, as well as mixers. They poured me a drink, and asked me to join them. It was suprisingly not bad! (not suprising because it is homemade local palm tree spirits, but because I normally think that kind of drink burns my throat).
We kept talking and I found out that they are in the parlaiment for their region of Sumatra! I just had a very high profile drink.
To cap off a big day, that evening I was talking to Marion. He always asks me how to say certain things in English. Today, he wanted to know the word "Fart." I'm glad that we've reached this level of comfort together.
Speaking of Marion, he likes to learn English by listening to the radio (specifically the BBC Newshour). He ran out of data, so he can't download anymore programs. I offered to help him out.
However, I have an ulterior motive. I've also been giving him other shows from NPR that I really like. So far, I've given him episodes from Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, On Point (with Tom Ashbrook), and from Fresh Air. I really hope he likes them.
Tonight it is raining. After over 6 weeks in this town, this is the first rainy night. I'm enjoying the sound of the rain on the metal roof.
For now, I need to sleep. Tomorrow, I will see the dragons again, but this time on Komodo Island! Unfortunately, I have to meet the group at 5:20...
Saw the dragons again, as well as some beautiful landscapes! It was very interesting that the terrain on Komodo island is totally different from Rinca island. On Rinca, there is almost no shade anywhere, just open fields with sparse palm trees. However, Komodo island was more of a forest.
Although I didn't see as many dragons this time, it was still a great experience. Even though he wasn't supposed to, our guide fed one dragon a fish tail. It was an old dragon with a missing eye, so it wasn't great at actually finding the food. However, it looked like it still had a nasty bite!
Unfortunately, I didn't set up my camera well, and none of the feeding shots came out well...
In addition to this, we also saw a doomed dear. This animal had a small chunk of flesh missing on it's left flank. Apparently he had been bit by a dragon recently. Soon the dragons venom (not just bacteria) will kill the deer, and then it is an easy meal. I felt bad for the deer, but I suppose that's what happens when you live with dragons.
In addition to all this, we saw some nice birds (white, blue, and yellow cockatoos) and got up close with lots of butterflies!
The next day, there were some trucks driving by playing a song loudly. My best guess was that it was the Indonesian national anthem. So I asked some locals in the shop what was going on.
Apparently, today (Nov. 19) is the national unity day. Since Indonesian people speak so many languages (close to a thousand across the country I'm told, I think it might be closer to 300), have so many religions, and come from so many ethnic backgrounds, most people don't have a lot in common with other Indonesians. However, they all take very much pride in being Indonesian, and so today they celebrate being IndONEsia. Despite all their differences, they are all still united. I guess the US could take a lesson from this...
A little while after the trucks went by, there was a huge parade through the town. I watched and then got ice cream from a local vendor. Many of the people in the parade were just kids wearing their school uniforms. However, there were also men in traditional Manggarai ceremoinial costumes and others wearing costumes reflecting various local cultures.
Unfortunately, shortly after they passed by me, it started raining. Two hours later it is still raining. This is the hardest and longest rain storm that I have seen since I got here. Terrible timing...
I'm going to Malaysia in only a week! I'll be meeting Alyssa there, and we'll travel together for a while (which will be great!).
I decided that before I go, I need to see more of this island that I've been living on. So I bought a bus ticket to Ruteng, the capitol of the Manggarai district of Flores. On 11/20, I got on that bus.
The bus was actually pretty nice. I decided to spring for an executive class ticket (for a whole $2 more), so I had more space and (weak) AC. It was comfortable enough that I could sit back and just watch the scenery. This island is the product of a lot of volcanic activity, and so it is pretty much just a bunch of mountains. The road that we took is called the trans-Flores highway because it runs aong the whole island east to west. Since this road is pretty much the main road for the whole island, it's actually in pretty good shape. However, that doesn't mean that it is an easy route. Since we were going through the mountains, it was a lot of switchbacks (I think that's the name), and the driver wasn't afraid to do them with some speed. A lot of the views were very nice, I just had to make sure that I held on tight so I didn't go through the window. From what I can tell, the primary crop accross the island is rice, and so a lot of the scenery was mountains with many leveled plateaus carved into the side, each of which was flooded with water for the rice. In addition to this, many of the mountains are high enough that they have clouds around the top, which is very pretty. The last big thing of note is just the number of domesticated animals walking through the mountains. There are cows and goats everywhere along the road! I have pictures of all of this, but I haven't had any time to even really look at them yet!
