Beautiful World, Beautiful Trip (Nov. 2006 – Nov. 2007)

February 26th, 2008

Wow, here it is…..The End. Sitting on a huge jumbo jet, I find myself heading back to the friends and family that encouraged and supported such a beautiful journey. I’m longing to give everyone endless hugs, but I’m sad to be swapping it for a lifestyle that has taught me so much about living, the world, and myself. It’s crazy to think exactly one year ago I was saying good bye to these very same people…..setting out with only an idea I dreamt about. Something I knew that was entirely possible, but at the same time seemed only an illusion I was unsure how to accomplish. I remember reactions around the thanksgiving table ’06…”You’re going to do what????”….”Where???” A question I couldn’t really answer…but inside I knew I wanted to go and do something purposeful, something unique, and something amazing.

Well my friends, I can say with so much pride that my dream came true! Everything I searched for, from knowledge and understanding, to love and romance, to exploration and adventure. This trip has blessed me with so much. Lasting memories like paddling to this one island in Palau with my brother Shane on a day I can only describe as perfect. The sun was shining out in paradise and we were singing songs in the canoe on our way to a distant island glistening in the most serene, tropical aqua ocean on the planet. Mike….what a dear friend. We instantly became best friends in Palau, doing unheard of adventures and flirting with every island lady we came in contact with! My Palauan friends…I love you guys. To me Braddahs and Sistas….Much Love to Bruce, Jordy, Chico, Keblai, Raquel…I Love you Fools! To the Lehn’s Crew, Deborah, and Krammer’s, you truly helped make the dream become a reality! (Tisu, come to the states, but leave Alex behind….Just playin Girl!!) To beloved Michelle, what a remarkable person. I couldn’t have traveled with a more like-minded individual that shares such a similar passion for exploration. Alone, you were a dream come true in itself, and you have me anxious for more adventures in the future. Thank you so much for making me laugh and smile through every country we were fortunate (or ignorant) enough to visit. We did it girl..all 11!!!

This entire trip brought me through 14 countries and had me traveling in every transportation mode possible, including flights in over 16 different airline companies. I got accustomed to overnight bus and train trips, and now truly know the definition of overcrowding. I’ve tried all sorts of foods…the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Feasts set for kings and scraps left for peasants. I slept in resorts for millionaires and at times napped on the ground of dirty bus stations or guest houses with bed bugs. Even though I did it, it boggles my mind at times reminiscing of how crazy this trip truly was. Amazing…..Paradise in Palau, then a huge circle starting and ending in the Phillipines. An expedition that stretched high into mountains and deep into oceans. Trekking to discover huge elephants in thick jungles, to scanning reef walls in efforts to uncover the tiniest of sea slugs. Partying in Thailand to snuggling in Bali. Getting lost in Bangkok to making discoveries in Papua. From lands of smiles and freedom to lands of frowns and persecution. Such an epic of contrasts, but best of all, I wouldn’t change any single moment in the slightest bit. People dream of the trip I had…I know this, because I used to be one of them. All I can say now is thanks. I have had such a great time on such a life changing voyage the gratefulness I have is inexpressible. However, there is one thing. I feel like I left no stone unturned…I have no ‘What Ifs’, yet there is still something nagging on me…..What is it you ask? It’s that I’m still not satisfied! I’m still not content! If I was to depart this planet this very moment (possible because I’m experiencing some pretty rough turbulence right now) I’d be more than happy with the life I have led, but so long as this boy’s breathing, so long as I have air in my lungs and blood in my veins, this adventure is far from complete!!! Africa, South America, even Florida…Watch Out! There’s a monkey on the loose that has tasted exhilaration, been bit by enthusiasm, and now itches with eagerness……Simply Thanks

The Beginning

P.S. I ended up contracting Malaria somewhere out there…..but after the crazy fevers, seizure-like chills, three bed ridden hospital days, intense medications, and some bewildering medical bills, I’m healthy and happy, preparing for my next Exotic Exploration.

Tropical Islands to Rugged Highlands…Expedition Borneo (Nov. 15th – 21st)

February 26th, 2008

After two different ferries and a cozy bus, we found ourselves back in familiar Kota Kinabalu at Summer Inn. Our baggage was still in their storage room and we resuscitated ourselves with a nice dinner of salad! So what now? With six days left, we wanted to check off the last two major things on our list. First we must dive Sipidan, and secondly, climb Mount Kinabalu! We booked our flight aboard Air Asia to Tawau (The eastern most city on Borneo) then fell asleep dreaming of coral gardens.

Early in the morning we woke up and taxied to the airport. Air Asia is definitely a cheap, low-budget airline and it felt like we were corralled like oxen into the plane. There are no assigned seats…first come, first serve which really make for a stressful boarding process when combined with Asian mentality. Eventually we were on our way, and we were fortunate to see the summit of Mount Kinabalu perched above the clouds as we passed by. I was anxious to mountain climb, but honestly, the mountain looked pretty intense. Fortunately ‘intense’ is my middle name!

While landing, I noticed the water around Tawau didn’t look that crystal clear. I was worried that the diving wouldn’t compare to Palau, since I had been spoiled in paradise. Regardless, we taxied from the airport to the tiny port town, and then reserved two nights with Uncle Chang’s Dive Company. Uncle Chang’s was a low-budget type accommodation, perfect for our budget…but not necessarily perfect for our itinerary as we soon found out. We loaded into a small motor boat with some friends we made (also staying at Uncle Chang’s; a cute couple in their early thirties…the man, Mexican, and the woman, Canadian) and journeyed out across the sea.

Finally, the browns of the sludge turned into the turquoises of the tropics. The further away we got from the shore the more pristine the sea became. In the distance we saw our destination….Mabul Island. Mabul is the base island for people traveling to dive Sipidan. Sipidan is a famous spot amongst world class divers for its premier mega fauna. Everything from Manta Rays to Whale Sharks frequent the location…since drop offs plunge hundreds of feet into the deep. Sea turtles also offer a certain charm to the locale. Apparently, they are everywhere, and if you don’t see dozens of them while you are out in the water, then you can’t read this entry unless your monitor translates my blog into brail. Mabul in the distance crept closer and closer.

After the hour long boat ride, we arrived. The island was tiny….with beautiful resorts jetting out on long docks from the tiny land mass. Bungalows were literally built on stilts over the aquatic calmness and connected by long boardwalks over the reef. It was definitely the type places you see in Dive Magazines or Tropical Getaway advertisements. Uncle Chang’s however, was not so elegant. It emphasized the fact we were only there for the marine life…not the classiness of our accommodation, so first thing first…let’s get in the water!

Our first dive wasn’t scheduled till tomorrow, but Michelle and I didn’t want to waste the daylight of the afternoon just sitting on the dock. We asked one of the employees how we go about renting gear. All we wanted to do was dive around Mabul…which offers fantastic Muck diving opportunities. Anyway, we were denied! Even from the manager himself, we weren’t allowed to rent gear!! This infuriated Michelle and I. See, Uncle Change and his posse of swindles would only rent us gear if we paid extra for dive fees and a guide. We had never run into this problem before…considering I’m an advanced diver and Michelle is a dive master, so we were a little ticked off. To make us even more upset, at the 4 other resorts we ventured too, we would have been allowed to rent gear if we were guests at their resort. It stinks to have to travel around with your own dive gear, since it’s quite bulky, but this event more than ever had me anxious to purchase my own equipment. Thankfully, we did have our own masks and snorkel so we angrily swam in the water and viewed the denizens of the shallows.

