A Travellerspoint blog

Gili Islands - a little taste of Paradise

The one thing about Indonesia is that there are so many Islands to choose to visit so we had to make a choice where to go to after Pulah Weh We needed to get from Sumatra to Bali but on route we thought we would stop at the Islands of Lombok and Gili. It was a long journey to lombok and the weather that awaited us wasn’t good (it rained a lot) but it’s a lovely Island. We didn’t explore too much and only stayed in Kuta, a lovely village with beautiful beaches popular with surfers.
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There is diving on Lombok so we were tempted by that but we decided to wait and travel to the much talked about Gili Islands. We had met several people who had been to the Gili Islands and they all seem to have loved it so we hoped we would too. There are 3 Islands to choose from, Gili Trawangan, Gili Air and Gili Meno. Gili T is the party Island and we were warned that it can be too touristy, noisy etc. Gili Air is the closest to mainland and Gili Meno is the quiet Island. They are only 10 min apart by boat so we thought we would try Gili Air to start with as it seemed to be the happy medium (not too quiet, not too crazy). We were a little apprehensive that it wouldn’t live up to the reputation but I’m happy to report that it certainly has. The island is small enough to walk around, has no motorised transport, lovely beach bars/cafes (complete with cocktail happy hours :)) and best of all - amazing snorkeling and diving. During our time on the Island, we spent most of our timein the water. The weather was very hot and humid at times but as the beach is so close its easy to cool down. The waters are really warm too- a real treat for us coming from the cold waters of northern europe- and beneath the surface an underwater paradise awaits.

As a newbie to diving and tropical waters, I’m quite happy to see anything that lives below but the prospect of seeing turtles really excited us. This area is known for turtles and we weren’t disappointed. On a snorkelling trip, we saw our first turtle and it was beautiful. So big and graceful in the water. They really are impressive creatures and they are not so afraid of humans so you can get quite close to them.

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Being on the Island it is hard not to be tempted by the diving. We knew that the snorkelling was really good so we could imagine what the diving would be like. We had planned on doing a few fun dives but in the back of the mind we knew that we could do our advanced open water dive course if we wanted. It would blow our budget a bit but it when would we get the chance again??? Unable to resist the temptation, we found ourselves a dive school and signed up for the advanced! The advanced course basically consists of 5 adventure dives. The ones we done were night diving, deep diving, navigation, buoyancy and drift diving. We done it all in the space of 1.5 days and we were tired at the end but it was amazing. The night diving was really surreal. We didn't have much time to be nervous but it was a little bit scary jumping into the ocean with just a flashlight. One the other divers brought glow sticks so that was a nice addition to the kit. I think the highlight was the deep dive. This dive was amazing as we got to see a shark along with a load of other cool fish & coral. It was also the first time we had gone to 30m and there was a strong current so it meant it was a little bit tricky. We had a very capable instructor though so we never really felt in too much danger. Once the 5 dives were complete and we done a bit of theory and that was it. We were now Advanced Open Water divers.

After the diving, we took advantage of the paradise of the Gilis and we lounged about, took in a few cocktails and enjoyed the view of the thundery skies. One of the things we loved was the sky in the evening over the Islands. It was often full of flashes of lightening, thunder and wonderful colours. I'm sure the locals were use to it but to us it was somewhat of a novelty. Something tells me that it wont be the last time we see the skies. We completely fell in love with the Gilis and really hope to make a return in the coming years if anyone wants to join!

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Dodging Mosquito Status: Not so good, I now have an impressive array of 'wounds' along my feet. Combined with the bruises from hopping on and off the dive boat (i haven't fully masted the skill yet!) and my legs are not exactly looking their best. Luckily Australia is up next and the aussies seem to have excellent weapons in combating my nemesis.

Posted by ofenelon 17:44 Archived in Indonesia Tagged islands gili Comments (1)

Into the Deep

After the adventure in the jungle we decided to go to Pulah Weh , an Island off the coast of Sumatra. The main reason was to try our hand at diving. Neither of us had dived before but it was something we had considered doing when planning this trip. Pulah Weh was meant to be a little paradise for diving with warm waters, lots of coral and underwater life to see. We contacted a well known dive school there, Lumba Lumba about courses and they had availability so we were all set.