When I got to Ruteng, the driver asked me where I was staying. I told him I didn't know (because I really didn't know), and so he dropped me off in front of the Rima hotel. After he drove away, I realized that I no longer had my wallet... I ran into the hotel, and they called the bus company who called the driver, who found my wallet, and returned it to the companies office. Close call!
I left my stuff in my room, and walked out of the hotel to go get my wallet. Before I had gone 20 steps, someone on a motorbike stopped and started talking to me. His name was Tony, and he is from a nearby village. Shortly after, some high school kids came over and asked for my signature! Their homework is to get the signatures of a bunch of foreigners. After that, Tony asked me if I wanted to hang out with his friends and play guitar. I thought that was a weird request, but it was actually the third time someone had asked me that (so I guess it's not too weird here), so I decided not to "trust my gut" and to go with him. I hopped on the back of his scooter, and we drove off the main road to a little run down neightborhood. We got off at one house and went inside where his sister and some friends were sitting around with a guitar (and cigarettes and booze).They offered me the guitar, so I played a little. We tried to figure out if I knew any songs that they knew how to sing (but unfortunately I didn't know John legend or Bob Marley). Then they offered me some sopi, and we all took pictures together. Tony suggested that we go meet some more people, so I agreed (again, why not). The next couple hours was spent driving all around town meeting different people, playing soccer with some, guitar with others, and taking pictures with everyone. It was a lot of fun, and everywhere that we drove, people were always waving to me and saying hi. Everywhere.
You can see pictures here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/set=a.10154690384701963.1073741835.615246962&type=1&l=d9c45fa54a
Unfortunately, it got a little weird when he offered to find me a prostitute to party with that night... So eventually, I said goodnight, and went back to my hotel. When I got there, there were 3 people on the balcony next to my room, so I said hi. They were all French, and had just met up there after not seeing eachother for a couple years! They welcomed me into the conversation and spoke English, which was very nice. After we talked for a while, they asked if I wanted to go get dinner. I said sure, so we went to a local warung and ate. At one point I got too much chille, so I grabbed the pitcher of water on the table to wash it out. But the water was hot! It only made it worse... When we got back to the hotel, they invited me to watch a movie in their room, so I watched my first movie in 2 months (a dark Australian animated film called Mary and Max). After that, I finally went to sleep.
Overnight, I barely slept because it was so cold, and I only had one blanket. I tried to wake up early the next morning, but I was too tired.
When I did wake up, I went down to the lobby and got breakfast. While I was eating, a local guy sat down with me, and we started talking. He was super cool. He used to be a teacher, but he quit because he thought the schools were becoming too commercialized. Then he learned to build things using only bamboo (in the traditional method). He hasn't really worked for the past two years, instead he just teaches people to build with bamboo in exchange for room and board. He is a big proponent of bamboo as a building material, but many people here see it as a sign of poverty, so it is not popular. Instead they use sheet metal, which is much uglier. He is also a big believer that people are inherently good, and he said that he has dreamed of visiting America since he was a kid. Eventually he asked what I was doing with my day, and I said I needed to rent a motorbike, then I was going to visit Liang Bua cave. He told me to give him a few minutes, and then just took off. About 15 minutes later, he came back with his friend, each on a bike. His friend got off, and handed me the helmet and the keys. I agreed to pay the normal price in the area (which someone told me before I left Labuan Bajo), and we were all set. I got my camera bag, dry bag, and tripod all on my back (which looked ridiculous) and headed out. The road started out fine, but quickly got very steep and not so smooth. At every intersection, I would just stop and ask someone "Liang Bua?" and they would point in a direction. Just like the night before, everyone waved and said hi as I drove by. Eventually, I crossed a bridge, and then got to some really bad road. I stalled the bike, and had trouble getting it started, and I realized I was low on gas. I had just passed a little shack that was selling water bottles full of gas (the norm here), so I went back there. When I got there, I bought the gas, and motioned that I didn't know how to put it in the scooter. One of the local guys came over to open it up, but wouldn't get the seat to open (the gas tank is under there). Then another 4 guys came over, and two more people that were driving past stopped. No one could get it open. So the local guys wheeled it over to their hut, got out some tools, and started disassembling the seat from the hinge side. It took some work, but they opened the hinge and then filled the tank using a hose. They reassembled it, and I was on my way, back over the terrible steep road. Shortly after, I finaly arrived at the cave (about 2 hours after I left, even though it was only about 18km).