We saw a couple neat fish…some gobbies that looked like Manderin fish but different in color, and some neat pipe fish. Sadly, we saw the remains of a beautiful bamboo shark that was de-finned and just laying upside down on the ocean floor. I moved it to see if it was still breathing, but despite how recently the barbaric act seemed to take place, it was surly dead. So sad how people can waste so much for only so little…but I guess that’s what greed does. We took several pictures and after about two hours of snorkeling, we exited the water to an amazing sunset. Michelle played with some kids that were swimming in the sea while I captured some photos of the sun dipping behind the palm trees growing in the sandy soil of our little island.

One thing Uncle Chang did get right was the buffets. Maybe it wasn’t the best of food, but it was definitely edible and there was plenty of it…Fish, Chicken, rice, and veggies. We returned back to our room right before a huge rain storm, just in time for dinner. We ate under an enormous awning at a communal table and met some of the other people at the lodge as well. A young British couple, about our same age, was loud and funny. In contrast, there was a quiet, lone Australian guy who convinced me to go to the World Cup in South Africa 2010…Count me in! Also, there was an older (50’s) English pair looking for a good time, and lastly a solitary Swede who emitted a creepy vibe but interesting nonetheless. Oh, and the Mexican and Canadian were there too. Michelle and I, as usual, were the only ones representing the USA! Tomorrow we all were heading out to dive Sipidan!

And that moment came sooner than expected! Even though the sun just came up, it was already shinning bright in the sky as we exited our room anxious for what we had heard so much about…Sipidan. We suited up with our equipment, then loaded the boat for the 20 minute ride out to the sister island. Even before we submerged, we could already check turtles off the list since their heads were seen bobbing above the small waves of the open ocean. When Sipidan became literally a five minute swim away, we tied the boat to a buoy and began our first dive.

The water was crisp, thank goodness for the wetsuit. The first thing I noticed was the million of triggerfish that schooled all around us. We were diving a drop off and the wall didn’t really support too much coral life. It had looked, in my opinion, like it had been over-dove in its day. As the dive went on, however, the landscape began to transform. Early in the dive I managed to find one nudibranch, but after that, the little sea slugs were no more. Instead of the inverts however, the turtles were everywhere. Personally, after living in Palau, I view sea turtles like I view parrot fish…a very common, edible food source. What I’m trying to say is I wasn’t there for the turtles, I wanted to see more nudibranchs!! If you wanted turtles however, this is your spot on the planet.

Sharks were everywhere as well…the typical reef sharks. They were abundant and patrolling. The conditions were very similar to Palau. To contrast….hmmm, let me try. Palau seems to have a much larger selection of high end dive sites, I mean after all it’s an entire archipelago of tropical reef. Here, Sipidan just has one tiny island surrounded by corals. There seemed to be more turtles compacted into the small space, but you are definitely guaranteed to see turtles in Palau and how many turtles do you need to see in order to be happy? I guess to sum it up, if you have one day to dive, I’d say they are both a great choice, but for a diving holiday where you can spend a week or two doing nothing but diving…definitely Palau is where you need to be.

While taking a break in between our second and third dive we had lunch. A giant water monitor slithered by us while we were eating, and everyone was a little hesitant of a giant predator lurking about….well, except Michelle and I. I wanted to get up close and personal, but I didn’t want to cause a seen and attract unnecessary attention. Obviously, monitors were inhabitants of the island, so I was anxious to finish eating and start snooping to see what kind of lizards I could find. Sure enough, just minutes from the pack still munching away, Michelle and I were face to face with a big boy! Taking a skill I harnessed in Palau, I sprinted at the adult monitor (probably ably five feet from head to tail), which sent him scurrying up a tree. Only thing is, adults being thick and heavy are no longer agile tree climbers. I ran up to the frantic reptile, seizing him by the tail. When his talons let loose of the bark, I had an enormous lizard doing what ever was in its power to sink in it’s hundreds of teeth and razor sharp claws into my skin. Nonetheless, I had it in a position where this scenario wasn’t an option. Eventually, when the opportunity presented itself, I was able to grab it behind the head.

The water monitor had rope around its neck like it had been stuck in a net. Anyway, I’m glad I was able to catch it in order to remove the hazardous collar. Michelle ran to get a knife which attracted attention from the rest of our fellow divers. Most of them came to see what we were up too, and became quite astonished to see what they found. I explained to them a little about monitor biology and felt like I was doing some sort of performance with the animal. Michelle returned with a knife, we removed the rope, and then released the beautiful lizard back to his beautiful home!

Our last and final dive was once again, spectacular. The turtles were so tranquil it easy to touch them…..even ride them. The coral was lush, and the abundance of fish species made a marine aquarium look monotonic. I saw several lion fish, clown triggers, and a couple blue tangs. Sipidan diving turned out to be better than expected…a more than welcoming surprise!

We cruised back to Mabul, just in time for dinner. That night we ended up deepening the friendship with the rest of our dive buddies. We had brought a bottle of rum to the isle, which we popped open and shared with everyone. What started out as a game of cards, quickly turned into a drinking match. Before we had too much time to experience the effects of the liquor however, a violent storm came spiraling through. The rain was heavy, but what was more memorable was the wind which picked up the cards and scattered them everywhere. Even though we were sheltered by a roof, the horizontal rain pelted us all. We had to call it a night!

Next morning, Michelle and I had a decision to make; re-dive Sipidan or do some muck diving around Mabul. The group we were with thought the idea of muck diving was ridiculous when Sipidan offered turtles and sharks around every corner…..but for Michelle and I, we were anxious for some of the ‘neater’ creatures.

When that morning came, we were jointed by our dive guide, the boat captain, and our Canadian and Mexican compadres. In no time we were back on the water heading to Froggy’s Lair, one of Mabul’s dive sites. We began our aquatic hunt for the bizarre. Two new nudibranchs were photographed, but the highlight of this dive was definitely the two gigantic cuddlefish. Personally, I never thought cuddlefish grew to such a size, I mean these two specimens were much larger than a basketball. They weren’t exactly as interactive as I had seen in the past, but nonetheless, you could look into their eyes and see that something was looking back at you…thinking…interpreting. They were inquisitive and curious. Eventually we parted ways.

After lunch, our next dive focused on pygmy sea horses. It was one of my main goals to see one of these guys, and after coming up short in Suluwesi, I was anxious to trap the tiny animals in photographs. Well, after spending endless minutes scanning the gorgonian sea fans, we never found one. Urgg…Oh well, still up there on the to-do list I guess. I mean I still got to have some thing to live for!

Well, no pygmy sea horse, but guess what? We did find two of the giant frog fish species. One was crimson read while the other was jet black. What…you don’t know what frogfish are? Well, they belong in the angler fish family, and basically look exactly like sponges. In fact, if you don’t know what to look for, you will never find one. When they are motionless, they are basically a sponge. They even have the pores that sponges do. Their mimicry not only helps camouflage them from predators, but keeps them hidden from potential prey. I was psyched to encounter these fishies….and after we surfaced back to the boat we now had just one last dive remaining for the entire, year-long trip!

Well, back to splashing in the water we went, this time over a man-made contraption attracting aquatic inhabitants. The last dive… sentimental. Well guess what…there were a couple things I was dieing to see and my wishes came true, can you believe it. The whole time I had been hoping to encounter the pink nudibranch with a dominant white strip down its sides, and sure enough we didn’t only see one, but three!!! Get this too…three more different species of frogfish! One was bright yellow, the other was a vibrant orange, and lastly, a little clown frogfish which was white and orange mixed. How cool is that…I couldn’t have asked for a better last dive. Michelle and I were so enthused. All I did was go from one awesome animal to another taking millions of pictures. It was definitely one of the most successful dives I had ever been on, but it definitely wasn’t for everybody cause the conditions were a little murky and the scenery was basically a bunch of two by fours bolted to each other. For me, it was a play ground of discoveries! What a great way to exit the water!