To get to Pulah Weh you travel to Banda Aceh first. This name may sound familiar as it was the town that was devastated in on St. Stephens day in the 2004 Tsunami. There has been a massive restoration since with lots of projects established to help with rebuilding the lives and town of Banda Aceh. When we arrived in Banda Aceh we stayed in Linda’s Homestay and she picked us up from the airport. On the journey her house, she started telling us about the Tsunami and how she lot most of her family to it. It became clear very quickly at the sheer devastation caused. As we drove to the streets she was telling us about where and how high the water levels came up. Coming from a country like Ireland where we are so safe from natural disasters, I found it very difficult to begin to imagine such an event. We got a tour around Banda Aceh in one of the local tuk tuks and it was both very interesting and heartbreaking to see the different landmarks left from the Tsunami. There was a few famous photos that you may have seen at the time. That is the picture of a boat which landed on top of a house.

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There was also a massive ship that was carried 5km Inland.
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Currently in the town there is a Tsunami museum that stands in an impressive wave shaped building. The town itself seems to have been restored very well and the yummy Acehnese food is worth the trip there alone but there is a lingering sadness that I’m sure will remain for several generations.


Onward from Banda Aceh, we got the ferry across to Pulah Weh (the island of Weh). We got a taxi across the Island to Gapang Beach where is the home of Lumba Lumba dive school. On arrival we knew we would like it here. The beach has not much sand but hosts a lovely house reef that is perfect for snorkeling and learning to dive.

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We decided it might be best to try the discover scuba diver course first to see if we liked it or not. There is no doubt that the first time you breath underwater with a regulator is both strange and a little unnerving, however the instructors are excellent and really try to make you relax and just enjoy the view. What a view it is!!!! For us it was a bit of sensory overload what with so many colours of fish etc. swimming amongst the coral. Only for the fact that I had to breath with the regulator was in my mouth, I would have swam about open mouthed gazing at all the sea life. After this first dive, we decided to continue with the PADI course to become a certified open water diver. And so we were handed books and we became students again !!!!! The course consists of theory, lots of water skills in confined water (the shallow waters of the beach) and then open water dives. As we were total newbie’s , there was lots to learn but our instructor JP took us though it step by step so it was a very progressive learning. Ger had a problem with his tooth after the first 2 dives and we thought he wouldn’t be able to continue but luckily it sorted itself and we both completed the open water course. I was very sad to leave Weh Island and the comfort of having an instructor when diving but we had our sites set on our next destination of Lombok and the Gili Islands.

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Dodging Mosquito Status: As suspected my arch enemies had prepared for our arrival in Indonesia and launched an all out strike on us. We are outnumbered in Indonesia so our only hope is to retreat unfer the safety of a mossie net at night and try to terminate any little invaders in our room.

Posted by ofenelon 21:36 Comments (0)

Welcome to the Jungle!

(Firstly apologies for the obvious title to this post.....couldn't resist)

So we left Nepal in search of more adventure and where better than to head to the sumatran jungle. we had been really looking forward to going to Indonesian but we were undecided of where exactly to go due to the size of Indonesia and we only have 1 month here. That said, we felt that we couldn't resist the opportunity of seeing the orangutans in the wild so we said we take a chance on Sumatra. I had no idea what Sumatra would be like but now i'm going to be very sad leaving.

To get to the jungle we chose to go to Ketambe and go trekking in the rainforest of Gunung Leuser National Park. To reach this, we got a flight to Medan and then took a 7 hour public taxi to Ketambe. The taxi was actually quite a luxurious 7 seater and luckily we encountered no road blockages which can be quite frequent due to landslides/flooding etc. We based ourselves in Friendship guesthouse and they organised our trek into the jungle for us. The guesthouse itself has very basic bungalows but they have great reception area where you get to meet some very nice and amusing characters. We started the trek the day after our arrival with our guide Putra. I was so excited but also very nervous about what to expect and the prospect of leeches, bugs, deadly snakes etc. However, we both decided to think positively and just enjoy the few days. Within about a half hour of entering the jungle forest, i was soaked in sweat, exhausted and my breathing was beginning to become quite laboured. I reallly thought that I would probably have to turn back but luckily a short time later my body seem to recover and was ready for the adventure.

