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#62 Lombok – Surf’n’Hurt

From Sanur on Bali I took the ferry to Lombok. I was naive enough to believe the sales-guy when he promoted the journey as a direct and speedy trip with no stops in between. As it turned out, we would stop. Several times. On all of the Gili’s to be precise and a few times in the middle of the sea because the motors kept shutting down. But who’s in a rush? I wasn’t, and at some point the ferry finally reached Lombok, apparently considered to be the Bali of twenty years ago or so. I don’t know about that, I wasn’t there back then.

The port the ferry stopped at was located in the northwest of the island, but I was sure I would easily manage to organize a transport to Senggigi further south. I was wrong. Jumping off the ferry, me and several other Gringos and Gringas were aggressively approached by what I later learnt to be known as the local transport mafia: an extremely unpleasant bunch of locals trying to usher you into their pre-selected taxis or vans and extort bizarre amounts of money from whoever doesn’t push back enough. I wasn’t going to let them intimidate me but with one of the guys not letting go, I tried the usual haggling, which seemed to infuriate him further. I let him know that I didn’t appreciate his approach and walked off, leaving the port area on foot. He followed me on his scooter, insulted me and wished me bad Karma. Not really concerned with my Karma, I started talking to another tourist who seemed to be going through the same experience. His name was Bobby and he was a German speaking Belgian. Together we approached a guy further down the road. He offered to bring us to Senggigi for a reasonable price and all seemed well, until the mafia leader came flying and shouting on his scooter. Clearly, he was not happy about us slipping through his net and he kept insisting until our driver handed him part of the agreed fare.

From there, the Lombok experience could only improve. We headed down south on the beautiful road along the coast and reached Senggigi about thirty minutes later. It turned out that Bobby was a nice bloke and we agreed to hang out later. But first I headed to the Sunsethouse Lombok where I caught Marco and Olesya (if you don’t know who they are you clearly didn’t visit our page enough) just checking in. They had just arrived from Hong Kong by plane and this way got spared the transportation fiasco at the port I went through. We were clearly happy to see each other…

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In the evening we met up with Bobby for dinner. Marco wasn’t feeling well since a few days and therefore needed rest during the next days.

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So I made plans with Bobby, his girlfriend Moana who also arrived on Lombok the day before with her friend Sebastian. We decided to make a motorbike tour to discover the northern part of the island.

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Discovering the north of the island
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One of Lombok’s many beautiful beaches

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Then it was time to go south for what I actually came to Lombok for; the surf. Fully packed I mounted my scooter and drove the 75 km to Gerupuk for the best waves on the island. Over the internet I had arranged the contact of Oki, a local with a small homestay who also offers surfguiding.
The last fifteen kilometers before the tiny village led over gravel and potholes that didn’t leave much room for road. Well shaken I arrived at Oki’s place a bit later.

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Heading south to the surf
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House terrace of Oki’s place

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Basic room

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Oki’s parking spot

Shortly after settling in, Oki took me to his friend’s nearby surfshop and I chose my board. I couldn’t wait any longer and pressed Oki to bring me out to the lineup as soon as possible. So, we waited for the right conditions and headed out on his boat, together with his son and another kid.

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Happy moments

When I got to Gerupuk, it didn’t strike me as a crowded place. The line-up, unfortunately, is a different story. But the very friendly atmosphere between both locals and tourists and all levels of surfers still makes for a very enjoyable experience. And more importantly, the conditions were good. The head-high and strong wave was a great playground to practice gaining speed for more powerful turns. Oki’s helpful comments did the rest and I could feel the biggest improvement I have ever had in a single session. I was so much looking forward to the coming days!

The next morning, we headed out before sunrise for a wonderful mid-tide session. And once again on this trip I could enjoy one of these precious moments in life; sitting in the ocean watching the sun come up and waiting for the waves to roll in. And roll in they did, plenty of them.

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Sunrise imminent
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The right time to get to the line-up
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Oki giving me a ride

We headed out again in the afternoon for some more surf. But unfortunately, my enthusiasm was stopped abruptly by the surfboard of a beginner who was wrongly positioned in the line-up, couldn’t pull back in time and violated one of the more serious rules in surfing: never let go of your board! I caught the wave but was surprised by the unmanned board that slammed into my ribs and took my breath away. Result: two severly bruised or even broken ribs.
I could still breath and I didn’t spit any blood, so I didn’t go to the doctor as there isn’t much to be done anyway. But with the pain going from constant to acute and back depending on my movements, surfing was not an option. Later on Java, the injury also prevented me from climbing a volcano I had planned on visiting and the whole healing process took about three months. Ouch.