For those who don't know (I assume everyone), Liang Bua cave is the place where they discovered Homo floresiensis (pretend that's in italics), the "hobbit people." These people are a huge mystery, because the bones suggest that they only went extinct 17,000 years ago, and we have no idea where they came from in the first place. They look more like Homo erectus than Homo sapien, but there is no evidence of any transition forms or migration route. The bottom line is that this was the last other species of the genus Homo that existed, and they only disappeared recently. For me, this is incredible.
I won't try to describe the cave, I'll let the pictures do the talking. But when I got there, I unlocked the gate and went in. Then a local woman showed up and asked me to pay. I've heard local people just do that with no authority, but it's so cheap that I agreed anyways. I was the only one there, so I just soaked it in for a minute, then started taking pictures. I could see where they had conducted the excavation, and could walk right over it. It was very cool. I spent about 2 hours there, during which time only a few other people showed up. They all left pretty quickly. As I was packing up to leave, a local guy drove up and started talking to me. After we talked for a little while, he invited me back to his village for coffee. I hate coffee, but I really couldn't say no, so I got on my scooter, and followed him to his village.
He took me a different way than I had come, and it was MUCH faster, and avoided the worst bits of road. If only I had known.
We got to his house very quickly. We went inside and sat on a mattress on the floor. He introduced me to his wife and child as well as the other people that were there. Then we had coffee and talked! He spoke a little English, and I used the little Bahasa that I know. One interesting thing that I noticed was that instead of an outlet on the wall, there was just a car battery with two wires leading to the roof. Apparently they have a solar panel! I left after a while, and headed back to Ruteng. I had been planning on going to the spider rice fields as well, but I was gone so long that I didn't really have enough time. Good thing I decided not to go anyways, because that evening it rained really hard and really long.
After it stopped raining, I walked into town to have dinner. I explored for a while, then decided on a new warung. I walked in and chose my food off the wall. While I was choosing, a local guy (John) came in, and we started talking. He is originally from Padang in west Sumatra, but is here to work. John speaks pretty good English, so besides our chat, he could help translate between myself and the people who owned the warung (including their young daughter who was very shy with me, but opened up more after a little while!).
Everyone was extremely friendly, and they really made me feel welcome. I exchanged facebook contact info with John, and then went back to my hotel. By the time I got home, he had already posted a picture of the two of us and the daughter of the shop owner along with a friendly message!
The next morning, I got up and rented a scooter for a half day so I could go see the spider web rice fields at Cancar. They call them the spider web rice fields because the rice fields are divided by irrigation channels in the shape of a spider web. The villagers do this to create a variety of different sized rice fields, which they then divide amongst themselves based on social status and family size.
When I got to the site, I met some more local people, and took the usual pictures with them. I also asked if I could play their guitar, and embarassed myself a little. Then I walked up the hill to the lookout point where you can see all the ricefields!
I rushed back to Ruteng, and made it just in time to clear out my room and get on the bus. This was a lower tier bus than last time, so instead of air conditioning and my own seat, I was on a bench style seat with too little leg room... The drive was similar, with beautiful mountain views, and switchbacks that we took at a scary speed. Halfways through the drive, we stopped at a warung in the middle of nowhere for lunch. I didn't feel like getting a full meal, but there was a woman selling mangos outside the shop, so I bought one and ate it with some locals who had mangos of their own. Before we got back on the bus, I started talking to some other passengers, and found out that most of them were travelling together and are on the Indonesian women's weightlifting team. Two of them were national champions, and one was an Olympic silver medalist!
Eventually, we got to a rotary that was close to nothing, and the driver told me that this was my stop. Apparently the bus doesn't actually go to ruteng, it just goes near it. So I got out of the bus and caught an ojek (motorcycle taxi) into town. It turns out that my driver, Lorenzo, is also a guide in the area. I asked him if he has experience climbing the nearby volcano (Mt. Inerie aka Gunung Inerie). He said he had climbed it around 45 times, so I asked him if he wanted to climb it one more! (Implying that he would guide me up the mountain). We struck a deal, and he left me at my hotel with instructions to be ready to go at 2:30am the next morning.
After a quick dinner and a walk around the town, I crawled into bed early so I could get up at a time that I'm often still awake.