On our way to the camp site we kept searching for orangutans etc but we didn't see much. Our guide warned us that there was a chance we might not see any as they move about a lot but we were pretty confident that he would lead us to some!. Our campsite was located beside the river in a lovely setting and while it was very basic, there was a good set up for cooking etc. Plus the river was our daily shower! After a yummy lunch we set out trekking again. Wildlife trekking was very different to that in Nepal. You have to walk quietly, slowly and keep watching everywhere. The actual terrain can be a little tricky as its quite slippy and you have to climb some steep enough hills in very humid conditions. Still though, I found it very exciting as we walked around in search of exotic creatures. After about an hour, we heard it.....the sound an orangutan! Putra quickly guided us toward it as we tried to keep up as it moved about. I have to say that I felt like I was in a wildlife documentary as Putra crept ahead and gave us hand signals of where to go. When we finally got close enough, I could see that all the sweat and effort was worth us. In front of us was the Daddy of the orangutans. He was so beautiful but i must admit i was a little bit frightened at first because he was huge. He moved from tree to tree and we crept behind him. We just watched him and tried to take a few pictures where possible. It was a lot more difficult photographing animals in the jungle than safari. Most of them are high up in the canopy and also the humidity was fogging up the lens a bit. After some time just watching him go about his daily business, we decided to move on and look for other wildlife. We were thrilled at having just saw our first wild orangutan.

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Our first night at the campsite was very funny. there were other groups there so we company to chat with etc and the guides and porters were all really nice and good craic. However it inevitably came to time to go to sleep. We had a regular two man tent so it was fine but it was outside in the jungle so the thought of bugs weighed heavily on our minds. This was not helped by the massive spider that i seen on the plastic covering they had over our tent. I said to one of the guides - what kind of a spider is that. he jumped up excitedly and held out a stick and the spider crawled onto it. He then turned to me and said ...oh its a black stone (translated) . I replied 'really, thats nice, is it poisonous' which was followed by him saying ' oh yes, if he bit you, you would definitely need emergency services'. My answer was ' Oh lovely, well would you mind maybe putting it way over there if thats ok'. I wasn't sure if he was just joking with me or not about its deadliness (i have since googled and cant find much on it) but it left me even more nervous of the nights sleep ahead.

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When we went to bed, we did a thorough check of the tent, took half a sleeping tablet and made my husband promise that if i had to get up, he was coming with me - and then i fell asleep!!!!! It wasn't the most comfortable of sleeps but when i did awake in the middle of the night, I could hear all the sounds of the jungle and the river and it was amazing.

The next two days were of a similar pattern. We trekked about looking for wildlife with Putra finding things that i would never have spotted alone. We seen lots of orangutans, monkeys, really cool plants, insects and a young binturong (looks like head of a cat and body of a bear) which are apparently quite hard to see in the wild. We thankfully didn't encounter any tigers/rhinos but apparently they are located deeper in the jungle and they are very shy so its really hard to see them. In theory I would love to see a tiger but in reality, if you can see/hear one your probably too close for comfort.

After the trek we headed back to the guesthouse. We were tired, filthy, i got a leech bite on my neck (the leeches are small there though so i didnt mind too much) but it was all so worth it. It was an amazing few days. It was wonderful to get a glimpse of these beautiful creatures. We were guests in their world and they were great hosts!!!

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Dodging Mosquito Status: I was so busy trying to dodge everything else in the jungle that i forgot about the mossies for a few days. However, now that we have left the jungle I am convinced that the tiny mosquito is the greatest predator known to man. Even the leech bit wasn't near as bad as one of the many mossie bites I've gotten!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by ofenelon 01:29 Archived in Indonesia Tagged animals jungle sumatra Comments (2)

Kathmandu & Summary of Nepal

After relaxing in pokhara, we headed back to kathmandu before leaving for Sumatra. The first time we were in Kathmandu, I wasn’t overly impressed with it but was prepared to give it another chance. We decided this time to stay outside of the madness of Thamel in a quieter hotel. It was a little far out but i think we made the right choice as it felt a lot less polluted than the Thamel. Seeing as we only had a few days in Kathmandu we hired a driver for the day to take us to the main sites as recommended by the hotel owner. We were totally shocked at how impressive these sites were. Amidst the chaos of Kathmadu, they have some of the most interesting city sites I have seen to date. We first went to a big Buddist temple Boudhanath that has one of the biggest stupas in the world. It had a really nice atmosphere around it and was a good place to start our sightseeing day.

