A Travellerspoint blog

Adventures in Sabah and Sarawak

So much to do in Borneo, yet so little time as usual

sunny 32 °C
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My adventures in Borneo started with a whitewater trip to the Kiulu River near Kota Kinabalu, in the north-eastern corner of Borneo. So I went to the Kiulu expecting mild rapids, as I'd been told that it was only levels 1 and 2 white water rafting. Well, my 'mild' rafting adventure resulted in me being thrown into the river three times! In fact, the one rapid held me under the water for what felt like forever - it was probably just a few seconds though. Despite wearing a fat life jacket, the water was still strong enough to keep me under, and before I knew it, I was being thrown around in what I guess, in white water terms, is called a 'washing machine.' It threw me up to the surface as I was beginning to imagine never surfacing, and I came up a little short of air, but pretty chuffed by this wild Bornean experience (what a tourist... ;) ).

Kota Kinabalu is a pretty nice little city. I stayed at North Borneo Cabins - a classic backpackers lodge. I met Brits Tom, Natalie and Becs - and we hit the local bar Hunters for some well-earned Carlsberg Towers on a couple of nights. Our pool playing skills declined as the nights grew longer.

Pulau Sipidan:
The city (KK) is centrally located for plenty of adventure stuff: rafting, climbing, jungle trekking, etc. I used it as my base for a few days and after doing the rafting I headed to the world-famous island of Pulau Sipidan/Sipadan for some ridiculous diving. My accommodation: an oil rig...! I dived with SeaVentures, an operation based off the beautiful Mabul Island. To cut the diving talk short, I can honestly say that Pulau Sipidan is the most amazing underwater experience a person can get, either through scuba or simply snorkeling. To give an example - I was taking a break on the island after my first morning dive and decided to go snorkel for a few minutes. I entered the water and within 60 seconds an enormous turtle had swum passed me, a reef shark cruised beneath me and a giant barracuda was just chilling in the current a few meters from me. I stuck with the turtle for a while and we cruised along the reef for about five minutes, only a meter apart. It didn't mind at all.
I ended up doing 13 dives on Sipidan and Mabul. I was blessed with massive amounts of sealife on every dive, Sipidan in particular because it is an island that literally rises straight from the depths of the ocean. On one side of the island the water drops to a 900m basin, while on the othe side it drops to 2km's. You literally do wall diving where you stare into the inky blue beneath you, knowing that the deeper you go, the bigger the fish get! I stayed pretty shallow...
On the way back from one of the dives, we came across some whales. The skipper lined up the boat so that the whales came right passed us. They were perhaps 8 meters away when the the last whale decided to dive deeper. It was incredible watching it spurt water right in front of us, and then lift it's tail into the air as it dropped down to deeper water.
On the last dive, I saw perhaps forty turtles. It was crushing leaving the island, but there was more in store for me at Gunung Mulu National Park...

Gunung Mulu National Park:
Gunung Mulu National Park is famous for a number of things: The Pinnacles (weird limestone formations on top of a mountain), immense rainforest, massive flora and fauna diversity, and the world's biggest caves. I took a little MASWings twin-propellor plane to Miri (re-named 'Miri Resort City' with lots of cheasy adverts at the airport), and then flew in to Mulu airport, which is more of an airfield. Its brilliant actually: to ensure good conservation, the park managers decided years ago, that to prevent the chopping down of the rainforest, they would make the park accessable only by air, or boat. No roads lead into the park.

[As a sidenote, flying from Kota Kinabalu to Miri allows you to see the infinite wealth of the small nation of Brunei.
It only takes 10 minutes to fly past the country, but if you look north out to sea, you'll notice dozens and dozens of massive oil rigs just a couple km's from the coastline. The Sultan is clearly still making a killing - apparently he owns 3000 cars or so.]

