Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Day 384: The end... The beginning...

I got up early this morning to take some photos of the fishing boats on their way out to sea and then went back to join the others for some pancakes in the hotel restaurant. Then, while the girls played with the Turkish kids, I packed our bags for the last time. Just before midday, we checked out and left our bags at reception then headed down the road to what had by now become known as the crispy duck restaurant for some lunch.

After we had eaten, we returned to the resort to kill some time. The girls and I went for a swim but as we couldn't find Kate's costume, she had to stay dry. At about 4pm our car arrived and we drove back to Denpasar, spotting lots of macaques at various spots beside the road on the way – we won't be sad to not see them again for a while.

We arrived at the airport at about 6.30pm but as our flight wasn't until after midnight, we couldn't check in yet, so we made a rather dispiriting tour of the various food outlets before eventually choosing one, where we had a pretty dispiriting meal of meat pies and fried rice, in the process using up the last of our meagre cash reserves.

Finally, after we had sat around waiting for a bit longer while a 'security desk' was opened up, we were allowed to check our bags in and go through proper security. We still had a while to wait until our flight, however, which we spent amusing ourselves with the antics of our fellow tourists, an alarming number of whom kept arriving at the adjacent gate just before their flight – only to discover that the gate had been changed, sending them into a blind panic.

We also watched with some bemusement as some Air Asia staff started setting things up for a grand opening – it turns out that ours was the inaugural Denpasar to Sydney flight, an occasion that was marked with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, some photo ops and a free cupcake for the passengers. And then we filed onto the plane and flew to our final destination... 

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Days 381-383: Lazy days

Not long after getting up on our first morning in Bali we began congratulating ourselves on our decision to avoid the Kuta area and come up to the quieter part of the island. The resort we chose was lovely – right on the beach, nice villa, nice pool, pretty good restaurant, friendly staff and just the sort of laidback vibe we needed for the final days of the journey. 

We spent most of our time just hanging around the resort – swimming in the pool, snorkelling off the beach and reading. The resort was very quiet – there were rarely more than two or three other families staying with us. One of those was a young family who arrived around the same time as us – the father English, the mother Turkish. They had two children around the girls' age and the four of them spent quite a bit of time together, playing in the pool and on the beach. 

For meals, we mostly just ate at the restaurant in the resort, which was set up on a terrace beside the pool. For lunch, however, we often walked up the road to a little collection of shops, restaurants and hotels, usually stopping off in the basic supermarket to buy an ice cream for dessert. 

The long, curved beach is a mixture of black volcanic sand and smooth pebbles/rocks (mostly the latter, which aren't a lot of fun to walk on). During the day, it acts as a parking lot for a motley collection of fishing boats - small outrigger-style catamarans. The fishermen mostly go out in the early morning, their colourful triangular sails lining the horizon. 

A local guy has set up a little stall beside the resort, from which he hires out snorkelling equipment in the morning. We all got a set each for exploring the pretty decent reef just off the beach. We went out most days, seeing a good range of colourful reef fish hanging around the coral.

The snorkelling gear guy also sets up tours to the larger local reefs, hooking tourists up with fishermen, who take them out for a few hours on their fishing boats. We did this one morning, putt-putting up the coast to the inventively named Coral Gardens. The water was gloriously clear, the coral and fish abundant. The girls eventually started to feel the cold and climbed back into the boat while Kate and I continued to explore the reef. The water was so clear that you could go into the deep and still see the bottom, and I spent some time just hovering, hoping to spot a shark or something equally large. Without success. On the way back, our guide unfurled the sail and we caught the breeze back to the resort, cutting through the slightly choppy water at a quite impressive speed.

Later, for my afternoon snorkel, inspired by my experience at the Coral Gardens, I went back out into the deep water off the house reef. Again, keeping my eyes peeled for sharks or other big fish, I noticed something long and thin swaying above the sand. On closer inspection, I discovered an enormous colony of sand eels, a small species in the shallower water and then a really large species (I'm guessing at least a metre in length) in the deeper water. After watching them for a while, I swam back to shore and went and got Kate, and we both swam out for a good look. Unfortunately, there was something with a bit of a sting in the water, so our eel-watching was quickly curtailed, but it was one of the most impressive sights I've ever encountered in the ocean.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Day 380: Bali bound

The alarm woke us at 6.30am and we headed out for breakfast at Taipan Food Corner. The pork buns weren't ready yet, but while we waited, Zoe tucked into some of her beloved wonton noodles. When my pork bun finally came it was still cold inside, so I sent it back for a bit more steaming. As we ate, Sarah had a bit of a moment when a small jumping spider did what jumping spiders do and jumped around on the table. Sarah has always had a love-hate relationship with spiders – sometimes she loves them and wants to hold every spider she sees, other times she decides she's petrified of them and shies away from even the smallest arachnids. She was apparently in a hate phase this morning, but I made her sit still and let the spider climb onto her hand and in no time she was back in love mode again.