Back above the surface, Michelle and I went over how awesome our last dive was. We looked at some of the pictures and were ecstatic with how we thought they would turn out. Even though Uncle Chang’s was a little rough with regulation, under the water we couldn’t have asked for anything more. Sipidan and Mabul was truly paradise no matter what it is you look for in an incredible dive.

We returned back to the lodge and found a boat ready to take us back to Tawau. Leaving a special spot is never fun, but I met two Germans that talked enough to distract me from the sadness. When we got to port, we said goodbye to our English friends and mini-vanned it to a bus stop down town. It was dark when we arrived, and we scouted around for a hotel. We found a nice room for a decent price, dropped off our luggage, and returned to the streets for some food. Both deciding on some Thai Coconut Curry and combining that with some salad, we brought it all back to the hotel room….definitely one of my favorite things to do! We ate to a movie on TV (even though it didn’t come in well), and fell asleep still thinking about how privileged we were to experience a world so foreign and beautiful, under the waves.


Next morning we were sitting on a plane heading back to Kota Kinabalu. Not knowing too much of what to expect from our next expedition (even more so than all our other mini-excursions), we taxied back to Summer Inn to exchange gear in preparation for mountain climbing. Switching masks for hiking boots, and trading dirty cloths for clean laundry (we dropped off before diving), we packed enough equipment to fit into just one backpack (Michelle’s, cause it is smaller). We topped off the pack with some food supplies from the local mini-mart, then left the rest of our gear in the baggage room of the Inn. We found a mini-van headed for Ranau, with the plan of jumping out three quarters of the way at the Mount Kinabalu Park Head Quarters. Off we went on the hour long ride….. well, this is Asia, so it took three!

Crazy huh, just the same day we returned from our diving holiday and now we were set out on our mountain climbing expedition. Ahhh, a life this boy could get used too! We ended up arriving at HQ around 4 o’clock and signed in for the next morning. We arranged to climb the longer, more difficult trail (What’s wrong with us???) since it was supposedly more scenic, and after paying the fees we hitched to a nearby village under the shadow of the immense rock. Just our luck, this little village was having a cabbage festival!! Haha, I cared less, but Michelle seemed to be in veggie heaven…who knows sometimes!

After gathering our bearings, we decided to walk down a long dirt road in the direction of a referred hotel. What I didn’t expect was to be pointlessly trekking the day before ascending South East Asia’s highest mountain. About two hours later, as the sun was setting in the clear sky (revealing a treacherous looking peak), we made it to a hotel….well, resort really. Oh, it had the cost of a resort as well (about 50$)! Being one of the last few nights of our trip, we decided to splurge and sleep in luxury! And eat in luxury too….since the price included a buffet for breakfast and dinner!!!!

The room was spacious and clean. The bathroom had a calming blue hue emanating over its deluxe amenities. The view was even more spectacular from our balcony as it spanned out over an endless valley to the west. It was a relaxing way to spend the evening, the calm before the storm so to say.

Next morning we scheduled a hotel bus to give us a ride to the trail head, but when we negotiated a cost, it came to something absolutely ridiculous. The 20 minute drive was going to cost 70 Ringits a piece, that’s nearly 25 bucks per person. We refused to pay, so we began walking in hopes to hitch. Literally five minutes later we were in the back of a pick up heading towards the cabbage festival village. From there we caught another ride, wasting only ten minutes of time but saving much needed money. Eventually, we switched host cars for one final ride to the trail head. Everything worked out great and here we were, bright and early, willing and able!

The name of the trail was Mesilau, and it was there we were introduced to our guide. He seemed nice and we handed him and all the other guides extra oranges we didn’t want to carry up in our pack. Within no time, we began the ascent….and within no time, I was out of gas! Honestly, I may not be in the best condition, but I knew I was in better shape then what my performance was leading on. It was the backpack!! The scale at trail headquarters revealed its 19 kg mass, and everyone was making fun of me. I knew if we were to get to the lodge half way up, not to mention the summit, something was going to give. Thank goodness we were just told about the lodge selling food, which allowed for us to dispense some of the canned items we had in our pack….so out they went (our guide ended up taking most of them). There, that’s better…let’s do this thing!

Well, the scenic route offered no special privileges…only more agony. The day was cloudy as could be, and never cleared….so our extra kilometers only added pain and suffering with no pay off. The higher we ascended, the more it rained and colder it became. Michelle and I were scantily prepared as well. Coming from Micronesia, and Florida, my blood was thin as could be. Michelle was a little tougher, but nonetheless, we were constantly passing climbers decked out with thick, water-proof jackets and thermal gloves. Most of the trekkers thought we were crazy, and with that thought I think they had something going there.

The beginning was beautiful with a couple waterfalls and several pitcher plants (my favorite). Despite the mountain’s cold temperature, we got to catch a beautiful red snake that flattened out like a cobra below the tree line. We got some nice pictures before continuing the torture. The final stretch to our reserved hut (half way point) was sheer hell. Rain was dropping in buckets, and the wind’s constant gusts did not help one bit. The now microscopic trees offered no barrier to the chilling drafts. With sore and aching muscles, Michelle and I basically ran up the remaining kilometer. At the time it felt like we had no choice, so we had too.

When we finally got to our hut we were relieved for a moment, but then infuriated when we realized we needed to go up another couple hundred feet to the lodge to claim the key. With only heart pushing us on, we sprinted up through the sheets of rain, slippery rock, and bone chilling breeze before finally making it. Hell ya! Warm showers….NO WAY. Michelle and I were so excited, and off came the freezing cloths.

The showers were far from hot, but at least the nozzles were dribbling out water warmer then myself (that could have been any temperature above freezing). Unable to thaw out, I had to leave the shower still shivering. I put on some dry cloths and then found a spot to hang up my wet ones….that was until I realized they had a drying service!!! NICE! This mountain climbing thing was rough, but without these extra-unexpected comforts, things would have been much worse. Oh, and get this, they had a buffet up here, and a quiet good one indeed. It was expensive as hell, but hey, we’ll take it. Honestly, we knew we were going to get taken, but at this point, I would have sold my body for a hot beverage (rather then for the normal quick fix, self-esteem booster I’m used to). For the rest of the evening, Michelle and I stayed in the lobby of the lodge clutching warm tea. We watched the rest of the climbers file in frozen and dieing (basically). In all, there were probably 50 – 70 people anxious to get to the top tomorrow morning. We filled our tummies and talked to some of these crazies (you got to be to want to do this). Two of the guys we spoke with climbed Kilimanjaro two years ago, and said they never experienced such a difficult climb as the one we were doing. I felt good about that, but at the same time I was wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. Ha, I guess we were about to find out!

Oh thank heavens…this place rented out jackets too! I’ll take two please! Michelle and I rented out a couple coats a piece….not great jackets (I think it was out of the lost and found pile), but much warmer then the T-shirt I was going to have to wear. I’ll take it!!!

After dark, we decided to descend the couple hundred feet to our unheated huts. With flashlights in hand, we stumbled to our door only to realize another couple was already inside sleeping. We unfortunately woke them up with our scurrying about, which led to a conversation. The woman was fed up with this mountain, and wasn’t planning on continuing, while the guy seemed to be enjoying this self inflicted torture. We went to bed with blizzard like conditions occurring outside the paper-thin walls. Thank goodness for the thick, heavy blankets they provided!