The park has plenty to offer in terms of adventure. First on the list were the famous Deer and Lang's caves. Wow. I tried to take some pictures to illustrate the sheer immensity of the Deer Cave cavern, but sometimes pictures just can't match actually being there. Visitors walk through the rainforest along a wooden boardwalk starting from the main camp, and after 3km's of dense, wet forest, you face some large limestone cliffs. The one cliff face has an enormous cave entrance and once you get into it, you find yourself inside the world's largest cave cavern.
My first thought was that it resembled the inside of a hollow mountain. Its that big. The park states that you could fit 5 St. Paul's Cathedrals into the cavern alone, and 40-odd Boeing 747's into the entire cave. It is enormous!! There are numerous waterfalls INSIDE the cave, falling from the ceiling, 120-160m above you, as well as a river that flows right through the cave system. One of the fascinations of the cave are the 3 million bats residing inside (you're never sure if its water dripping onto your head or guano!) Most afternoons, the bats depart from the cave in huge groups to feed on the insects of the rainforest. However, viewing this amazing event takes some luck, as it rains a lot in Gunung Mulu, especially in the afternoon. And when it rains in Mulu, it rains hard!
After three 6km round trips to the caves, and being drenched on the way back every time (raincoats are useless in such downpours), the bats finally decided to make a trip out of the cave for some food on my third lucky viewing. The bats exit in small groups at first, becoming progressively larger as the evening light fades. They fly in formation, resembling a giant snake, swirling about and moving as one. Thousands of little bats make up each group, and you can hear them, chattering away as they fly over the rainforest canopy. Bat hawks watch from the cliffs and dive into the groups, hoping to make a kill. I didn't see any successes during my viewing. Before I knew it, the open skies had closed in, and the rain came down, and thus ended the spectacular viewing. I trudged back elated!

The Pinnacles:
The 3-day Pinnacles trek is recognised as a pretty tough trek by Sarawak standards. I met up with two Belgians, Martin and Heleen, and we organised for a guide at the office. We joined another group made up of Danes and Englishman Andrew. We stocked up on supplies at the reception (2 minute noodles mostly) and set off the next day, taking a longboat upriver to the trek starting point, which is literally in the middle of the rainforest. We trekked 8 km's to Camp 5 and upon arrival were confidently told by our guide that the next day would be a killer! Great...! He also promptly told us that although the trek would take us 4 hours ascending and five to descend, he had once done the whole thing in 3 1/2 hours. Show off. Nothing like a good confidence boost before doing the trek.
We set out early the next morning. The trek is actually only 4.8km there and back, which made it seem impossible that we'd be trekking all day.... that is, until you see the path. Its pretty much a 45 degree climb. Every 100m feels like an achievement...! We got to the top of the mountain after 3 gruelling hours, and what a view:
After an hour soaking up the view, we headed down - we didn't want to get caught in the afternoon rain in such terrain. I can confidently say this was the toughest 2.4km walk/trek/hell-march I have ever done! Every foothold was slippery, I wiped out a good few times, and every one of us really had to watch how we descended. Many of the sections had ropes and ladders to help you down. The tropical heat was thankfully beaten back by the rainforest canopy.
Camp 5 Power plant..!

The next night, back at camp headquarters, Martin, Heleen and I gorged on hamburgers at the restaurant... we'd earned it!!!
Belgian trek team-mates Martin and Heleen - in happier times... ie. pre-Pinnacles trek!

I have previously found Malaysia to be a little boring compared to some of the other countries I've visited to date, but I must say Malaysian Borneo is just fantastic. If you are even mildly interested in outdoor activites, this place is for you. Its also been great to be in such an organised country. The National Park was just brilliantly run. Compared to the Philippines - dealing with administration here is just a pleasure! My only worry in Borneo is the tiny amount of national parks, in both Malaysia and Indonesia. Any national park map of the giant Bornean landmass shows hardly any areas have been reserved for conservation. This is really worrying, and is confused further by the varying levels of conservation. Ie. In Malaysia you get Nature Reserves, Protected Parks, and Totally Protected Parks... what is the difference, actually? For someone who loves nature, I found the vast landscape of converted rainforest/palm oil plantations around 'Miri Resort City' to be a little sickening. From the air you can see just how much land has been converted to palm oil plantations. It turned my stomach a little. I'd hate to see what remains of the Indonesian side of the rainforest.

And finally, now I'm in Kuching, capital of Sarawak.. and land of the White Rajah's! I won't bore with that piece of history. Google it, if you're interested. Awesome little city, there are lots of nice, old, colonial buildings and a great waterfront with loads of people selling lots of Milo shakes. Don't ask me why thats so popular here...

Yesterday, I went to a local Orangutan sanctuary. Those are some darn funny monkeys I must say. Unfortunately, they didn't do much other than eat coconuts and bananas at the touristy feeding platform.
The hyper-aggressive, foul, territorial, "7 times your strength" dominant male didn't appear either. However, I was well-warned by the ranger that getting within five meters of this fiercesome jungle-beast would probably result in my 'instant' death. I think some of the kids were on the verge of tears after the speech. Personally, I think its a mythical creature, as no-one else at the backpackers has seen it either.

This month's ratings:

Worst Backpackers in the world:
Dieng's in Gunung Mulu National Park.

Biggest Culture Shock Moment:
Opening up a Malaysian Time mag, and seeing an article and pictures of Marijuana covered by govt stickers, going on about unauthorised public viewing or something.

I have one more day here and then I'm off to Sydney to see my Uncle Jim! 11 years is a long time...