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Not so happy moments; waiting for the pain to abate

But on the day it happened I didn’t know that yet and I decided on staying another day waiting for the pain to go away and maybe surf again. After it became clear that it wasn’t going to happen, I made my way back to Senggigi to spend the rest of my days on Lombok with Marco and Olesya who were still there.

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Famous Tanjung Aan Beach – less than impressive
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Back in Senggigi
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Street artist at work
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Senggigi sunset
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Beach dinner

The day before I had to catch my flight to Java, the other Marco who you might know from my posts about the island of Siargao in the Philippines, joined us before he would follow my footsteps and go surfing in Gerupuk. He was kind enough to give me a ride to the airport the next morning.

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Marco Nr. 2 arrived on Lombok
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My ride to the airport

My next destination was Yogjakarta on Java, a very different environment from all the beaches of the last weeks. The most iconic Indonesian temples were waiting for me.

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#61 Bali N°2 – Ubud and Sanur

After I rid myself of the surfboard in Canggu, the road to Ubud was waiting. About two hours and a thorough tropical shower later, I arrived in the dorm of a small and simple hostel above a little restaurant where I hung my stuff to dry.

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I was relaxing in the dorm when there was a blackout; one of the girls in the room tried to turn on the hairdryer. It also affected the restaurant downstairs and it would take about two minutes for one of them to come up and put the fuse back in. But undeterred by reason, the girl tried three times. It’s probably not necessary to mention that the result was the same, every single time.

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Ubud has a few things to show for, and I was determined to discover them. I started by walking around the city center and then took my scooter off-road to explore the nearby rice-terraces just outside town. I had heard about a restaurant called Sari Organik in the middle of the fields and I went on to enjoy a delicious lunch there.

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Sari Organik
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Ubud’s backstreets

In the afternoon, I left the tired scooter be and hiked up along the Campuhan Ridge Walk until I found a nice place to have a beer and a snack.

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Campuhan Ridge Walk
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Campuhan Ridge Walk

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There are worse places to sit down and have a cold one

Back in town, I went on to visit Pura Taman Saraswati, a classical Balinese temple whose access path is lined with a pond full of lotus flowers. In hindsight, I have no idea why the pond is not in the picture.

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The next day, I was one of the first ones to enter the Monkey Forest, a park crowded with temples and surprise, surprise: monkeys. After wandering around for about ten minutes, a few of these rascals blocked my way. I have heard many stories about monkey aggression, so I waited a bit and hoped they would go their way. After a little while, the monkey still busy doing monkey business right in the middle of the path, I decided that I would pass them without drawing their attention. I zipped up my rainjacket, put my cellphone and wallet in one of the inside pockets and put my hands in the outside ones before marching decisively passed them without looking at them. A great plan. It failed miserably. The youngest of the group quickly chased after me and jumped at my leg making his way up to my arms. Two others didn’t take long to follow. Within seconds I must have looked like a furry christmas tree mistaken for a Mexican Piñata. Feeling less than comfortable, and slightly ashamed of how bluntly my genious plan to escape their curious nature shipwrecked, I kept my hands firmly in my pockets and waited until they got to terms with the reality that their was nothing falling out for them, no matter how hard they pushed and pulled. The Piñata won and walked on.

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Monkey Forest
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Wedding in the Monkey Forest

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After not too much time in the park, witnessing another two or three vicious monkey attacks on unsuspecting touritst I had enough and decided to leave the planet of the apes behind me and go back to where humans are in charge. Not that they are much more pleasant in general, but they do bite and scratch far less, so that’s a plus.

Anyway, there were other things for me to see. For example Tagallalang. Located a few kilometres north of Ubud, these picturesque rice-terraces are an incredible tourist magnet. The little valley is accessible right from the main road lined with restaurants, cafés and small shops. The families cultivating the fields probably make more money asking for entrance fees to the paths leading around the terraces than from selling rice. Nevertheless, it was worth a visit. More importantly though, I got a hat. I kept and regularly used it until I left Indonesia a few weeks later, handing it on to a fellow traveller.