Ok, so I slept fine, that was until about 2 am! Our alarms went off, and it was time to continue the hellacious endeavor. The plan was to get to the summit by sunrise, but when my worst nightmare became reality (continual rain outside), the goal was simply to get to the peak. We loaded our pack with only the necessary things for the 5 hour hike up and then five hour trek back to the hut. We met up with the guide at the lodge only to be given the news that the top of the mountain might be closed off to trekkers….NO! I was ready to sneak past the check point if necessary, I didn’t want all this to be in vein. Fortunately, they never shut us out, so in the miserable conditions, we moved one step after the other.

Oh man, this rock was intense. At times we were pulling ourselves nearly vertical across cliff faces. It was dark too, and when looking right or left, all I saw were free falling scenarios. I was worried Michelle or I would slip to our deaths, and this possibility kept being reconfirmed by our guide at certain spots where he told us people really did die. Why did I sign up for this again???? We trucked on…as fast as possible. I wanted to get to the top, then get down this God forsaken place. AHHH!!

My fingers froze..I think literally. I never needed a break from my feet, but I did have to stop a few times to thaw out my fingers. I was really worried about frost bite….I wanted to climb the mountain, but not at the expense of my digits. I warmed them in Michelle’s armpits (Thanks Michelle), but after they left that humid-hairy crevice (just kidding, thankfully), they seemed to just refreeze right before my eyes. This is nuts!

Finally, boulder after boulder, I could see the top. There it was, and we made it! We reached the summit of Mt. Kinabalu! We had absolutely no view due to the endless rain clouds, but at this point, I wasn’t in the mood to relax to a beautiful vista. I wanted to get down, and NOW!! We captured a few pictures in about a ten second span, then began descending. On the way down, about an hour after leaving the top, the sun began to come out, and we could see what a unique landscape this mountain top truly was. Everything was wet and slippery, reminding me of the moon. Huge boulders appeared out of no where, some smooth, some jagged. Waterfalls from all the rain seemed to cascade everywhere in all directions. The trail was only denoted by ropes embedded into the granite, and often fast flowing currents would criss-cross over the slick rock in the directions we needed to traverse. With the sky now a bit clearer, the mountain began to appear more beautiful then frightening, and although my body was still in a freezing state, the magnificent ambience, plus the high of actually summiting, began to warm my soul. Check list, Mount Kinabalu….Done! Well, that is if we can get off this thing!

At about 11 o’clock we were back at the hut. We had a quick breakfast lasting half an hour (Ramen Noodles we brought with us), then we continued down to Head Quarters. This time we went down the quickest way possible…still a good hike away (5 hrs). Fortunately, with each step it felt like it was getting warmer. I couldn’t wait to get down.

While returning, we passed hikers climbing upwards. We definitely prepared them for the torment they were about to endure, but told them it was possible if they were prepared for pain. Haha, honestly, I don’t think the hike was that bad….just the conditions being so horrible made it as treacherous as it was. In fact, only 30 percent of the people that attempted to ascend that day reached the top. Most had to turn back. That made Michelle and I pretty proud of ourselves, and before we knew it, we were back in the trees!

A Dutch man we encountered gave up the climb, deciding to turn away from his group that was heading to the camp that day, to trek down with us for the remaining few kilometers. Passing through different stages…cloud forests, tree fern forests, then humid jungle, we finally made it to the road where a mini-van picked us up. We returned back to headquarters happy (and probably as smelly) as a wet and soggy clam. High five girl…We Did It!

Back at headquarters, we went out to the main road and waited for a bus. We now wanted to get to the town of Ranau in order to catch a connecting ride to Pouring Hot Springs…a locale we had heard so much about! A couple hours later, that’s where we found ourselves.

What brought us here you ask….well, the hot springs for one, but there was also an orangutan that lived in the region and wild Raflessia flowers in the jungle. The orangutan named Jackie was expected to come down from the trees at four o’clock, so we ran to the botanical gardens were we thought she was going to be. Well, when we got there, we realized this was not an organized program with lots of tourists and animal handlers involved. It was basically a platform attached to a tree where we saw some bananas just laying on top. We were the only ones there, and we sat and waited. Unsure if this was the right place (the staff didn’t even really know what was going on), we got restless with the idea of sitting on the jungle floor in the rain with the leeches, and decided to remove orangutans from the list. Instead of waiting around for the primate, we decided on something a little bit more wild….haha, ironic if you asked me…the fact we’d rather see a flower than a great ape, but nonetheless, here we were, taxiing to the location where a bloom was in progress. See, these flowers are the World’s largest, but they only last for a few days, so it’s rare to catch one in all it’s glory. Well, we were lucky, cause after paying a guy five bucks to take us to a bloom he had growing on his jungle property, we now found ourselves face to face with this rotten smelling, lava looking, bubbly pedaled massive bloom. Calling it a flower is putting it nicely. Actually, that’s a lie. It really was beautiful. It was about 2 feet across, maybe that and some inches. The flower was so breathtaking in fact, I started to cry….that’s a joke too, but I was happy to see it!

With time wasting…and hot springs to dip into, we finished our three hundred pictures of the motionless bloom and headed back to the taxi. We checked out a budget hotel room for a couple bucks, then headed across the streets to the springs. I’m used to these beautiful botanical oasis’s in Costa Rica, all natural in appearance and steamy enough to truly relax in, but here, Pouring Hot Springs was a major disappointment. Everything was concreted, and the jungle was out in the distance rather than all around you. I lost my desire to get wet, but Michelle talked me into filling up a tub and relaxing in it. In my opinion, it didn’t sooth the soul, and I think Michelle felt the same way, cause about thirty minutes later we were back at the hotel ordering dinner from the restaurant attached to the same building…now that’s relaxing! Even though the mountain gave me a head cold, we ate up (some chicken noodle soup) to some television in the air-conned room after a day of ascending the highest mountain and uncovering the World’s largest flower! What a trip!

Next morning, unbelievably, I was healed from my cold. I thought for sure I’d be full on sick for the rest of the trip, but that was not the case. It was a miracle! Another revelation was that my longing for the floral world was not yet satisfied. There were the World’s largest pitcher plants hidden somewhere in the jungle, and I wanted to witness them for myself. We headed back to Mesilau trail head, and instead of selecting the summit trail, this time we opted for a location our mountain guide referred us too, two days prior. When at the ranger station, a mandatory guided walk up to the plants cost a ridiculous 100$ a piece. Refusing to pay that, I mean who would, we pretended to leave when we actually walked to the location to which our former guide had referred. Unsure whether we were on the right path or not, we found ourselves confronting a rope bridge across a river, supporting a huge, locked gate at its entrance. Searching for a way to sneak past, I simply squeezed my hand through the backside and removed an unlocked padlock. Thank goodness it was that simply, otherwise who knows how we would have traversed the obstacle. Continuing onward.

Once on the other side, we immediately found a species of pitcher plant we had yet seen. They were zebra-like stripped and probably about 5 inches in height. These were not the main mission of this trek, but were a welcoming sign. We continued up the trail that zigzagged over a grassy hill. I was able to recognize the similar leaves that all the pitcher plants have, and when I followed one of them to the base, I noticed a huge pitcher! There it was…not as large as I was expecting, but the species nonetheless. Then there was another…and another!!! Each larger than the one before! We found the mother load!! And all by ourselves!! These pitchers were so large, some had the ability to hold up to two liters of liquid. These massively modified leaves were big enough to trap frogs and even rodents in their lethal concoction of fluids. I was in awe…Michelle was in ecstasy. They were purple in color and beautiful if you ask me! I was surprised with their abundance…they were definitely the dominant plant after whatever grass species was about. I can’t believe it, pitcher plants in Borneo…Dream come true baby (Ya, I’m an odd one)! Michelle found a different, tinier species to be adorable. We were in pitcher plant paradise!