Ozzie Ozzie Ozzie!
Oi Oi Oi!!


Posted by Shlugger 16:39 Archived in Malaysia Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Bohol: small monkeys, big hills and dodgy bikes

Manta's, Threshers sharks in Malapascua

all seasons in one day 30 °C
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I arrived in Malapascua almost two weeks ago and was dismayed to find out that the reason for my arrival had ceased to exist. The Floating Bar had been destroyed by my good buddy Frank the Typhoon! (see previous blog entry) Ok, it wasn't destroyed, but it was damaged and not to be used until high season, which is in December. Shoulders stooped and heavy dive bag being dragged behind me (in thick beach sand), I continued my search for accommodation on Malapascua Island, just north of the Philippines top tourist destination - Cebu. I was a little down at this point - I had heard from mates in London that the bar was a MUST-DO on any Philippines backpacker trip. The misery!

Of course, I hadn't travelled all this way just for a bar: the diving in Malapascua is famous for its thresher shark and manta ray sightings. Signs had been good on the way to the island as I crossed the channel from Cebu - the boatman had pointed to something in the distance and said that a Manta had just leapt out of the water. Of course, I missed it. Perhaps he was just talking rubbish, because when I got off the boat, he took me straight to a dive shop (probably gets commission for dropping me off there if I sign up with them).

Anyway, ol' Frank had clearly had an impact on the island and the beaches were covered in coconuts, massive palm leaves, sometimes whole palm trees, and in general there was a lot of cleaning up being done by the various restaurants and bungalows on the beach. There couldn't have been more than a dozen foreigners on the island, and I had clearly missed the "Malapascua Closed" sign! But with such losses, come some great advantages too. Every place on the island was offering accommodation at a third of the price and dive shops were keen for business too. I signed up with Malapascua Beach Divers, and booked a dive for the next day - at Monad Shoal - famous for Manta Ray sightings in the afternoon.

Manta Rays:
I've really tried to avoiding making this blog a sort of "Diver's Chronicles," but sometimes these things need to be explained! A manta ray is not a little fish. An adult has a wingspan of about 6 meters, and the largest recorded was almost 8 meters wide. They don't look like sting rays, and I don't think they even have stings in their tails. They are famous for their massive wings - they resemble giant birds underwater, you could say. They are not shy with divers - they often come very close to someone underwater. Its a member of the shark family, although large shark species hunt them, and its not uncommon to see one with a piece missing, apparently.
These were the sorts of things running through my head, as the banka made its way to the dive site. I descended with my instructor Emma, and a fellow backpacker, Canadian Nathan, and I was full of nerves. We descended to the sand at about 24 meters, and had swum for perhaps a few minutes when a MASSIVE shape passed by in front of us, perhaps 10 meters away. It was about 5 meters in width and yes, it was a Manta! Visibility was a little poor, but it cruised passed again, getting cleaned by all the fish coming off the reef. Then it was gone - into the blue.
We headed off to the next so-called cleaning station. We chilled for a while, all lying on the ground waiting for something to happen. Nothing was happening, the minutes were ticking by, and soon I were checking my gauges to see how much air I had left. As I was starting to think that our dive was pretty much over, a manta off to the right begins to materialise from the blue. It was also quite large, perhaps 3.5 meters in width or bigger. And it was coming straight at us! Its mouth was open, and it was taking in plankton; it hardly moved; it just glided right towards us; and kind of steered its way right OVER us. It wasn't intimidated by us or the bubbles in any way! In fact, it was totally checking us out - its big eye on us the entire time as it glided past us! If I stretched my arm out, I could have touched it! It was incredible!!!
What a magnificent creature.

Thresher sharks:
The next day I went to the same site - Monad Shoal - at 05h30!! Early rise, but apparently that's when the Thresher Sharks arrive at the site. I wonder what else they get there?! We dived down, and once again, at about 24 meters down, we saw thresher sharks. Its also an incredible creature - its famous for having a tail the length of its body. We saw two on the dive, and one must have been 4.5 - 5 meters long (including tail). Its an amazing animal - its long tail curving behind its body, and cruising past us to see who these funny visitors were on its reef. It was quite inquisitive, which I was fine with - I wanted to get a close up, and we got just that.

I left Malapascua after six days, highly satisfied with the diving, the beaches, its people, the One Republic and Leona Lewis repeat songs (still very big in Philippines), and the cock-fighting! Malapascuans love betting on cock-fights. Everybody wants to own a rooster and enter it into the next betting day! They're unfortunately rather gory affairs, with plenty of chopped off feathers and cut-up roosters, as the owners attach huge blades to the back of their feet. Its literally a fight to the death. If the rooster is pretty much dead, but not "quite yet," it gets picked up and thrown in front of its opponent to be finished off. There are countless rounds, and during the fights there are chicken pieces being gnawed on by the various spectators. I was told those pieces belonged to the losers!! I betted a few times, and seemed to be pretty good at predicting the outcome, despite my limited knowledge on the "sport". Its simple: you either double your money or lose it all.
Anyway, I'll attach one of the less grisly videos next time, when I can download better at another internet cafe.