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After this we headed to Pashupatinath. This was a very interesting place as culturally it was so different to Ireland. It consisted of one very big hindu temple that we couldn’t enter but the most interesting thing was the public cremations that were taking place along the banks of the river. There were about 5 pyres set up with bodies burning in the open air. We both found this very surreal as it seemed so public with lots of tourists watching from the other side of the river. I was anxious it was disrespectful but we had a guide who said that the locals don’t think of it as disrespectful to have tourist onlookers, this type of cremation is their way of life.

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Following this we visited two fascinating ‘old cities’ Bhaktapur and Patan City that exist within the massive area of Kathmandu. These towns have been preserved over the years and are really lovely to walk around. They are still functioning towns with many people living in them but tourists pay an entry fee which goes towards preservation etc. Both towns had wonderful architecture and temples with small quaint streets.

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We were also lucky to be in kathmandu at the same time as Diwali (the festival of lights). After our sightseeing day, we went walking around it was lovely to see all the lights put up around the houses and the children running from door to door singing and dancing. It reminded me a lot of our christmas mixed with halloween. After these few days in kathmandu, I can say that my opinion of it changed. Its definitely a very interesiting place and there is a lot to see for a wkd with some great bars dotted about but it is a bit of a crazy city. Especially the traffic and the amount of motorbikes. I'm not sure I will ever get use to the constant beeping that they seem to love all across asia!!!

Summary of Nepal

Trekking
There are loads of companies to choose from with varying prices for guides and porters. The companies will organise everything for you if thats what you prefer - as in a package. You can also just hire the guide the porter and pay for everything else as you go along. Make sure to ask lots of questions of the company you choose and also meet with the guide before you set off on a long trek with him/her. we went with this company who we can highly recommend trekking company

Transport

The roads in nepal are not so good. Bus journeys can be very long and if you get the local buses, they can also be very packed and sometimes dangerous. They have tourist buses too that go to and from the main trekking areas. The other option is to fly internally. This is more expensive but it saves a lot of travel time. Some people think its a little scary. Personally, I really enjoyed the internal flights. Within the cities there are various taxis and tuk tuks. The taxis tend to be very old cars but get you from A to B. I found some of the driving to be a bit mad so the best approach is not to look at the road ahead too much!!!!

Food

They have local nepalese with the famous Momo's which are like dumplings. They also have Dhal Bhat which is a rice dish very popular with the locals. Then in pokhara there are lots of places serving western style food. Some of them are very good others are just average. Overall, the food was ok. We found it a little bland but then we had just come from India. I really liked the sizzling momo's.

Accommodation

Kathmandu
This hotel is in the center of Thamel it has basic facilities but its very nice for the price. Hotel Ganesh Himal
This other hotel is outside of the centre and is very nice if you want somewhere quieter.Hotel Melungtse

Pokhara
There are lots of places in pokhara so its worth shopping around. We like the North Lakeside a better place to base yourself. We really liked the rooms in Hotel Greenpeace but we had to move due to noisy neighbours in the next guesthouse.

Activities

There are lots and lots of things to do from trekking, rafting, paragliding, canyoning, kayaking etc. If you go to pokhara you will be able to organise any of these from the numerous agents there. Its also possible to book anything like this from kathmandu also. I would just make sure that the company you pick has good reveiws and a good safety record.

Dodging Mosquito Status: Pretty good in Kathmandu. I guess the city is even too hectic for the mossies!!!!!