After about 3 hours of frolicking amongst carnivorous plants, we returned to the ranger station hopping to hitch a ride with a passerby. It took a little longer than expected, but we managed to join a couple leaving work. The girl…a server at the restaurant, was actually headed back to Kota Kinabalu, the city where we were headed as well. She mentioned how in order to bus back to KK, we must first return to Ranau. We blindly followed her advice, which proved to be an enormous waste of time. We ended up driving all the way back to the city, before connecting with a different bus and returning back to the cabbage festival village we had just come from. Eventually from there it was off to KK, but because of bad traffic, we ended up arriving somewhat late, around 9pm. We returned to Summer Inn, unloaded our gear, and enjoyed some dinner. Tomorrow it was off to the airport to fly back to Manila, Philippines to conclude our unbelievable tour around South East Asia.

In one word, UNBELIEVABLE! From Jungles to Reef to Mountains…for any outdoors person, Borneo is a wonderland. Probably the most fun, definitely the most adventurous, and most certainly the most compact, back to back action of the entire trip. And having everything work out, loving every waking moment of it in one way or another, simply… ….UNBELIEVABLE!!!!!!!!!

The Pinnacles of Probiscus…Borneo to Brunei! (Nov. 6th – 14th)

January 19th, 2008

Flying back to Bali gave me time to fulfill a request from my mother. Apparently, she wanted some photos and books on Balinese architecture. Upon return to the charismatic isle, we ventured back to our familiar hotel room via taxi, taking tons of pictures along the way of the local buildings. After talking to a tiny tourist office, we bought onward plane tickets for tomorrow, but departing didn’t quite work out as expected.

We slept in!!! We rushed to the airport only to arrive there about 1 hour too late. Oh well, can’t win ’em all I guess. We asked/begged the several different airline companies if they fly to Jakarta that morning, so we could make our connecting flight in time to Kalimantan, Borneo, but everything was either really expensive or already booked full. We decided on paying a rebooking fee (I think it came out to 25 dollars or something), allowing us to fly the same flights tomorrow instead. A stupid error, but what can you do. Days are becoming really valuable from here on out!

We returned back to our hotel and rested for a bit. We caught a movie later that afternoon and from a bookstore I bought a book on Balinese architecture for the mamasita. We made sure to hit the hay a little earlier this evening…we didn’t want to miss the plane twice in a row!

Finally (not that I dislike Bali, in fact, it’s been one of my favorite places), we boarded our jet and went on our way. About three hours later…after a brief stop back in Jakarta, we anxiously touched Borneon ground!! Wow….Borneo. Both Michelle and I were ecstatic…even though we knew very little about this enigmatic land. This is what we did know….Borneo is the third largest island in the world….Papua from which we just came being the second! Also, Borneo has three countries all sharing borders…Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei. The Indonesian part of the island is known as Kalimantan, while the Malaysian section is divided into two states, Sabah and Sarawak. Our plane from Jakarta landed in Pontianiak, a large port city in Kalimantan, smack dab on the equator. To verify this ourselves, we taxied to an enormous monument about 20 minutes away from downtown to physically stand on this imaginary line. Standing on the equator was just about as exciting as it sounds…I highly recommend it! (Oh, I’m being sarcastic if you didn’t pick up on it!)

With an enormous island to discover, but with days ticking away before the completion of my yearly odyssey (about 10), we decided to focus our attention on Malaysian Borneo and Brunei. We found and boarded an overnight bus that was departing that night from Pontianiak all the way to Kuching…the capital city of the Sarawak state of Malaysia. It departed at around nine o’clock, with an ETA of approximately 11am the next day. Michelle and I slept just about all of the journey….conserving our energy for some expected adventures we foresaw in our future.

Nearly on the dot at 11 o’clock, we traded the bus for a taxi and had the driver deliver us directly to the airport. We were of course traveling with the enormous souvenir box…which (corrupt) officials tried taxing at the Malaysian border crossing…but we snuck back on the bus with the box and no tarrif! Smooth! At the airport we checked out departure times to Kota Kinabalu in the Malaysian state of Sabah, and found a flight leaving about three hours from then. After hitting around ATM’s, we got the flight booked and chilled in a KFC where we had free internet at our disposal. The board game battleship also helped us pass the time (Just some advice…don’t ever try me in that game)!

Eventually we hopped on the plane and took off to Sabah. The plan was to make some hostel in Kota Kinabalu our base camp…a place to leave the giant souvineer box behind, allowing us to freely hit up some neat sites in Borneo. Plus, it is out of Kota Kinabalu that we will fly back home (through Manila) when the (dreaded) time comes. Now in KK (Kota Kinabalu), we hired a taxi and went to the downtown strip where backpacker hostels were everywhere. After checking out a couple of the establishments, we chose Summer Inn. The hostel had everything we needed….a storage room for our excess baggage, internet access for us to book flights and plan itineraries, and air-con in the rooms. What more could two adventurers want?

That night we ran out and grabbed a bite to eat. Afterwards we bought tickets through a small airline ’Wings’, a subsidiary company to Malaysian Airlines, flying directly to Gunung Mulu National Park. Fortunately the flight runs only twice a week and it just so happened to work out perfectly. The next morning….with a moderate amount of materials packed for some adventure trekking, we headed to the airport giddy with excitement.

The plane was miniature. A tiny little propeller aircraft that definitely looked the roll for crashing into unknown expanses of Borneon jungle. We loaded up and went airborne. The scenery was gorgeous. Where the logging roads and clear cutting stopped…nothing but trees and rivers emerged. I was anxious to explore the remoteness of our destination…Gunung Mulu (which is back in the state of Sarawak). Finally, our plane landed and we hopped into a little van which drove us to park headquarters. There at HQ, Michelle and I planned for the next few days. Sadly, much of our options were expensive. Beautiful limestone formations (known as pinnacles) at the top of a mountain, something I longed to see, was going to cost a lot of money. There were mandatory guide fees as well as the cost for a three hour boat trip to the trail taking you to camp 5 (a base camp where you spend the night before ascending the next morning). We also wanted to exit the park to the North, which required an additional guided trek adding to the total. One more thing, while at the HQ, they also tried to get us to rent a room for that night. Because we brought our own gear however, they gave us a little of a discount to set up our hammocks in the trees. Oh, and for today we booked an afternoon hike to the largest bat cave in the world (Once again mandatory to have a guide, but we felt it would be worth it).

While setting up our hammocks I noticed a four foot colubrid snake doing something interesting. It was eating a lizard! The snake was beautiful….speckled in appearance with bright green/blue/and red blotches. I waited a few minutes for it to get the lizard all the way down its stomach before jumping in and taking a closer look. It looked like some sort of speckled racer…similar to what they have in Central America, but regardless of what the species, it was a beautiful creature. We released it, then went for a ‘restricted’ walk, just us two.

We found some unique looking pitcher plants and got some nice pictures. Also some lizards about a foot in length were constantly seen sunning on branches. We returned back just in time to start our little, guided hike to the caves.