Biking roadtrip in Bohol:

I made my way by ferry to Bohol next, and I met a fellow South African in Panglao Island at yes, you guessed it, a dive resort. I won't bore with any of those dive details, other than to say a moral eel nibbled on my finger when I held onto some reef (very bad dive ettiquete) on one dive. I dont know what it was doing, but it was a very funny experience. The diving in general was very good there.

So the two Saffa's, Clinton and Dave, decided a roadtrip was in order. We hired two bikes and headed off into the Bohol hinterland. We had a map from the local tourism centre and thinking this was enough preparation, we headed off. Thirteen loooo-o-o-o-o-oong hours later, we rolled into our scheduled stop-over and collapsed on our beds. The day had been absolutely draining, perhaps even tear-jerkingly frustrating at times!! To start with - Bohol has no road signs. None. The map doesn't differentiate between tarred and dirt roads. Dirt roads in Bohol are not for novice riders like myself! I wiped out on one very muddy descent, head over heels, not knowing that perhaps its better to use the rear brakes! Clinton was a little better prepared than me, since he owns a superbike ;)
Local villagers are also not that clued up on geography! We were frequently informed that a 5km trip was in fact 25km long, or vice versa. Or we discovered that tarred roads (according to the map) were actually old dirt tracks. We found ourselves cruising around bush avenues late at night, and constantly checking with each village that we were on the right track. When we finally got in that night, at least we could tick off the Tarsier reserve. Tarsiers are the smallest primates in the world. They look like a cross between an Ewok and Yoda. Pictures tro come in the next entry - they're pretty funny little things.

The next day, battered and bruised - we headed to the Chocolate Hills and some old Spanish chucrhes. The hills were impressive - its definitely a nice day trip out. Clinton and I stopped at any old church along the way - there were some really nice old buildings, although very delapidated.

And now, I'm back in Manila, ready for my flight to Malaysia. As a Manila taxi driver told me - Las Vegas may be the City of Sin, but Manila is the City of 'tion'....! I asked what he meant? "No, my friend, we are the city of 'tion'. You know, corruption, congestion, pollution, addiction, inflation, no solution, abortion, prostitution, extortion, etc, etc!!!"

And with that, here's me signing out from beautiful Manila!

Posted by Shlugger 03:15 Archived in Philippines Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Delving inside World War II wrecks

and Typhoon Frank joins the party

storm 25 °C
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So I have just had to throw back an espresso and and a latte to start writing this blog, because I am completely buggered form the last few days of travel. As usual, this new blog entry comes a few days late anyway but what's new.
I am sitting in an internet cafe in Cebu City and its been a lo-o-o-o-ong day..!! And the three days before that were long too. Its not that a hell of a lot has happened actually - in fact, most of the time I have been sitting around waiting for a timid little super-typhoon (lets just call him Frank) to pass by. The issue was trying to get back to the main islands of the Philippines and renew my visa before it expired.
On Friday night I heard for the first time that a typhoon would soon be passing through the Philippines. At the time, this typhoon - Frank or Fengshen if you prefer - was possibly going to delay our flights by a day, our resort told us, since it would not actually be passing over the island of Basuanga, Palawan, where I have spent the last week staying. My impression was that it would pass by quite quickly. Instead the typhoon decided to drift over the Philippines at 13km/h carrying winds of over 160km/h inside it. So the whole of the country basically went into pause mode and attempted to get out of its path. It went right over Manila, and on Sunday morning I heard that a massive passenger ferry had been sunk north of Manila. At the moment, searches are still being conducted, but of the 800-odd passengers, only 40 or so have been found alive.
All transport seems to go through Manila, so everything was on standby. After two days of constant, poring rain the weather seemed to improve slightly and all the small local airlines decided to confuse travelers by randomly canceling flights and swapping passengers. The flight that I was on got canceled and a few of us at the resort decided to take the next super-ferry, despite that morning's horrible news. Not to mention, I has now heard the same CD being played over and over again for the last week, and there is only so much of Fergie's Clumsy and One republic's Apologise you can listen to before strangling yourself.
After being diverted that night due to big swells, the super-ferry arrived at Manila last night, more than 8 hours late, and with more than a few relieved passengers on - board (me being the most relieved I think).
I passed out at a backpackers last night and went in search of flights to Cebu this morning. The domestic airport was a complete disaster zone, not from any typhoon, but simply the chaos created by three days of delayed flights. Filipino's hate queuing, I learned, which didn't help the situation. Blocking ticketing office doors with your luggage is another favourite pastime. Eventually, some tout managed to get my business and confirmed a flight for me, and so I finally got to Cebu City late this afternoon, after about 6 hours of dealing with agents and airlines, and walking back and forth between 'guaranteed' flights. On top of this, I had to pay a little penalty fare for being overdue with my tourist visa at the immigration office here.