Posted by ofenelon 03:41 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Upsteps, Downsteps & Some White Water Rafting

Ok so we are still in Pokhara lying about but we haven't been altogether lazy. Since the last post we went on another trek and are just back from two days rafting. I suppose after the issues of the last Trek, while I really enjoyed it, I felt that I didn't want to leave Nepal with a fear of trekking again in high places etc so we decided to do a shorter trek in the lowlands. When i say lowlands I mean the highest point was approximately 2800m high!!!!! The trek we done was actually a yoga trek to Panchase hill and it was really great. It was 4 day trek not that far from Pokhara and it is a lot less touristy than the Annapurna routes. It is also very scenic and goes through some lovely villages eventually reaching the summit of Panchase Hill. We done yoga in the mornings, stretches throughout the trekking and in the evening we had guided relaxation. Ok so the guided relaxation wasn't really something we were into but it was an interesting experience none the less.

We trekked to the summit of Panchase hill for sunrise on the 3rd morning up at least 1, 000 steps. There was one point on the way up and it was 4.45am, dark and i was v tried and I did say to myself - why on earth am I doing this? However, once we reached the summit, it was worth it. The view of the Himalayas was spectacular. I think the view is a little better than Poon Hill as you can see the 3 ranges of the Dhaulagiri, Annapurna and Manaslu. In fact the views for the entire 4 days were amazing. You have hilly green landscapes and then it is as if a child paints on white mountains on clear blue skies above the clouds. Our guide was great too and his passion for Nepal shone through as he pointed out typical Nepalese style houses, shrines and temples. His yoga classes were also very good which meant that we finished the trek with little or no aches - always a plus!!! Thankfully there was no dehydration on this trek although i think i learnt my lesson for some time yet. The whole trek was a success but the accommodation for the last two nights wasn't the best. The sleeping area (loft) was fine but the bathroom facilities were ...well lets just say that we didn't bother showering for the two days there. The food was pretty bad too but you cant really complain too much. We had a great time and have a few interesting memories from that last particular tea house.

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Aside from trekking, there are many activities in Nepal. If you are into adventure sports then its a paradise as from Pokhara there are endless places where you can book rafting, paragliding, canyoning, kayaking etc. We really wanted to do some rafting so we booked a two day camping trip on the lower seti river. Its a fairly easy river and as we have no experience we thought it might be best to start with this. It was a great two days. The first day was relatively easy going with few rapids but fabulous scenery as the river winds though deep gorges. After camping on a river beach we set off for day 2 which was great craic. There were lots of rapids and I giggled like a child as we tumbled over them. I think we are going to sign up for another half day trip this week on a river nearby that is suppose to be full of great rapids so i cant wait for that!!! Plus one big bonus is that its not near as hard work as trekking, I can just look up at the hills instead of climbing them.

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The landscape aside, I think what amazes me most about Nepal is the ability of people to adapt to a country that has such high terrain. There are villages located high up into the mountains and some villages are 5 days walking from each other. You can see rope bridges and pulleys across deep ravines and boats that pick up kids to bring them across the river to school. There is a lot of poverty here in Nepal and yet people seem to get on with their daily lives, they have lots of festivals and seem to always be polite and helpful to tourists. There is no doubt though that life can be very tough both in the cities and the mountains. I have watched in awe at women of about 80 years of age carrying heavy loads up hundreds of steps and the same can be said for the older children. You feel like you should help them carry the load up although I probably wouldn't be able to lift such weights.

For the next few days we will chill out here in Pokhara and then head for Kathmandu and on to Sumatra. Unfortunately this morning we had to check out of our lovely guesthouse due to noise pollution. The noise pollution being a crowd of very loud french youths in the guesthouse adjacent to ours. Two nights in a row we had to listen to them sit outside our door discussing all manner of worldly Bulls**t. Somebody should tell them that one can solve world peace just as easily sitting inside their rooms!!!!! I could have done with some guided relaxation as I lay awake conjuring up all kinds of evil plots against them.....:)

Dodging Mosquito Status: I seem to have escaped pretty well for a change but they launched an all out attack on Ger last night for some reason. Unfortunately our next stop could be the war of all wars as they will be rampant on the Indonesian coast!!!

Posted by ofenelon 01:45 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

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