Our guide was local, but not exactly the most outgoing person from what I gathered. He definitely had the ‘I’m doing it for the money’ type attitude. Nonetheless, I didn’t care. We saw a couple pygmy squirrels scurry up huge trees (the squirrels were the size of mice). I never knew squirrels got so tiny. We passed some beautiful waterfalls and some interesting rock formations. Finally, we made it to a clearing where we walked up a little hill. There was a system of two cave mouths here, one of them very elaborate with lots of stalactites and stalagmites, while on the other extreme, one was so enormous it could have fit the Buckingham Palace inside. In the big cave, the ceiling to which the bats clung was so high, the accumulation of so many animals made the brown rock look like it was covered with a black mold. We explored both caves, and although interesting, I was hoping to find a certain snake searching the caverns to feed on dead bats and swallows.

After checking out a river that flowed right through the enormous expanse of this gigantic hole, we emerged back into dimming daylight only to witness a spectacular daily spectacle. Literally millions of bats…all in an endless stream….swarm out into the open sky. Flying in flocks…like fish in schools, the bats all exited together to minimize their chance of getting picked off by predators like hawks and eagles. I was amazed for how long the exodus lasted. Probably for about an hour and a half, dozens and dozens flew out in unison. After taking tons of pictures, including a little video, we returned back to Head Quarters in the dark, along with some other people (and their guides) that explored the caves as well.

There was a tiny restaurant on site, so Michelle and I decided to hit up some of the cuisine…saving our packed food for the real jungle. We ate up fast, cause both her and I were anxious to go out by ourselves on a night hike. That’s just what we did! A boardwalk shot out over swampy rainforest floor and with flashlights in hand, we headed out eager to uncover nocturnal creepy crawlies. The insect life was just as wild as expected. The stick bug type creatures came in all shapes and sizes…the biggest stretching about seven inches in length! All sorts of crickets and katydids, a crazy, foot long mudskipper type fish in a tiny puddle, interesting spiders and colorful geckos. We were tired and wanted to save up our energy for tomorrow’s hike, but the consistent surprises kept us entertained for about three hours. Borneo is definitely the home to the bizarre. We returned back to the campsite and after finding a nozzle to clean off our feet, we leaped into our hammocks and drifted away.

Next morning bright and early, we went over to the river to meet our boat and captain. A family consisting of the mom, dad, and son were there to port us up river. The son, the only one of the three that could remotely speak English seemed to be a nice guy and asked us if we wanted to stop at some caves about halfway down the stretch. I had heard earlier that there was a snake cave…(which I was reluctant to believe, but made me extremely inquisitive) and I conveyed my desire through excited hand signals to find the serpent’s lair. Of course, I wasn’t expecting to necessarily find a snake, but hey, if you look there is at least a chance right?

The guide that mentioned the cave to us not only warned, but restricted us entrance inside….but hey, do you think that will stop us? We jumped out of the boat and entered a little crack in the rock that opened up into the trickiest cave I had ever seen. The son came with us, even though he had never been within. He was definitely hesitant with the idea of confronting snakes. This cave was tricky! The last thing I wanted to do was get lost, and let me tell you, that thought popped into my mind. Inside this cave was nothing but sheer blackness. You would enter through another crack in the rocks, then another, all opening up into bigger rooms. One of the rooms seemed to have no way out, till we noticed about five feet up a wall there was a hole continuing on. The ground was a little moist, so we could see our footprints, but if it wasn’t for that we might still be in the cave living off the water droplets and blind whip scorpions. Anyway, Guess what? Around this one corner, there was a snake!!! Can you believe it. Searching deep inside the craziest cave in the most reclusive corners of Borneo, there it was…the snake we were searching for. It was almost too good to be true. It was a weird snake too….it had a beautiful iridescent blue-gray hue with black blotching on the top half, then solid black lines down the rest of the tail. In total it was about five feet, with a girth of a half dollar at it’s thickest part. What was more unique about this snake however was its demeanor. I don’t think this reptile had ever seen a person, ever. Or a predator for that matter. Or maybe even light. First, I touched it’s tail, and it didn’t try and get away nor did it try to turn and bite. It kind of moved it’s head and neck back and forth as if contemplating what it should be doing. We took several pictures of the gorgeous fellow, then let him be, back in his dark, silent world. I still can’t get over it. Searching for a snake in a cave…and then actually finding one. Woohoo! We retraced our steps out of there…even though it was a little tricky at times, but soon we saw some light coming from the entrance/exit. We returned to the boat and continued up river.

The boat ride wasn’t as peaceful as you might think when conjuring up images of cruising down the steamy jungle. The river was much shallower then I imagined, and the rocky bottom made for frequent jolts upon impact. At times it definitely felt like we were white water rafting….since we had the white water…yet we lacked the raft! Nonetheless, our captain new the river well, and we avoided ’most’ of the obstacles. The scenery was breathtaking, but unlike the Amazon or even Costa Rica, the forest really seemed to lack the color and calls of the birds, monkeys, and butterflies. We finally pulled up to a narrow seem in the jungle’s forest floor, and left our boat friends for a unguided walk to camp five…about 11K away.

The trek yielded a couple neat things. Probably our favorite was this cute ’Rolly-Polly’ type creature (Pill Bug) that was a good inch and a half long….which is huge compared to the ones we have in Florida. Making it even more special was the fire-colored orange triangles it had going down it’s sides. It was a unique looking guy that definitely made us smile, especially when it got scared and coiled up into a ball. In addition we found several more stick bugs, traversed a crazy rope bridge, and caught an interesting lizard with huge dorsal spines for it’s size. An easy three hours later, the jungle eventually gave way to a lodge type structure situated along a river side, surrounded by a manicured lawn bordered by forest. On the other side of the water, an enormous rocky cliff towered into the sky as if the location needed to be even more beautiful. We met a couple of the living staff, all locals, and they showed us to the sleeping quarters.

There was a kitchen, a dinning room, then three bed rooms, each I’d say having about 20 beds a piece. There was no one there, since the current group was out on a hike for the day. Michelle and I dropped off our packs, then walked down a tiny trail along the river to find a place to wash up. The water was ice cold (WHY???, I mean we are in the tropics!!!), but we forced our way into it in order to get clean….Michelle more than myself. I felt like mountain gorillas surrounded by nothing but jungle, bathing in the crispness of a mountain river. Despite the pain (I‘m a baby), it was beautiful.

We returned back to camp five where we decided to take a little nap. We knew we were going to be briefed of tomorrow’s activities (the Pinnacle trek) at seven o‘clock, but that was four hours from now so we figured we had time to sleep. Well, when we woke up it was pitch black and the briefing was already finished. We ended up talking to tomorrow’s guide directly, with the only crucial piece of knowledge being we had to be ready by 6am. The other group that was going to do the hike had arrived to the base camp while we were dreaming as well. It was a group of multi-raced people all working together in Singapore. There was an English guy, an Estonian woman, a guy and girl Indian, a guy and girl Romanian, and one Chinese woman. All of them were probably our same age.