Manila and the Rice Terraces of Batad and Banaue:

Of course, a lot more has happened in the last few weeks since first arriving in Manila on 31 May.
For starters, Manila is easily the dodgiest city I have ever been in. One of the first things you notice is the level of armed security: a Johannesburg casino would be proud of the security that your average Quick-Mart has here. Security guards are not afraid to wander the streets with shotguns and big automatic rifles. I'm not sure who the culprits are at this stage, as I've been wandering the streets at night, and the only dangers are little kids bumming off pedestrians!

After two days in Manila, I headed north to the World Heritage Site of the rice terraces of Banaue and Batad for two days. I am going to be completely blunt: Banaue is highly unimpressive. Both Nepal and Bali had larger, more beautiful, although not as old, rice terraces. Batad on the other hand, is worth seeing. Its truly picturesque - basic bungalows look down over an amphitheater of terraces that descend into the little village of Batad. There is a magnificent waterfall on the far side of the terraces as well, which just adds to the natural beauty of the valley. To get to Batad, we had to trek a little for a couple of hours before entering the valley, which also contributed to the ruralness of the place. To cap it all, a tropical storm blasted the valley late in the afternoon - I haven't seen a storm like that before, and was pretty glad to have decent shelter for the night.
The transport there and back was once again an issue, with buses difficult to find and stop, especially when traveling in a group of seven. Anyway, got back to Manila amid another tropical downpour. The rainy season has really arrived in the Philippines.

Travels with Battygirl in Palawan:

I met Marianne (Battygirl) - a fellow backpacker - from Holland, in Thailand a few months ago, and upon hearing we were going to be in the Philippines at roughly the same time, decided to stick together for a while. It was awesome having a travel companion for a while. I must admit the road gets pretty lonely sometimes. So we decided to hit Palawan - the large island group to the west of the Philippines. We were raring to go, as Manila is not the greatest place to be stuck (too many lady-boys), and Palawan posters at travel agencies seemed to advertise a tropical paradise in Palawan. We landed in Puerto Princesca, and immediately hired manual/"automatic" bikes for two days. We didn't find any amazing beaches, but we did come across an abandoned hot springs, which resembled more of an Hollywood horror film set. The hot springs still worked so I took a dip. Marianne was being a nerd cos she thought a cloaked stalker was going to come out of the deserted mens toilet with a kitchen knife and chase her ;) We also came across a crocodile farm and did some island hopping.

We were keen to head up to the underground river of Sabang, another world heritage site - the beaches were proving to elusive in Puerto Princesca. The tour was pretty nice, if not short, but I'd say the highlight was the village itself - tiny, remote and beautiful. Electricity only comes on for a few hours each eveing, thanks to a generator behind the bungalows. We chilled out in hammocks for the day and took some ridiculous action poses as the sun settled over the sea which turned out pretty well. This local guy was also chopping down coconuts so he made a coconut drink for me, which I enjoyed in the shade of the hammock, before taking another 30-degree swim. Ah, the rigours of island life...!

We took a boat trip to El Nido, the much-touted northern paradise of Palawan. Once again, we got screwed over by local businessmen. A "5 Hour" boat trip turned into a 10 hour ride. Along the way, we stopped at an awesome little island retreat for an early lunch. It turned out that the retreat was empty of tourists, and the managers there convinced our boat crew to tell us tourists that the boat engine had now failed and we'd have to stay the night! Ah! So that's what all the commotion in the kitchen was about when we ordered our lunch! Battygirl was having none of this, and commanded me to deal with these blatant liars. After a brief "There is nothing wrong with that damned banka and you are going to take us to El Nido right now" conversation, our journey continued, and miraculously the engine managed to work the entire way (luckily a German guy was backing me up with a stern look on his face behind me while I bravely told them off, otherwise they would have laughed at me I think).

El Nido is an average town surrounded by heavenly beauty. The islands are plentiful, the limestone cliffs rival Ko Phi Phi, the coral is great for snorkeling. Its just a great place to spend a few days. My highlight was Taraw cliff - it overlooks the town. I climbed it one morning with the aid of a guide and the views are spectacular. The heat was insane and hordes of mosquito's almost flew us to the top. Luckily, my exploration abilities held fast and I conquered it in an hour.

