Gede Pangrango National Park

Our epic journey to Cibodas, the town at the base of Gede Pangrango National Park in west Java, Indonesia, began when we left Auckland airport and after 3 flights and a couple of stopovers, a taxi, a 3 hour bus ride (this time we shared the bus with a bird, a cat, and a band playing music for a portion of the trip!) and then a half hour angkot ride, we finally got dropped off near the botanical gardens in the dark, with no idea where any hotels might be, but glad to finally be there.  We managed to stumble upon a hotel that we had to phone to get them to unlock their gates and let us in, and the next day we walked through the town to look at other potential places to stay and were pleased to learn that our travelling luck struck once again and we were already staying in the nicest place in town.

We quickly realised that we would have to rely heavily on our very limited Bahasa Indonesia language skills – for the first 4-5 days we were in town we were the only foreigners there, (after that there were also 3 others) so this meant that very few people in town spoke any English at all.  This was mostly quite fun (and sometimes a bit frustrating that we couldn’t understand what people were trying to tell us) and it helped hugely with our now-expanded Indonesian vocabulary.

We easily slipped back into the slow rhythm of Asia, and on the first day back Karen got a stone in her lunch, and Dre managed a stick in his dinner, so we really felt back at home :-) .  We both loved having Indonesian food again, chilli eggplant, tempeh, cassava leaves, curry tofu, fish, and more tempeh for luck quickly became our staple diet again.

We spent the first day wandering around the many pathways behind the town, watching kids fly kites (it seems this is the town sport, with perfect light breezes for kites, and almost every tree you see has at least one kite stuck in it), seeing the many mosques (the most mosque-laden town we have ever been in, with 5 just in view from our guesthouse and many more around town!) and just generally getting to know the lay of the land.  This has to be one of the friendliest places we’ve been to, although anywhere in Indonesia and Laos always is, it seems though that this area really only receives local tourists, which made for a really nice feel of the place.  It meant we would wander around with everyone talking to us, we were seemingly the novel attraction and it was lovely and a very happy place to be.  Of course this is why we love Laos so much, but to unexpectedly get this kind of love from Cibodas was a nice surprise.

The main reason for choosing this park to come to was the alure of climbing the volcanoes Mount Gede (active) or Mount Pangrango (extinct), or both, as well as hanging out in the national park and the Cibodas botanical gardens at the base of the park.  The first time we entered the national park it was late afternoon so we didn’t try to find the path to the summit, we were more just looking around and saw loads  of different kinds of birds and spiders and some water snakes and cool huge caterpillars too.   We saw a couple of waterfalls and one ‘helpful’ Indonesian guy told us he would take us to another waterfall if we wanted.  “Chantik?”  we asked (beautiful?)  “No”  he said  “very small.”  OK…. way to sell it to us.  There were butterflies everywhere around the park, gardens and town which was cool also.  We spent a full day in the botanical gardens – which are huge – after 5 hours of solid walking we still hadn’t seen all of the gardens.  We had been warned that the weekends could be horrible, because many Jakartan’s visit the park; we naively didn’t realise that this meant typical Asian noise pollution – massive speakers set up all around the gardens belting out music (some of which was karaoke!!!  argghh!!) that was so loud, that even after 2 hour walk into the thick jungle in the opposite direction of the music we could still hear it!  But we had to laugh – we have been in Asia long enough now to expect this kind of thing yet we still didn’t pre-empt it when we decided to stay for the whole week.  Not to worry!

We then spent a couple of days going back into the national park, and getting increasingly frustrated – we had walked every path we could find, including a couple that fizzled out at someones house or huge fields of crops, and we still hadn’t found a path leading to the summit.  We visited the park office and they didn’t have any maps left.  Hmmm.

One day we decided to go and play golf – a beautiful pristine golf course at the base of the mountains and national park could not be missed, and although Dre was disappointed when they didn’t have any left handed clubs, it led us to another discovery: the national park was in 2 parts, the second entrance was beside the golf course, and this was the way to the summit!  For a short while we were quite excited about this – we still had one day left so we would be able to use it to walk up the mountain.  Then the craziness of our situation kicked in;  we knew we needed a permit to get to the top, but we found out that the park would not issue us (or any other foreigners) a permit without a guide.  The irony was this:  a Belgian couple we met, and us, were trying to do the right thing by obtaining a permit we needed to climb the mountain, and we had been told by many people in town that a guide was not needed to climb as the trail is clearly defined, but the park office had just decided to enforce a rule that foreigners need a guide, despite there apparently not being any guides available.  So all this meant was, the entire park was filled with people with no permits.  Foreigners and Indonesians alike, couldn’t be bothered with the red tape to get a permit, and since there were no checks in the park to see if you held one, it seemed no-one did.  So the park was filled with wandering people, none of whom had a permit and it struck us as a bit stupid… we had already happily paid each time we had entered the bottom section of the park because it was easy to do so, but when we wanted to enter the elusive top section, they wouldn’t let us pay for a permit without forms and an elusive guide so no one bothered.   Bureaucracy gone wrong?