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Tagallalang Rice Terraces

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Before leaving Bali and travelling on to Lombok, I didn’t want to miss the chance to see Manta Rays. For that purpose, I made my way back down south and stayed in Sanur. I spend the afternoon after my arrival looking for a diving school that wouldn’t rip me off completely. In the end I found a guy who had a friend and so on. With everything arranged for the next day, I made the acquaintance of two older guys from the hostel, both travelling around the country. We ended up in a loud bar with a surprisingly hard-rocking band. After I got kinda bored with the conversation of the other two, the conversation prohibiting volume was a welcome change.

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Bar in Sanur
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Serious Rock

The morning I got picked up early, we drove around for a while, picked up another dude and finally got dropped off at a small dive center. About half an hour later our little group of five divers and two dive masters took off to the beach. The boat ride was rockier than usual and we got shaken quite a bit. As the Manta cleaning station off the coast of Nusa Penida is a well-known spot, I had no hope of being alone when we would arrive there. And we weren’t. But once you are under water looking at blue-dotted stingrays that hide in the sand the attention shifts quickly. It shifts again the moment the first Manta comes across the cleaning station. These giants span between five and seven meters and leave you in the shadow and breathless when they calmly glide through the water above you. Beautiful, majestic, impressive. That’s all I have.

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Diving in Nusa Penida
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Break on the sundeck
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Manta Ray at cleaning station just off Nusa Penida

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On our second dive we tried to see the famous Mola Mola, also known as Moon Fish. I had the feeling our dive master wasn’t as motivated as he could have been to find one and so we ended up not encountering any. But with the Manta still vividly in front of my inner eye I didn’t manage to be disappointed.

Then it was time to move on to the next island; Lombok.

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#60 Bali N°1 – Waves, Traffic and a Scare

Well, we are actually back in Switzerland since Mid-September, but just because I am (really far) behind doesn’t mean I won’t complete the story. Let’s pick it up from where I left of: Indonesia.

Arriving on Bali was somewhat of a shock coming from Raja Ampat; it’s busy, really busy. I got to my hotel in Jimbaran only late at night and organized a motorbike next thing in the morning. My friend Mischael was flying in the same day from Singapore. We would spend the weekend driving around the southwest of the island, trying to catch some waves and having the odd beer. Oh, and occasionally we might even sneak in a cultural sight.

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Bali might not be the jewel you expected
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Fixing up Mischael’s board

On the first day, we made our way down to Padang Padang Beach. When conditions are right, this place can fire up some amazing waves. That wasn’t the case when we got there. Additionally, we couldn’t understand why this place was so popular with the beach-crowd; the beach is a hassle to get to, it’s small and it’s far from beautiful. All in all, not a good start to Bali. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my phone to take a picture and show you what I’m talking about. As it turned out, I left my phone in the small open storage compartment in the front of my scooter which was standing in the middle of a busy parking lot. After two rather frustrating hours in the water without any decent waves, I got out and realized that the device wasn’t in the backpack. With cold sweat on my forehead a rushed up to the parking lot expecting to be punished for my stupidity. I couldn’t believe my luck when I saw it from afar, still in the front of the motorbike waiting for me.

Happy for still being in the possession of my phone, we headed to Uluwatu Temple for a short visit. The waves rolling in at the bottom of the cliff and the Temple standing on top of it is a pretty sight. The immense tourist crowd and the predatory monkies were less of a highlight.

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Uluwatu Temple
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Uluwatu – the cliff and the wave

From there on, it got better. We drove up to Canggu, where I rented my board for the next two days. We also got some nice overhead high waves and a friendly crowd. After the session, which Mischael ended with a massive sumersault on a shore break, we treated ourselves to some milkshake, crepes with icecream and beers.

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Taking advantage of a rare moment out of traffic

Back in Jimbaran, we got a beach dinner at one of the many seafood restaurants that get raided by locals and tourists alike. Simple but good food for almost no money; right up my alley!

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Fish and rice in heart-shape, what else?

Next day? More and better surfing, nice food and also drinks in a fancy beach club. Bali was starting to grow on me…

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After-surf beer at Legian Beach
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Ku De Ta beach club

Early, very early on Mischael’s last morning we left the hotel and drove down to Balangan Beach. We paddled out and were sitting in the line-up shortly after sunrise. There is nothing like looking at the sun rising over the misty sea and waiting for the set to come in. And it came in; beautiful fast waves with barrelling sections close to the rock. After little more than an hour in the water we had to leave, it was time for Mischael to catch his flight back to Singapore.