Coron and the Japanese WWII Wrecks:

The town of Coron is world-renowned in diving circles for having some of the best wreck dives in the world. These are not just wrecks that you float over and point at some old gun lying on the sand and head back up the surface. On every large wreck (ie. supply boats of 120-160m in length) you penetrate the hull and swim right through the passages, cargo holds, impact points from the torpedo strikes, and any other area that allows you to swim through it. IT IS AWESOME AWESOME DIVING!
Marianne had decided to try a Discover Scuba course ("High Five!"), and so on the first day I joined her at the local training reef. What a pro - she handled it well, and continued on with her Open Water course for the next three days. This gave me an excuse to try the wrecks and at the same time do a Nitrox course. Nitrox allows you to get more bottom time because you change the air mix in your tank to a higher Oxygen content.

Wreck diving is an out-of-world experience. For starters its very eerie. The top surfaces of most of the wrecks lie at about 18-25 meters. From here you work your way down the hull and the guide takes you to a small opening in the wreck (say 26-39m). The visibility is not great so it gets a little dark at the sandy bottoms. There were a few occasions when all I could see in front of me was a pair of fins kicking into some dark opening on the wrecks! You flick on your torch/flashlight, and follow in! After a while your eyes start to adjust to the gloom and kicked up silt and you find yourself in a small passage or boiler room, or cargo hold or something to that affect. There is constantly this ghostly and quiet feel to the ship. There is very little fish life inside.
I did 6 wreck dives - all the ships were destroyed on the same day in 1944 by a massive US aircraft - carrier air force. The ships had been hiding in the bay and were spotted by reconnaissance planes who alerted the aircraft carriers to attack. Its pretty weird diving on the ships and seeing where the torpedo's hit.

20 June

So, 20th June was my birthday. Battygirl, myself, Englishman Joel, Finn Okiss, and German Bengf headed to one of Coron's (or maybe the only) nightspots - Hard Rock. We had already warmed up at the Hell Diver bar (named after US WWII plane) and things got pear-shaped fast. Before we knew it, we were drinking 1.1L Red Horse beers (puts many hairs on your chest) and entertaining local lady-boy Ena, who confirmed that yes, she actually isn't yet a full woman, and went into great detail explaining the anatomy and stages of lady-boy development. He/she sat with us all night and there may be some incriminating photographs (Marianne is a budding professional photographer) from some of the members of our group that may be used as blackmail in the future... I'll leave it at that!
I retired to bed from our dive resort balcony when I heard someone getting a wake-up call from reception later that morning.

So now I'm in Cebu. Battygirl has headed to Thailand - more dives on Koh Tau await, and then her international travels end and she'll have to go back to Amsterdam. I still have four months, but I am dreading my turn!
Tomorrow, I'm off to Malapascua Island on northern Cebu - should be awesome I hear.
More updates soon, salamat!

PS. The beard is gone. Has been for three weeks. I hope some of you regret what you've said about my immaculate, and deceased, beard.

Posted by Shlugger 03:43 Archived in Philippines Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Pics from Indonesia and Malaysia

(so you don't have to read too much...)

sunny -17 °C
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Yes, that's right - just pictures and short stories. No essays to read...
Easy ;)
Dup, Jana and Francois at a tea plantation in the Cameron Highlands.

Workers collecting tea at one of the plantations in the Cameron Highlands.

Dup needs some alone time at a watch tower in the Cameron Highlands as he informs us that his Celebrity Televised Swim Gala with Gold Medalist Michael Phelps has been cancelled. Personally, I think he was lying.

Tea plantation. My favourite pic in Malaysia, I must admit.

Me beneath the Petronas Towers.

Dup, this time in business mode. He comes to this bar to razzle and dazzle the KL elite. There's actually a pool in the bar and this night he refrained from doing a few lengths at midnight.

Bird Park in KL. I swear these birds were trained to kill people! I couldn't shake them off my head! The one on the right attacked me only moments later.

Rickshaws in Malacca. Some of them have booming sound systems, which detracts from the historical significance of the place when it is only inches from your eardrum ;)

Borobudur, an ancient Buddhist temple near Yogyakarta.

Very impressive. The top tier at Borobudur is really amazing - the surrounding views are truely awesome, and the structure itself is just huge.

Its hard to explain how unique my freckled skin is in some of these places. These guys thought I was taking a photo of them, so someone pointed at me and shouted something, and then they all started to pose. So I got them to do the model pose of pointing and looking like Derrick Zollander! The blue guy on the right needs to talk to someone though, he may have a problem...