That night, after Michelle and I made our delicious Ramen Noodle and Tuna Fish meal, we went for a night hike down the same trail that brought us to Camp 5. Surprisingly, we didn’t see much except a couple of the same lizards sleeping on thin branches. That all changed with one turn of the flashlight. There, right next to me at about head height was this long, brown snake draping over an orchid. The snake had even darker brown blotches down it’s back, and was skinny…I’d say its fattest girth was no wider than a silver dollar….but this guy was long, long, long! Definitely well over 12 feet. We took several photos of him, but to get a closer look I went in for the catch. When I had him by the neck, the never ending snake opened it’s mouth to reveal a couple huge fangs!! Deciding that Borneo probably wasn’t the most equipped place to receive speedy medical treatment, I tossed the snake to the side where he instantly returned up to his domain…the trees. Being long definitely helped him reach from branch to branch, and before we knew it he retreated to the canopy probably a hundred and fifty feet up. It definitely was a treat to find this guy, and unexpected after not uncovering too many creatures. Being late, we returned back to the camp for tomorrow was going to come extra early. Before we fell asleep however, we sat upon a rope bridge overhanging the rushing river below. The stars were mind blowing; something about the pureness of the air combined with the un-interruption of earthly light. Fireflies darting around the openness of the riverbed did their best to distract us from their celestial counterparts. It was a gorgeous night that I’ll remember forever, just us two sitting above a mighty river in the isolation that Borneo provides.

At about 5:45am we woke up to the commotion of all the other people stirring around and getting ready for the climb. ’The Pinnacles’!!! I had scene these on TV before and was excited to see them with my own two eyes. We geared up and headed out. I stayed in the rear with one of the guides, the Indian guy, and the Chinese girl. Literally, about fifteen minutes after we started, the Chinese girl began having problems. She would stop, gasp to catch her breathe with breaks taking over five minute. She began having to do this every 50 meters when we had over 2.5k of vertical traversing to go! Eventually, the guide in the back with us made a suggestion to turn back, and she gladly excepted. While departing, he warned the Indian guy and I that if we didn’t make it to the ’ladder’ section by 11am, we must also cut short or we wouldn’t return to camp by dark. Off we scurried.

Michelle was in the front with two other girls and our main guide for the entire climb. I eventually caught up to them, passing the rest of the group. The entire trail was marked every 100K so we were able to monitor our slow and steady progress. At marker 2000K we began a series of climbs by ropes and ladders. Without their assistance the mountain would have taken a couple more days to ascend. It was a pretty rough climb, much more difficult than I had envisioned. Vertical means vertical. Some even said it was tougher than climbing Mount Kinabalu…something I hoped I could decide for myself within the next few days. Several times, you would walk over thin, slippery aluminum ladders stretching across a gorge that fell over 50 feet onto rock. It was definitely an interesting experience but Michelle and I managed no problem.

We passed two different species of pitcher plants that of course had me excited as could be. I fired away pictures to capture them in all their glory. Finally, with one final ascent, we made it to the summit!!! Wow….incredible!! More picturesque then I had envisioned. Within meters of us were hundreds of razor thin limestone outcroppings just filing out of the jungle’s foliage one after another. The sharpness of the stone was only amplified by the sharpness in contrast between the greens of the leaves and the grays of the rock. It was absolutely spectacular, and worth all the sweat it took to make it to the top. We were even greeted by a squirrel (looking way different than its North American cousins) that was constantly running around trying to eat dropped scraps from our picnic lunch we trekked up with.

While admiring the beauty of this natural phenomenon that to this day I still don’t really know how it formed, the rest of the group slowly and tiredly showed up. When we had to share the summit with the rest of the gang that was vocally excited to be there, Michelle and I knew it was time to descend. Even trickier than the way up, back down was much more dangerous. Although we were the first to head back…not wanting to rush, Michelle and I hid for a good thirty minutes off the trail, waiting for everyone to pass us by. Unsuspectedly, we began the climb down all by ourselves from the back of the group. Eventually however, we began passing everyone one by one, which left them with bewildered looks. No matter what people tell you though, I definitely like going down more than going up. Sure, you’re more likely to get injured on the way down, or to have your knees and joints start hurting….but it’s much less strenuous than a vertical climb…you can take that to the bank!

We emerged from the jungle and prepared some dinner while the sun was setting. If you’re curious…it was the same old Ramen and tuna! Yum Yum. A beautiful rainbow glistened in the sky over the colossal cliff protecting the lodge. Everything was going as planned, except for the fact the guide and the Indian girl were yet to return from the forest. We noticed her friends move from worried to panicked, and a search party was sent out in order to retrieve the bodies (hopefully still alive). As soon as they departed however, they returned…for the two people were coming down the trail. Apparently her legs had locked up and the guide had to help her the whole way down the mountain.

That night, Michelle and I decided on another night hike. It was slightly stormy…and we were hoping the rain would persuade some exotic nocturnal creatures out and about. This time we followed a trail shadowing the river, but the creatures were few and far between. We saw the typical lizards and geckos, but only a couple interesting insects…one in particular, not so pleasant. This one bug had about fifty legs and looked deadly. It was like a centipede on roids…and to intimidate me even more it was eating a cricket with these nasty mandibles that appeared to be casting me an evil smile. Even more painful however, were the ants that stung Michelle and I. First, a bite here and there…then they seemed to be all over us. The torrential rain must have not only washed them out, but infuriated them to the point of no remorse. The sting from each of their bites would send sharp excruciating pain throughout every nerve cell in our bodies. We retreated in haste back to camp, where we washed up and went to sleep.

The next morning we awoke to another beautiful, sunny day in Borneo. Today, the plan was to traverse an ancient trail once frequented by feared head hunters, hence the name…’Head Hunter‘s Trail‘. Once again a guide was mandatory, and the 15k hike really didn’t take us too long to permeate through…only about three and a half hours. You would think an early morning jaunt through Borneon rainforest would reveal numerous creatures, but really all we saw was one troop of monkeys high in the trees and a pair of hornbills up in the sky. Sad if you ask me, but the scenery made up for the emptiness.

The trail ended at a river, and from there a boat was waiting. We loaded inside and began downstream. The captain of this ‘dug out canoe’ style longboat asked us if we wanted to stop at his village’s long house, something Michelle and I became anxious to check out. See, in this area of Borneo where we found ourselves, the indigenous people have a unique style of architecture where everyone in the village lives under one enormous roof. Of course, we weren’t going to pass up the opportunity to hang out with some locals!!

We stopped and were excitedly greeted by some children running around with tattered clothing. We met a few of the older people who were also just as thrilled to see us. One guy, about our age probably, offered to teach us how to shoot the blow dart gun. They had a little bulls eye thing set up, so Michelle and I accepted the challenge. While the elders sat on the ground, the men fixing their fishing nets and the women weaving their bamboo sleeping mats, Michelle and I shot at the target with pin point accuracy. Actually, we weren’t that bad because the blow dart gun was surprisingly accurate and powerful with even the littlest breath. It was a neat experience to shoot along side a Borneon brother.

A storm looked to be approaching, so we returned back to the boat to try and get down the river to a little town before the sky dropped. With forty minutes more to go, we knew it would be a race against the clouds…..or should I say cloud. This one black cloud in the sky, smack dab in the direction we were heading, definitely had an intimidating appeal. It made for a beautiful landscape photo, but even the captain of the boat was weary. Nonetheless, we continued down and just about half way (with 20 more minutes to go), we got hammered with what felt like hail (really enormous rain drops). I started whimpering which made Michelle and the captain laugh, but really I think everyone shared a similar pain. With no choice but to move on, that’s what we did!

We finally made it to the town where not only our cloths were soaked, but everything we owned. Luckily, our cameras were safe in a dry bag, and we hauled all our soggy gear up a dock and chucked it into a mini van we rented to taxi us to the Brunei border. After spending less than five minutes at the town, we were on our way…changing cloths inside the vehicle as we went. It felt like we were in the amazing race or something, with how fast we transitioned from jungle trek, to boat, to van. An hour and a half later, there we were….at customs in order to enter our last and final country. Can you believe it! All 11 South East Asian Nations in one journey. Truly a trip of a lifetime! We easily cleared border patrol and walked to a bus stop. We had no Brunei dollars on us (interestingly, they use Singapore dollars here as well (But we had none of those either)), however this kind woman waiting for the bus as well let us have two dollars for the ride. People here were definitely a financial step up from Malaysians…which aren’t doing that bad when compared to the Indonesians. On the bus we went…now heading for Bandar Seri Begawan….Brunei’s capital city.