As promised, Lorenzo showed up the next morning at 2:30, and we began our drive to the base of the mountain. There was very little light by which to see the surroundings, but the occasional lightning strike gave me a quick view of the stray dogs and lush forests around us. After a while, we reached the beginning of the trail, which was really just a path behind someones house in the woods. We parked the bike, and began our hike by the light of our headlamps. The adrenaline kicked right in, as there were several dogs that came to greet us on the trail, and were very vocal. It was made infinitely more terrifying by the fact that their eyes were reflecting our light, so they appeared to glow!
Soon we were past the dogs, and onto the mountain. The hike started fairly easily, through fields and woods that were at most a shallow slope. However, it quickly became more steep. In spite of this, the trail was still very solid, and so it did not trouble me too much. As we ascended, however, the trail became less and less solid and consisted of more loose gravel. However the footings were still good, so it wasn't too much of a problem. After a few hours, about 800m vertically from the summit, we stopped a a very nice lookout point. We could see the town that we had come from, as well as the big thunder cloud a mile or two away. Soon we began the last part of our hike, which was by far the most difficult part so far. The slope became even steeper, and all the plants that had held the gravel in place before disappeared. As a result, we were on a steep slope, with slippery footings, and nothing to hold on to or break your fall. Lorenzo continues to saunter up the mountain in his flip flops, but I took a more cautious approach. Despite the conditions of the slope, we were soon at the first peak where we stopped to watch the sun rise.
The colors of the sun rise were incredible, and they changed so quickly. Everything started off eerily blue, and then the the sky burst in to color which quickly spread to the surrounding landscape. It was very reminiscent of the sunrise orchestra from The Phantom Tollbooth. During this, there were also several clouds that were blowing past us, at a slightly lower altitude. They moved so fast and so fluidly that it looked like some sort of sky river, and was very pretty.
After the best part of the sun rise was over, we continued to the second peak, the highest point in the area (at about 2400 meters). This hike was even scarrier than before, because not only were the footholds unsteady and covered in loose gravel, but this time there was a steep falloff on either side of us as we were just walking along the rim of the volcano! On one side was the volcanic crater, and on the other side was the long slope down the mountain. Neither side looked like an appealing fall.
After a bit of four limbed climbing and ignoring the fact that I'd have to come back down this same way, we reached the top. The views here were even better, as we could now see in all directions, including towards the ocean. We were quickly completely enveloped by a cloud, so the views became just misty whiteness. I took advantage of this time to eat the fresh dragonfruit that I brought with me. Very few things in life feel cooler than eating a dragonfruit on top of a volcano.
The cloud eventually blew past us, and now we had a clear view of the other mountains, the valleys, and the villages all around us. I was terrified of the edge, but my guide encouraged me to get closer for a better picture! Worth it.
It was soon time to head down, and this was where my nightmare began. Taking a step down a slope gives you much more momentum and less control than going up. With all the loose gravel, and the lack of horizontal footholds, this was just scary. I spent most of the climb down around the volcanic rim on all fours in case I lost my footing. As before, my Lorenzo had no problem jumping from spot to spot while I struggled close behind. After this, it was time to go down the steep slope, with similar loose gravel and poor footholds. This was honestly one of the most terrifying things that I have ever done in my life, because I spent the whole time facing and looking at the slope that I would slide down if I were to slip... Luckily, by going excruciatingly slowly, I avoided this fate. After about an hour of slow progress, we made it to some shallow erosion ravines that had thick deposits of dirt within them. Since there were few footholds above the ravines, the best way down was just to ski down the dirt using our feet. While this was a little scary, it was much better than what I had been doing, and was also much quicker. So when the trail started back up, I chose to keep foot skiing! I did this down a good portion of the mountain, before meeting back up with the trail for the last bit. Although this part of the trail felt relatively easy on the way up, it did have its challenges going down. The dirt was still loose and sloped, so I lost my footing a few times. The great thing was that I knew if I slipped, I would just fall where I was, instead of falling down the whole mountain...
We eventually made it to the bottom! (yay). I'm really glad that I did it, but I think it will be a while before I climb another volcano. The rock composition made it a bit too terrifying for me to willingly try again (for now).
Instead of going right back to the bike, we went to a farmstand that was selling fruit. We bought many passionfruit and bananas. All I can say is that it has been really hard to go back to a world where I can't eat passionfruit to my hearts content... They were incredible.