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Balangan Beach

A little later I headed up to Canggu again for another surf session and to return my board. From there I headed northeast to Ubud. But more about that in the next post.

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#59 Raja Ampat – Divine Diving

Raja Ampat is an archipelago consisting of around 1’800 islands off West Papua in Indonesia. Getting there usually requires taking two to three flights and a ferry, plus further land or boat transfers to wherever you actually stay. So even if you come from Singapore or the Philippines, you are still looking at a trip of between 20 to 30 hours. That, together with the fact that it is comparatively expensive with the rest of Southeast Asia means that it’s far less touristic and makes this place a real Paradise. Raja Ampat is best known for its fantastic diving and the thrilling extreme sport that is, hold your breath, birdwatching.

My journey from Singapore to my Homestay took me a little over 20 hours and involved two flights, three taxi rides and a two hour ferry from Sorong to Waisai. When registering for the Raja Ampat Marine Park permit (USD 75!) I got to talk to a funky guy called Mike from California that set out to travel for several months. He didn’t know where to stay yet, so I told him about the place I was heading to and he came along.

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Papuarts Alter-Native Stay, right at the beach
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The common area
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Mike and I having dinner

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Papuarts Alter-Native Stay

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Sunsets aren’t the most spectacular but still make for a nice scenery

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Our host Timon, a Belgian who came to Papua about fifteen years ago, was very passionate about preserving the local culture and promoting the native experience. Many of the conversations with him revolve around how the region has changed during the last couple of years and his nightmares of arriving resorts and profit-oriented businessmen. It’s a serious issue, and one can only appreciate that people like him do their best to try and protect the islands from becoming just another tourist hotspot. Nevertheless, some of his anecdotes and stories smelt a lot like conspiracy theories that can only be the product of a man stranded on an island and with no real social life. Or they are true, I really can’t tell. In any case, his heart is in the right place, that’s for sure.

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The main reason that I went to Papua for was the scuba diving. I left the birding to the three ridiculously well-equipped characters on a month-long birdwatching adventure that arrived a day later together with their professional guide. Therefore, soon after settling-down, Mike and I visited the closest dive center. After haggling for about half an hour we came to an agreement and organized ten dives over the next four days for us and a French couple.

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Dive Center
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And off we go…

The next few days were full of mind blowing experiences below and beautiful sights above sea level. The dive master would take us to different sites around the archipelago, some of which featured strong currents, walls and jetties. But they all had one thing in common: the abundance and variety of species was ridiculous! We saw everything from black- and whitetip reef sharks, turtles, stingrays and sponge crabs to hunting tunas, schools of yellow barracudas and pygmy seahorses.  We also went for a nightdive and spotted bioluminescent plankton, walking sharks and whatnot.

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Different view – credits to Michael Sorensen and his drone
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Lunch break

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Small village somewhere out nowhere

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Local kids daring each other to jump of a jetty
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Fun on the sandbank

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That’s about as clear it gets
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Curious kiddies
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Me diving – credits to Jolyon Graham

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As I got used to locking my bag by travelling, I kept doing the same thing here, although there was hardly anybody around to nick my stuff anyway. It was therefore even more of a pain in the neck when my lock, a quality piece I acquired in Ecuador for a little less than one dollar, went berserk on me and wouldn’t open anymore. Timon got a few tools from the shed and we hammered away for a while. A friend of his that was around got quite interested in the matter and made clear that he wanted a go at it. The thing resisted the blasts for a surprisingly long time, but victory was inevitable.

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Mission accomplished

Blessed with almost perfect weather and diving conditions during the days before, I wasn’t at all sad to wake up to a cloudy and rainy day in the morning of my departure.
Timon offered me a ride to the airstrip. He booked the ticket for me the day before via telephone. It’s a new route from Waisai to Sorong, time will tell if it survives. I was quite happy about it though because at almost the same price as the ferry, this meant that I wouldn’t risk to lose my connecting flight to Bali in case the ferry was late.

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A handwritten boarding pass, that’s a first!
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The “airport” of Waisai
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Arriving in Sorong

And so, off I was to Bali, leaving this faraway Paradise behind me in exchange for waves and slightly busier beaches.