Back in the room we finished packing and then went downstairs to meet 'our' taxi driver, Kelvin, at 9.30am. At the airport, we checked our bags in and then sat in a coffee shop until our plane was ready. A short flight later we were back in KL, where we collected our bags, checked them back in again and then went to Nando's for lunch. We went through security but our gate wasn't open yet, so we sat out in the open area. Eventually, we filed through and onto the plane for the two-to-three-hour flight to Denpasar. 

We were met at the arrivals exit by our driver (we had chosen to fork out for someone from the resort to come and pick us up), and went looking for something to eat as it was after 9pm and we hadn't had any dinner yet, but there weren't many options, so we got in the van and headed north. Eventually we came to a McDonald's and the driver pulled off the road so we could grab some takeaway, which we then ate in the van as we continued on. All the while I was slowly inching towards hypothermia as the driver insisted on having the air con on high, with the outlets pointed right at my chest. After a few hours, the roads began to get narrower and the stray dogs more abundant and it started to feel as though we might be reaching our destination.

We finally arrived at the resort just after midnight. Grabbing our bags, we trudged around to our little villa, the gentle lapping of waves on the nearby shore the only sound. Our driver let us into what proved to be an absolutely lovely little villa – high-ceilinged, with a big bed on the ground floor and some mattresses for the girls on a little upstairs mezzanine. There was a slightly odd vegetal smell in the room, which we traced to a rather sweet grass-and-flower-petal heart that had been carefully created on the floor at the foot of our bed.

Day 379: A slow Sunday

As usual, we went to McDonald's for breakfast and then headed back to the room to hang out. It was Sunday today, so when we re-emerged to look for somewhere to eat, there wasn't much open. We ended up in Hong Kong Noodle, a restaurant just around from Taipan Food Corner. It was quite a big place, and had a few customers in, but the food was decidedly average.

After lunch, we went shopping and bought some shoes and sandals for Kate and Sarah, and a new iPhone case for Kate, and got some more money out. We then stopped in at the unusually named Bing Coffee (a reference to Chandler Bing of Friends fame perhaps) where I downed a very nice iced coffee and sipped a flat white.

We then headed back to the room, where we finally chose our Bali accommodation (for tomorrow night – nothing like leaving things to the last minute). We've been agonising over this decision for days – do we go for a place close to Kuta Beach and the airport in the south, where there's a bit of a buzz and some surf at the beach, or do we head further north, where it's significantly more quiet and you can go snorkelling. We eventually opted for the latter, reasoning that it would be nice to spend the last few days of the journey just chilling out, and booked a room at Apa Kabar Villas in Amed, which is on a north-facing stretch of coast in eastern Bali.

We spent the rest of the afternoon chilling out and watching movies – and the heavy rain falling outside – before heading out in search of somewhere to have dinner. There still wasn't much open, so we returned to Top Spot, where we were now old hands at the whole ordering business. 

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Day 378: Top spot!

After a leisurely breakfast of eggs and toast we packed up and hung around the chalet waiting for our friendly taxi driver to arrive, which he duly did at about 11.15 cab. We then drove back down to Kuching and checked into the Nova Hotel again. 

The part of Kuching in which the hotel is located is a bit bereft of nice places to eat (Taipan Food Corner is great, but there's only so many times you can eat noodles and wontons), so we checked out Trip Advisor to see what other options were available. We settled on a place called Top Spot Food Court, which seemed reasonably close by, and headed off. Although it looked pretty straightforward to get there, when we arrived at what we thought was the right place all we could find was a multi-storey car park. After a bit of sleuthing, we found a few signs and a rather skanky elevator, which we took to the top floor. Turning a corner, we came across a sea of tables and rows of food stalls, but no diners – thanks to our leisurely attitude to meal times we had managed to miss lunch. Our regular McDonald's was just across the road, so we slouched in there and filled up on production-line burgers and fries instead.

We spent the afternoon in the hotel room, enjoying the air conditioning and cable TV, before heading back out Top Spot again for dinner. This time, when we turned the corner, we found a sea of diners filling the tables and washing up against the food stalls. We did a quick circuit, peering at the brightly lit displays of seafood and vegetables at each of the stalls. We eventually chose one and received a quick tutorial on how it all worked. The idea was that you grabbed a tray, piled it up with the things you wanted to eat and then told them how you wanted it all cooked. They then weighed the various ingredients to work out the price and then handed it over to the kitchen. 

We opted for a nice big fish, a pile of prawns and a bigger pile of vegetables. After handing it all over we grabbed a nearby table and ordered some beers and soft drinks. While we waited for the food to arrive, I wandered over to a different stall and grabbed some satay sticks.