While we were at this stand, someone stopped by on a motorbike. It turned out to be a familiar face, one of my students from the week before! He had been here to hike Inerie the day before, but had done so without a guide. He told us that he slipped and fell into the crater and hit his head hard enough to cause amnesia and disorientation... He tried climbing out, but couldn't in his state. He said that he started considering the fact that he might die, and began calling for help. By some stroke of luck, this local family had heard him, and came to help. He was back that day bringing them a present for saving his life...
From here, we went to the Luba traditional village. This is a christian village that still practices animal sacrifice (as evidenced by the buffalo skulls hanging in front of every house, representing wealth). They had some incredible herb gardens, and are apparently an aggrarian tribe. They had several sheets layed out with coffee beans and macademia nuts on them to dry. I also saw several people weaving in the traditional style. Lorrenzo was very knowledgable and told me a great deal about the shrines that you can see in my pictures. He also pulled up some plants to show me their variety of potato. I asked if I could buy some of their woven work, and was told that I could offer, so I bought a woven belt. Cool.
I plan to post pictures of this soon, but I'm not quite there yet...
Next we went to Bena, a village built in a very similar style, but much bigger. Before we went in the village, we stopped at a house just outside it where an old man was selling some goods. Most notably, in his side yard there were some HUGE spiders. Biggest I've ever seen in my life. They were terrifying and beautiful all at once! Many even had young spiders in their webs. We also saw a local cat with its tail and one ear cut short. Apparently the locals do this as a sort of voodoo against anyone that has wronged them.
We went into the village, which was much like Luba. Of note was the incredible view at the end of the village as well as the megaliths in the village that have been used by humans since the stone age. I bought a whole scarf here, one which I picked because it was woven from cotten that they had picked themsevles. You can tell that they created the material because the color is a little more muted than in the fabrics they buy at the market. For me, this was a much more interesting product as a result of this.
Finally, we proceeded to end our day at the hot springs. Since Inerie is a volcano, the water that runs underneath it becomes very hot. Just below the mountain are two waterfalls that pour into the same pool. One waterfall is ice cold spring water, and the other is boiling volcanic water. When they meet in the pool, it is both beautiful and incredibly comfortable. By moving around the pool, you can select the temperature that you'd like to be at. There are few places that I have been in my life that are more relaxing than this.
Finally, we headed back to ruteng. We got dinner together at Lorenzo's favorite warung (it was very good) and then he helped me buy a bus ticket back to Ruteng (with a new bus company, poor choice!).
Finally, he dropped me off at my hotel, and after I thanked him and added him on facebook, I went inside to crash! I had to be ready to get up early again the next morning, since my bus was scheduled to leave at 6:30am!
At 6:10, there was a knock on my door. The bus was already there and waiting for me. I initially expected busses to generally be behind schedule, but it seems to be quite the opposite here!
So I jumped on the bus that was supposed to take me 10 hours back to Labuan Bajo, my home base. Unlike the busses I had taken before, this one had bench style seats and was completely packed with people. My legs didn't even fit... And there were so many people that one guy was hanging out the door and just holding on, while others sat on the stairs in front of the door. Long story short it was uncomfortable.
So after driving 5 hours, I was very ready to get off the bus. Luckily, the one road back to Labuan Bajo also goes through Ruteng, so when we stopped at a gas station near Ruteng, I got out, and took an ojek (motorbike taxi) in to Ruteng. I contacted my friend John, and hung out in a coffee shop to wait for him. After some time working on my grad school applications, he got back to me and said he would meet me at a nearby restaurant. So I headed over there and found John.
Since John is a great guy, he showed me around a part of town that I hadn't seen before. Although I had briefly been to the local market before, I didn't realize how much there was behind the storefronts on the outside! So we walked back there, and took a look around. I tested out my Indonesian a little and tried (unsuccessfully) to bargain for a mango.
John knew that I was in the market for a hiking backpack, and apparently one of his friends (Alex I believe) was looking to sell one (great because no store on the island sells them!). So we headed to his friends house and met him there. He had a nice backpack in very good condition made by an (up and coming) Indonesian hiking company. I decided to buy it so that I would have something to carry on my upcoming trip out of Indonesia. After I bought it, his friend let us borrow his brand new and very nice Honda CBR motorcycle to go to the bus station so I could buy a ticket back to Labuan Bajo. I got a ticket and we headed back to his place, and basically spent the rest of the night just hanging out.