Anyway, it turned out that our final day was raining and slippery so we never did make it to the summit.  Dre went up as far as the blue lake in the park and saw 2 species of monkey and some otters as well as some beautiful birds.  We still had a good week exploring the town, gardens and the parts of the national park that we did see though, and on our last day we were rewarded for being here – we got to see Mount Gede erupting a bit, letting out smoke and steam which it apparently hasn’t done for years.  A very cool sight to see.  We had heard the volcano rumble a little in the previous days so hopefully let out some smoke is all it does!  Our photos of our week in Cibodas are here.

One year in Asia

One year ago today, 10th June 2010, we landed in Bali and began our Asian Adventure.  In the past year, we have seen and experienced more than we could have imagined before we left home.

The year has been filled with contrasts – both highlights and lowlights, too many to mention, but here are a few that come to mind:

Well, obviously, the connections we’ve made with the amazing people of Luang Namtha.  Thong, Paet, Mona, Kumbai, Pon, Bunmee, Alack, Udon, Un, Enic, Moneylen, Lai, Shahu, Deng, we love you all.  And of course the Forest Retreat Laos project.

Bukit Lawang – seeing Orang Utans face to face was amazing.

Halong Bay – thoroughly impressed even though Vietnam did not.

Seeing some of the most disgusting toilets on earth.

Watching someone die in a motorbike accident, with no helmet, and brains on the road.

Sunrise on Phou Si mountain in Luang Prabang – amazing.

Enduring many hours on public transport – discovering amazing first class buses, and not so amazing buses.

The kids.  Everywhere the kids are beautiful.  Especially Laos.  And Indonesia.

Emma, Eric, Tricia, Louise, Deniss, Fafa, Ying, Ben, Bo, you guys touched our hearts and we look forward to meeting again.

Food, glorious food.  We love the amazing food in Asia.

Unexpectedly falling in love with a country and town…. who would’ve thought?

We have put together some photos of the year, as well as a video.  The majority of the photos have never been on this site before, and the video is very ametuer but should provide some light entertainment.  Enjoy!

Our photos of our first year in Asia are here.

Our video can be viewed below.


View our location map in Penang

We left Indonesia on the morning of the first day of Ramadan – which was completely fluke – and which turned out to be a really interesting experience.  We left Bukit Lawang at around 5.30am and the streets most of the way to Medan (about 2.5 hours away) were lined with partying muslims letting off fireworks to celebrate the beginning of their fasting period.  Once at the airport we decided to console ourselves about leaving Indo with massages before getting on the plane.

We spent the first afternoon in Penang pretty much just chilling on the beach opposite our guesthouse, then the next day in Georgetown.  We saw all the usual sights – the British Colonial buildings, waterfront and Little India (where we spent most of our time).  We decided to spend the next morning at Kek Lok Si Temple, and ended up loving it so much that we spent almost the entire day there, wandering the extensive temple grounds and climbing the stairs of the Pagoda of ten thousand buddhas.  Kek Lok Si was definitely the highlight of our time in Penang.  In the following couple of days we went to Batu Ferringhi (the main touristy beach) and hung out on our beach, went to the floating mosque and basically just chilled.  We felt a little underwhelmed at both Georgetown and Batu Ferringhi, and are glad that we opted to stay on the beach between the two, near an awesome hawker centre.  Tonight we’re getting the overnight train to KL which we’re both really looking forward to, so will report back soon!  Our photos are here.

Bukit Lawang

During the past 11 days so much awesome stuff has happened that it’s hard to know where to begin.  We were presented with the amazing opportunity to go trekking into the wild jungle one hour from Bukit Lawang in a jungle called Bukit Kencur – a jungle that people only venture into a few times a year.  We saw so many cool things, and just being in the jungle was a highlight in itself.  We went to Bukit Kencur with Andrea, a scientist from the UK who now lives in Bukit Lawang and educates people about the forests and Orang Utans – we were extremely lucky to be given this chance so jumped at it and had an awesome time.

We have waded through rivers, climbed rocks, seen wild and semi-wild adult and baby Orang Utans, (even got wee-d on by one Orang Utan!), seen a family of White-Handed Gibbons, some Pig-Tailed Macaques, (5 wild primate species in total), at least 200 different insects and 50 different butterflies.  We have been into caves, walked many trails, rafted down the river, eaten so much awesome food and made some unforgettable friends.  Bukit Lawang is so far the hardest place we have had to leave – the jungle cast it’s spell on us after the first week or so and we could spend days just sitting staring at the trees, river and animals.

We came to Bukit Lawang to see Orang-Utans and we got so much more than we bargained for.  Every day we would see and hear new things, watch the hundreds of dragonflys hover and swifts fly over the river, and be visited by monkeys on our balcony off our little hut in the jungle.  Once a Pig-Tailed Macaque even stole Dre’s shorts after raiding our rubbish bin, and put them on his head – then carried them up to the top of the tree before dropping them not too far from our hut so Dre could go and rescue them!