It didn't take long for our ingredients to return in cooked form, but unfortunately Kate hadn't specified how she wanted the vegetables prepared, and when they arrived, they were drowning in a frankly inedible sauce. She took them back to the stall and they very kindly agreed to replace them with something a bit more to our taste. The seafood dishes were delicious – as were the replacement veges – and we had a very pleasant meal, chatting while we ate to a lovely Dutch couple with whom we were sharing the table.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Day 377: Several steps too far

After rising late again and having some toast and eggs again, we headed out into the forest again. This time we set off up the hill on the reservoir track, which proved to consist of a lot of stone steps going up the side of the mountain. A lot of stone steps. Going up. And up. And up. When we reached a side track heading off to some lookouts, the girls refused to continue climbing. I decided that having climbed so many sodding steps, I couldn’t stop without seeing the actual reservoir, and continued up on my own. I soon met a guy coming down who assured me that it wasn’t much further so I called out to the others, but the girls still refused to go any higher. Kate was also keen to see the reservoir, however, so she continued up with me. The guy was right and we didn’t have much further to climb, but when we got there, we discovered that the climb definitely wasn’t worth the effort: the reservoir was just that – a small man-made pond with a fence around it. Kate quickly turned around and rejoined the girls, but I stayed and did a circuit in the hope that I would come across a snake or lizard or two out sunning themselves in the man-made clearing around the reservoir. I didn’t.

When I got back down to the others, we set off for the lookouts, which, as per our other lookout experiences in Southeast Asia, were pretty uninspiring, the haze from the Indonesian fires obscuring anything that might have been worth looking out at.

When we had set off this morning, Kate had said, ‘I want to see a snake today,’ and as we approached the last of the lookouts, she fulfilled her own request, spotting a juvenile viper on a pile of bark beneath a large tree.

It was around lunch time by now, so stopped on a big log for some tuna and cucumber sandwiches – but we didn’t linger as there were clouds of mosquitoes around intent on lunching on us.

As per usual, it was a hot and steamy day, so on the way back down we stopped for a quick immersion in a shallow pool in a small creek, struggling a little to find a pool big enough to get wet enough in. The track we were following was uncharacteristically well marked, with big slashed of red and white paint on the adjacent trees; however, Zoe and still managed to wander off it at one point when Sarah and Kate had gone off ahead of us. Thankfully, we realised our mistake relatively quickly and rejoined the others not long after.

When we got back to the chalet, we did a bit of clothes washing and hung it out just as the sun disappeared. There was another storm in the area, but this time there was a lot of thunder but no rain.

After dinner – pasta again - I went out on another night walk, but despite covering a lot of ground, I didn’t see much: just a couple of sleeping Gonocephalus and a few big phasmids.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Day 376: Finding the fantastic fleshy flower

We were up late this morning. I cooked some eggs in the giant wok and toasted some bread over the open flame on the stove and then we set off up the main waterfall track. It was hard going – the track was steep and the day was warm – but we saw a few Gonocephalus and a few geckoes along the way. All the while we were on the lookout for the Rafflesia flower that we had heard about yesterday. 

As we approached our final destination – Waterfall 7 – I spotted a gecko on a large rock beside the path and called the others over to have a look. As the girls and I watched the little lizard, Kate suddenly called out, 'There it is.' And sure enough, on the other side of the path atop a large rock was the Rafflesia flower. Deep orange-red, fleshy, about 30 centimetres across, it hadn't quite unfurled completely yet but was still very impressive. Not far away we also spotted a Rafflesia bud on a liana.

When we reached the waterfall, we all stripped off and went for a swim (and Zoe was visited by a large butterfly), before making some sandwiches for lunch. After we had finished eating, we were joined by six local women who had come up from the town to see the Rafflesia flower.

We packed up and made the long walk back down to the chalet, arriving just before a storm broke, complete with lightning, thunder and sheeting rain. We spent the afternoon hanging around the chalet and in the evening, I cooked some more pasta for dinner.

After dinner I went back out for another night walk, taking the waterfall track again. I went a lot higher up this time and about halfway up the hill I spotted some movement near a small ephemeral (now dry) creek that resolved into a frog – and then another. As they were both relatively nondescript brown ground frogs I wasn't too fussed about photographing them, so I made a slightly half-hearted and wholly ham-fisted attempt to catch both and ended up catching neither.

I kept going up the hill and found a couple of sleeping Gonocephalus and a very large and well-armoured phasmid, and then turned around and headed back down again. When I got to the ephemeral creek, I stopped and shone my torch around for a while, trying to spot some more frogs. High up the slope, I saw what looked to be a small green frog on a large green leaf, so I clambered up for a closer look. It turned out to be a young spotted rock frog – dark spots on its back but a brilliant lime green elsewhere. I took off my daypack and cap and set about trying to find a suitable spot from which to photograph it on the steep slope. Perched precariously, I contorted myself to get the right angles on the little amphibian, all the while digging my feet into the slope to try to stop myself sliding off. 

Looking around, I found a few more frogs and spent some time moving from frog to frog, looking for the perfect shot. When I was done, I picked up my cap and popped it on my head without bothering to check it – and instantly regretted doing so. It was covered in small brown ants and consequently so, now, was my head. Much cursing and slapping ensued as I attempted to rid myself of the biting blighters.