We watched some Indonesian TV, talked, had coffee, had some local style snacks, etc. Alex didn't speak English, but we both got google translate so we could communicate better than what my few words of Indonesian allowed. After a while, John left, and came back with dinner and drinks. They insisted that I eat in the local style (meaning eating the rice and curry with my hands), so I gave it a shot. It was a bit messy, but worked alright. After that we kept talking, and they told me about their shared hometown of Padang in West Sumatra, Indonesia. Apparently a lot of the people in Ruteng are from Padang because there aren't good jobs there. Around 3 a.m. it was finally time to go to sleep. John and Alex had graciously offered to let me stay with them, so we hunkered down for the night. This meant sleeping on the floor with one big blanket covering all of us. It was pretty confortable except for the fact that I am longer than the room was wide, so I didn't really fit...
In the morning, Alex left and came back with breakfast. One thing was very interesting, it was like combined coffee, milk, and oatmeal in a little packet, and it was ginger flavored. Soon after, Alex left to open his shop in the market. I tried to give him money for all the snack, dinner, and breakfast, but neither of them would accept any money. So John, if you read this, thanks again!
Before I left, John and I went to eat some traditional Padang food for lunch. We had longtong and tempe, and although I thought it was very good, he said that the food at home is much better.
Soon after, I thanked John again, and got on the bus back to Labuan Bajo.
This bus was more comfortable because my legs actually fit. The ride went by largely without incident, and we were soon almost back at Labuan Bajo. Right before we got back, I turned the internet on to check my email. Unfortunately I was met with some bad new from home, so when I got back to Labuan Bajo, I just got a hotel room instead of going back to the shop.
I'll condense the next few days into one post, and keep it short, since my last few posts were so long.
To start off with, I stayed in the hotel for a few days. during this time, I had my first semi-warm shower in almost 2 months. I wasn't supposed to have hot water in my room, ut maybe the water holding tank was sitting in the sun? Another nice thing was that I got breakfast at the hotel. One of my days there, there was a beautiful yellow hummingbird right near me. I wish I had my camera, but it was great to watch as well.
After a few days, I finally came back to the shop. When I walked in, marion was ecstatic! I've never had anyone be so happy to see me. He was very welcoming, and asked me all about my short trip. He's such a friendly guy, and so caring. After a while, I asked him about sending mail back home. He suggested I try the Indonesian post office (i.e. kantor pos) as well as one other private business. I borrowed the shop scooter, and went to check it out. Only the post office could send packages so I went there. Unfortunately, they didn't have shipping suppies, so I went to a local store and asked if I could take a box. They let me have it, so I was in business. I went back to the post office, and packed the box while they watched (so they could ensure that I wasn't sending anything bad). I was really slow to pack it though, so the postwoman helped me! She didn't want the package to get damaged, so we ended up wrapping the whole box in tape. It took a while, but eventually it was ready to be shipped out.
With the 2 month limit of my visa quickly approaching, I was starting to get nostalgia glasses. Even the stream of ants that you find on every surface started to look ok. However, soon it was time to head out of Indonesia, at least for a while. Since I am planning on going back, I left a lot of my dive gear there (not the camera stuff though). I don't remember if I said this on here yet, but next stop is Malaysia!
The last few posts have been kind of disjointed, but hopefully things will turn around with this post.
As I said before, after almost two months in Indonesia, my visa was set to expire. In order to get a visa extension I had been required to prove that I was leaving the country. At the time, I decided that I would go to Malaysia to see the rainforest. I also decided that if I was going to travel, I should take some time and really travel. I asked Alyssa to join me, and so it was decided that we would travel SE Asia together!
Unfortunately, my travel itinerary was looking a bit tricky. Around 4 pm, I would fly from Labuan Bajo to Bali where I would have a 5 hour layover. At 10, I was to fly from Bali to Kuala Lumpur. After another 5 hour layover, I would fly to my final location, Sandakan. This is a city in Malaysian Borneo, and is on the doorstep of some excellent nature preserves. It looked like I would be sleeping in the airport...
So, on the 22nd, I packed everything up, left some of it in the dive shop, and headed to the airport. I thought that it would be quick to go through security, so I only left myself an hour. (Un?)fortunately, I was extremely correct. From check in to security to my gate, it took me about 5 minutes total... So I began my first wait of the day.