Ultimately we have far, far too many photos to share on this site, and have tried really hard to narrow them down.  Here are just a few highlights.  Indonesia has caught us a bit by surprise – we had expected to have a good time, but we hadn’t realised just how utterly awesome it would be – to the point where we are quite sad to be leaving tomorrow.  (Although also excited to be going to Malaysia.)  One thing is for sure:  every day that passes, we are falling more in love with Asia.


Last few days in Toba

Our past few days have been basically chilling and nursing Dre’s foot, watching some DVD’s and walking around the island.  We had an amazing whole fish bbq’d in banana leaf, and topped off our final day by scoring the best ‘view’ seat in our favourite restaurant and some delicious Indo fare.  This morning the swelling in Dre’s foot has gone down enough that he can loosely wear a shoe, which is good timing as today we are heading to Bukit Lawang to see wild Orang-Utans.  Woohoo!

How to cure your centipede bite

We have had a funny couple of days with every person we walk past asking why Dre’s foot is swollen / why he was only wearing one jandal (when it was so swollen that his jandal wouldn’t even fit on) or how he is feeling.  We have received advice from everyone and it has been intriguing how almost every local we have talked to has also been bitten by one of the Sumatran Giant’s and each has the ‘best’ cure that if Dre had used the swelling and pain would be gone by now.  So, the definitive list on how to cure a bite from a Sumatran Giant Centipede is this:

– kill the centipede and crush it innards and smear over your wound

– rub ‘special oil’ on the wound every hour

– walk around constantly to massage your foot

– get a knife and cut out the poison  (sounds particularly appealing)

– wrap leaves (of unknown kind?) around the wound

– get plaque off your teeth and mix it with raw chewed peanuts and smear on the wound  (also appealing!)

– enbalm the centipede in oil and spread on wound

– get water spinach and add salt to taste, then make into a powder, and put on wound

– rub lime or lemon juice into the wound

– tie string around limb so the poison doesn’t spread, and then squeeze poison out

– soak wound in salt water

– and of course, the doctor’s recommendation “you need an injection, otherwise you will always be in pain”

So there you have it, should you ever find yourself in need, the Batak people of Lake Toba can cure your centipede bite faster than you would otherwise be able to.

Be careful what you wish for

For the past few days, Dre has been saying that he wishes we were seeing more giant insects and crazy animals.  I keep reminding him that in a few days we are going into the jungle where we are sure to see plenty of creepy-crawlies.  I think he forgot to wish that when he saw a Sumatran Giant Centipede, that he would only see it, and not be biten by it!  Yesterday afternoon only a few hours after again saying it would be cool to see some giant beetles or large insects, we went up to our cottage for a few minutes, and the split second that Dre put his feet back on the floor there was one of these Sumatran Giant Centipedes about 25cm long (which apparently grow to 30-35cm and eat bats!) underneath his right foot which promptly have him a poisonous bite.  After medical consultations with some locals, who gave us some herbal medicine which smells like petrol to put on the wound every hour, and a trip to the doctor who wanted to give Dre an injection (of what, we have no idea – of course we declined),  Dre spent the night pacing the floor because if he stopped moving his foot would throb in intense pain.  His foot is still sweating profusely out the top, and the petrol stuff does seem to be working somewhat, so now apparently we just have to wait 2-3 days before it will stop throbbing.  Nothing like some drama to add excitement to life!

Sumatra so far…

Our experience of Sumatra has been very different to Bali or Lombok so far.  There are far fewer tourists, and no touts at all.  The people are very friendly and we are never hassled.  If we leave the area of Tuk-Tuk, and go elsewhere on the island of Samosir, we are the only white people we see.  We have had an entire classroom of school kids rush outside to gawk and wave at us, a local man stop on the side of the road for us because he want’s to help us (we had stopped to take a photo) “Please, there must be something I can do for you.”  In the end we agreed that he could show us his village and have a coffee in his house.  There have been kids rush into the street as we ride past to give us a high five, and a wide-eyed small girl gasp and cover her mouth at the sight of us white-y’s.  We have learned that for our driver, “If I no eat chilli it’s like I no eat.”  And we learned that the reason they cut down the big trees is because “There are too many ghosts when the trees are big.”  It’s been quite surreal, and very cool.   Here are a couple of pics of our lazy days here.

Lake Toba

View our location map on Lake Toba

We are absolutely loving Lake Toba.  True relaxation has set in and so far in the past week we have established sort of a routine – get up at 5am to see the sunrise and work, have breakfast, go for a run, go for a swim, realise it’s 8am and you have the rest of the day to do whatever.  We’ve spent our time after 8am scootering around the island, swimming, reading, admiring the view, relaxing, eating amazing food and napping.  It doesn’t get much better than this!  Our photos are here.