Me on top of Mount Merapi. Fantastic climb, whjich began at midnight with torches, and had us watch the sun rise over the horizon. Thats sulphuric gas in the background.

The view from the top - this time with a couple of volcanoes in the background for good measure.

Javanese kids challenging me to a duel to the death at the base of Mt. Merapi. I was tired from the walk and in no mood for trouble, so I whipped their asses.

Prambanan - also in the Yogyakarta area. Its hard to believe but this structure has been completely rebuilt following a massive Mt Merapi eruption hundreds of years ago (can't remember date) that covered the whole thing in ash and rock.

Yogyakarta guys playing football outside my B&B. Love this pic.

The plateau from the top of Mount Bromo. What a view - totally surreal being here.

Mount Bromo - the jeeps take you right to the foot of the mountain and off you walk.

Sunrise reveals the Tengger Caldera crater in Eastern Java, with Bromo bullowing out steam constantly.

Great diving here at Menjengan Island off north-western Bali. Great walls and slopes filled with life. This was a little beach we docked at between the dives. Thats Bali in the background.

Balinese troops practising karate. Anti-terrorism is taken VERY seriously in Bali nowadays...

Paddies in Bali - really beautiful.

Kite flying is a great pastime for Indonesian kids. You see kites being flown anytime there is a mild breeze.

Father and son, and musician on my bike trip over the mountains in Bali.

There are little Hindu shrines everywhere in Bali. EVERYWHERE. They bless houses, shops, fields, roads, cars, everything. Perhaps thats why the drivers drive like they're invincible!

Boatmen cleaning their boats before the next tide I think - Bali.

More rice paddies.

On the way to Gili Trawangan, off the large island of Lombok.

Gili Trawangan. Every evening, I'd go to the west side of the island, beer in hand and watch the sun go down. There was quite a crowd of us gathering after a few days there. So so chilled.
The moon sets weren't too bad either...!

Divers horsing around on the way back from a dive. That was my instructor - as you can imagine, dives were good fun!

Hmmm.... my bar - Rudy's. I stayed here, and as it turned out this place had everything to offer, and plenty of big parties. P1080254.jpg
Awesome bar staff!

The dog and rooster - Bali's monsters. Roosters for waking me up at 4am everynight! and dogs for barking constantly!

The last place I stayed at: Amed in eastern Bali. Famous for the USS Liberty wreck dive - what a fantastic dive.

Cats rule Gili Trawangan and are ready to pounce on any restaurant plate!

OK, thats enough oics for now - more to come in a month or so...
Right now - I'm in Manila, Philippines... its a little dodgy I must say.

Posted by Shlugger 04:17 Archived in Indonesia Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

The Balinese

Agent Orange marches forth into Bali and Lombok

sunny 33 °C
View The Shlug's world tour on Shlugger's travel map.

Goodbye Java
So I left Yogyakarta and headed on a 2-day bus trip across the eastern half of Java, with an overnight stay at Mount Bromo. I am sorry to say it, because Mount Merapi was an exhilarating climb and the dawn was really something to remember, but... Mount Bromo beats the pants off Merapi. There are a lot more tourists, which sucks, but the volcano is incredible. You literally get dropped off in a jeep about 500 meters away, walk up some stairs to the rim, stand and watch as the smoke billows out and then survey the plateau all about you, which is devoid of any trees (just tufts of grass) and looks really surreal. You can walk around the entire volcano rim, and just snap away at all the amazing views.
Then it was back into the bus again, and Indonesian busing is something else. Put it this way, to do about 500km's took a solid 22 hours of busing over 2 lo-o-o-ong days. I eventually arrived in Bali, and what a place.

Once again, my expectations were a little different from what I saw - this time, when I arrived in Bali. The island is massive - over 100km's long, and the surfing that it's famous for can only be found in a few spots, all in the south. I first stayed on the north west coast in the town of Pemuteran, near the diving island of Pulau Menjangan, famous for its wall dives. Little did I know, but its pretty much the most expensive town in Bali, with a few awesome resorts filling its beaches (my dive book fails to mention that the town is also unaffordable to most people on earth). They even MAKE coral there, sticking little thermometers into the water's edge to encourage reef life. I managed to find a cheapish place ($20 a night) after arriving at 9pm on a scooter for 20km's through dense national park forest. The scooter driver wasn't a big fan of using headlights, which was a bit concerning, especially since he didn't understand any English, which made it difficult to get the flashlight signal across to him! Arriving at that time left me with little option but to accept the first place I came across. Ah, long bus journeys in Indonesia, I do love them.
Although it has amazing beaches, Bali also has some massive mountains - remnants of old volcanoes. I took it upon myself to hire a scooter (at excessive Pemuteran prices) and headed into the hills. I covered 200km's of the western tip of the island, and it took all day. The weather changed dramatically as I zipped up the twisting roads, going from a humid 30-odd degrees at the beach to a heavy forest rainfall and having to seek cover for half an hour up in the mountains. Hiring a bike in Bali is dangerous! Not because of other traffic or the animals - the roads are just perfect for rally cars!! You cant help but take the roads at pace, either up or down. It's an awesome day trip, and the locals up there don't regularly see foreigners, or Bule, as we're called, so they wave and greet you, and want to talk at any opportunity. The Balinese are good and easy-going people, they're rarely interested in you just for the money - they enjoying chatting to foreigners. Sometimes though, you get those trying to sell something. In those cases, the conversation is as follows:

Balinese: Salamat Pagi (Hello) / Hello Mister! (if 15 years or younger)
Me: Hi
B: What your name?
M: David (pronounced Daafid) [No Stuart, not Daffyd]
B: Where you from?
M: South Africa.
B: Ohhhh... (Nodding a lot, yet complete confusion).... But you WHITE!
M: Yes I know.
B: Ohhhh......(still the confusion).
Got girlfriend?
M: No
B: Got wife?
M: No
B: How old you?
M: 20- something...
B: Oh. Want girlfriend?
M: No.
B: Want cooldrink? Want bir? What can I do for you?
M: No, nothing. Thanks bud, cheers.

The Balinese also enjoy playing guitar and music all the time. You'll often be at a restaurant and the guy across the road will come out of his shop and start plugging away at some old tunes. Next thing you know, his neighbor is sitting down next to him with a drum and they're playing away. Awesome! They are very musical people.

Gili Trawangan

Lombok is famous for the three Gili islands on the north-west corner. I went there and once again found myself sweating like Dingaan's armpits after 4 midday stick-fights. Luckily the water was a cool 29 degrees and the beers weren't too expensive, so I managed to find some respite from the heat. I hooked up a few dives and saw the best visibility i have ever seen. Perhaps 45-50 meters. It was incredible! Swam with a number of white-tip reef sharks, countless large hawksbill turtles, some huge bumperhead parrotfish, and many other smaller fish. It was great diving. The island has probably changed a bit over the years - I compare it quite a bit to Ko Tau in Thailand, just smaller. So its quite developed now. Most of the younger tourists seem to spend their time either flexing their guns on the main beach or doing some serious bikini tanning. I guess its a good way to take a break for a while, but the place does have a bit of The O.C. feel to it I think. Actually met some awesome Californians/West Coast and German people while there and we had quite a few good nights out.
On the half-hour boat ride back to Lombok, not a word was said amongst the dozen people leaving Trawangan. Everyone was just staring back at the islands getting smaller, wishing they didn't have to go. It is a lovely island, I'll be back for more I'm sure. I'll always remember it for the song "Welcome to my Paradise" - all the bars play it, all the time. Perfect place for it.

Got to the port at Lombok and we were completely surrounded by ferry ticket touts...! Paradise was definitely behind us now! I was left shouting at some tout "I don't trust you! I don't trust you! I wouldn't give you one cent of my money!" The guy was the dodgiest b@stard I have ever come across. In the end though I had to buy as there was no government office around to sell decently-priced tickets. That's traveling - the good unfortunately comes with the bad.
So now I'm back in Bali and going to KL tomorrow to stay with Dr. Dup du Plessis. He isn't coming to Kota Kinabalu anymore, cos he says he has some international charity gala against Michael Phelps or something. Nice story Dup...

Finally, I have decided to introduce my travel tip section with each new entry from now on:

Travel tips for this entry:
Don't ride buses in Indonesia. Walk if you must.
Learn to accept roosters - they will cockodoodaldoo at midnight, or whenever they damn-well please.
Learn to love scruffy, scrawny, mangy Indonesian dogs - they will bark whenever there is a cockodoodaldoo and they don't know what you're shouting at them cos they don't speak English. Accept them.

Final Note: The Beautiful Beard
There have been some unnecessary comments of late about my immaculate and well-groomed beard that I have carefully grown over the last few months. These have not been taken very well. Gowar, Whitfield, Waterman... I have your numbers. In fact, I was considering grooming it, or, dare I say it, taken it all off, because during the last few dives I kept getting water in my mask and couldn't see anything. Hopefully my mask and 'rooibaard' can learn to live with one another.

PICTURES: Will update as soon as I can... sorry, I just cant find internet cafe's that allow me to either downsize the photos or read my portable hard-drive.

Posted by Shlugger 05:49 Archived in Indonesia Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

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