I was soon in Bali. I figured that I would be able to use my long layover to explore the immediate area around the airport. Unfortunately, I needed a taxi to get away from the airport, and in Bali the airport controls all the taxis. Even though I just wanted to go a few minutes away, they were trying to charge me 100,000-150,000 each way. I knew that even 50,000 would be overcharging, so I refused,and decided that I could just eat in the airport.
After eating, I submitted my first grad school application and then got on the plane. In a true display of the "small world" phenomenon (or small southeast Asia in this case), I saw two of my former open water students on the plane, Nicholas and Fernanda. After traveling for 2.5 years, they were on their way home to Chile.
Finally, I madee it to Kuala Lumpur at 1am. I went through customs, collected my bag, and then... Didn't really know what to do. I thought it was best not to exit the baggage claim, because everyone in there was a fellow passenger or an employee. Outside the exit, it seemed likely that there would be more people, and they could be a little more skeezy. Unfortunately, the seating options were pretty poor around the baggage claim. Using my bags, I managed to make a comfortable enough "bed" with the bonus that my body would be sheilding my bags from any snoopers. I managed a few hours of sleep, and then got up for the last leg of my trip. After a few more hours of flying with the terrible Asia Air, I was in Sandakan. I didn't want to get ripped off by taxis, so I just walked out of the airport, and found the nearest bus station. There was a woman and her two kids selling some food out of their trunk on the side of the road next to the bus stop, so I bought some food and asked if the bus actually comes there. They said the bus would come, and gave me my food (I had no idea what I had actually bought). The food was nicely packaged, it was a banana leaf folded into a perfect pyramid that was then wrapped in paper to keep it all together. I opened it up to find some rice and curry that was very good. Eventually the bus came (more of a mini-bus), and let me on. Everyone else on the bus was a local, and I felt pretty embarassed awkwardly trying to make my big bags fit in between all the people. We headed off to Sandakan, exchanging passengers at a mixture of official and not-so-official looking bus stops. When we got to Sandakan the bus just pulled into the station and everyone piled out. I hadn't reserved a hotel yet, so I started wandering down the streets to find one. Fortunately, I had found a few names of hostels that sounded ok, so I wasn't wandering completely blind.
Sandakan is a whole different world from Labuan Bajo. In Indonesia, I was in a small town on an island where there had never been a real city, primarily just tribal villages. Sandakan on the other hand is a true city with big buildings. I was also surprised at the almost complete lack of motorcycles and mopeds since Indonesia was almost exactly the opposite. It was also interesting to see that all the signs here are in Chinese as well as Malay. Apparently there is a very large ethnic Chinese population here. The other thing that really struck me as odd about Sandakan is that there are many places where you look down a row of buildings, only to see it end in jungle. It's a strange juxtaposition.
After a bit of searching, I found the harborside backpacker hostel. I went in, and the place looked so clean (and was so cheap) that I booked a space without ever really shopping around. This was a great decision. The hostel has a really comfortable lounge, good breakfast, a/c in the rooms, hot showers, and as I said before, is very clean. These are ALL things that I have gone without for the past two months, so it was easy to love this place. In addition, the people here are very nice and helpful in terms of planning activities.
Since I arrived in the morning, I needed something to do all day. The easiest thing seemed to be to go check out the mall accross the street, so I headed over there. It was a very strange experience because it was a very nice mall, but there were very few people, and everything seemed to be closed. I went up to the 4th floor before I decided it was too weird and started to leave. Just before I got to the door on the ground floor to exit, a loud alarm started going off, and all the security took off running. In addition, all the shops that were still open slammed the metal grates down to lock up. I briskly walked outside, and waited to see what the deal was. Shortly, several firetrucks arrived followed by even more ambulances. Then military guys showed up! All of this was capped off by a helicopter arriving, even though nothing seemed to be wrong... It turns out, there was a fire drill scheduled for that day, and they take it really seriously here.
Back in my hotel, I had already decided that I wanted to see the Kinabatangan river, but I wasn't sure how yet. They offer a discounted tour to see it (surprisingly cheap compared to what everyone online said they paid). In addition, I was able to talk to a girl in the hostel (chloe) who had just come back, and she said she had seen Borneon pygmy elehants! These are pretty rare here, so I signed up right away to try to get there before the elephants left. So, on to Kinabatangan.
So much for a shorter post...