How strange was this. We hike all morning through dense jungle, then river boat up to a town, only to then take a van, then bus to a first world city. We woke up in a very remote corner of rain forest and now we find ourselves looking at the most elaborate mosques and palaces. We asked the driver’s assistant about a good hotel, and we exited the bus where they recommended. We ended up finding a wonderful place similar to a Holiday Inn type thing (something very luxurious for our standards), and we booked a room with vengeance. We took the elevator up to the 7th floor, and unlocked our door and entered paradise! Haha, it was beautiful! It had air con, a little fridge, a huge bathroom, a TV, and an expansive view of the city…what more could one want? We took out all our wet gear from our bags and laid them out in order to dry. We were even allowed to use the washer and drier, so we did some laundry!

It was getting late in the evening, so we decided to just stick around the hotel area. We walked around and found a nice place to order some food To Go. We even found a little super market and purchased some ice cream! Eventually we had it all upstairs in our room and to a movie we ate the delicious Indian food with our highly anticipated desert. I liked this country already and we had hardly even seen it!

The next morning we checked out of our hotel and had the security van drive us downtown. Over 90% of the population was Muslim, but unlike other Islamic areas we had visited, everyone seemed to be happy. We ended up talking to a tour agency and they recommended we go on a proboscis monkey tour. With our time being extremely limited, we booked the adventure so we could be back in time to catch a ferry to Malaysia. I worked on getting our gear to the monkey boat while Michelle focused on grabbing some lunch to eat while monkey hunting. Everything worked out great and by 11 o’clock it was just her and I, our captain, and a guide on another dug out canoe type thing chugging up the mangroves with eyes peeled. We passed an enormous floating village and got to see daily life play out for the Bruneians. Several of the Mosques’ gold domes radiated above the mangrove forests in the distance and we were never too far from infrastructure on the entire tour. Nonetheless, wildlife was around. Within minutes from the start, we saw a pack of otters swimming/running along the shore. I never knew otters were denizens of South East Asia but now I know. We took some turns that led us up even narrower cuts in the mangrove forest and we caught a few quick glimpses of the proboscis primate! Finally, around one corner, a whole troop was out in the sunlight playing and eating. When we approached, they retreated to the trees and we never got the great photos we desired, but we got to see them right…that’s all that matters (I keep telling myself that)! At a different troop, I actually climbed up in the mangroves to try and get a closer look, but they were fast little guys (actually big guys cause the proboscis monkey is the world’s largest!). Despite our guides approval…I even ran through peoples yards in this one section…barefoot over spiky lawn weeds or something, and still didn’t get a good picture. I did manage to spook this one huge water monitor that retreated to the river, evading me just like his monkey buddies. The people here coexist with the primate since it solely feeds on the mangroves and doesn’t bother humans. We did get one picture where you can see an adult male and his huge proboscis (nose), but it’s a little blurry so you might mistake it as a big foot sighting if you weren’t told otherwise!

We returned back to Bandar Seri Begawan and found the bus station to take us to the Ferry. We bought tickets and once again found ourselves on another boat, this time in order to country swap. Brunei…what an interesting little place. It had several similarities to Singapore, but at the same time, extremely different. It seemed equally as wealthy, with the entire country basically one city, however to contrast, everyone was Muslim making the architecture and customs different from all angles. It was a great little retreat that Michelle and I welcomed with open arms, but I was ready to get back to some wild adventures in the bush. Time was running out and much of Borneo was still left to experience. The plan…do some diving, then tackle South East Asia’s tallest mountain! We were ready…so off we went! ‘We’re Doin’ It!’

Nudibranchs, They Make Me Happy….Manado, Suluwesi, Indo. (Oct. 29th – Nov. 5th)

December 26th, 2007

After a couple of hours hanging around the airport, the sun began to set as we boarded the plane for Manado, Suluwesi. Finally out of the jungle…now ready for some reef! The plane landed, and as always…we entered into ‘find hotel mode‘. Not knowing anything about the area, we hit up the trusty ‘Lonely Planet-South East Asia’ and randomly picked out a hotel, just to give the taxi driver something to go by. Off we went…giant souvenir box and all!

When we arrived to Rex (the hotel we selected) there was no vacancy, but fortunately another budget hotel down the street had a room just for us. We checked in, then began a search for an internet café in the downtown area….just minutes (by public transport) from our hotel.

Manado was much more classy then Makassar, Suluwesi. Even the Mikrolets, Bemos, mini-buses…whatever you want to call them, were more upscale (each air-conned, under lit with black-lighting and bangin’ with some ear-catchin’ bass). Makassar was too industrial for our liking, but here in the north of this huge orchid shaped island, the chill factor increased along with the per capita income as far as I could tell. We found our internet café and began making plans for tomorrows activities from searching websites (that’s how we do it!).

We knew Manado offered great diving….but where do we go, and how? We noticed a large World renown National Marine Reserve (Bunaken) to the north, but what tickled our fancy was an area known as Lembeh Strait. There, not only were the sites accessible by shore (even though that only appeals to Michelle and I, the Do-It-Yourselfers), they featured incredible muck diving opportunities! If you don’t know muck diving…you’re not nearly as experienced as I in the underwater world (just playin‘…I didn’t know the term either). Muck diving is the searching of small critters, like nudibranchs, frogfish, and cuttlefish, normally in the not so mainstream of locations. Well, tomorrow we decided to hit up one of the most premiere muck diving areas on the Planet. After a bite to eat at ’Dolphin Café’, we returned home (hotels are our home) excited for tomorrow’s adventure.

Early the next morning we woke up and flagged down a taxi. We began our hour and a half long drive east, allowing time for a cloudy day to turn bright and beautiful. When we arrived, the plan was to search the small city of Bitung for a dive shop, and if none emerged, to high tail it to a resort and rent gear from them. As we drove through…we saw no rental place to speak of, so off we went to Kungkungan Bay Resort.

Unfortunately, the all inclusive establishment had no available equipment to rent out to us, so we decided to try our luck down the road at Kassowary Resort. Our taxi driver wanted a ridiculous amount more money for the additional 2Ks remaining, and with the arrogant manner he went about it, I didn’t even feel like bargaining with him. Michelle and I became determined to do it our own way, and he thought we were nuts…but hey, the feeling was mutual…we didn’t need him. We began to ascend the mountainous coastline by foot…at a fast, steady pace since we were so excited to get into the water (Ya, that taxi would have been a good idea, let me explain).

A motorbike came by, and we flagged it down. The plan was to let Michelle hitch the first ride to the resort, then I’d meet her there when another ride comes by. Well, off she went, and there I was ascending the steep roads as quickly as I could. Finally, after about 30 minutes of sweating under the heat in paradise, my opportunity came in the form of another motorbike. I wasn’t going to let this guy pass, and he was nice enough to give me a ride. ’Kassowari’ I said…and with a nod in response I figured he knew where he was going…I mean how many resorts are named Kassowari? A good 10 minute drive found me getting off the bike at the end of the road. He pointed into the jungle, at a little trail, and said ’Kassowari’. I was confident he new the area better than I, so off I jogged.

It was so hot, I wanted nothing more then to gear up and submerge, but now I found myself jogging up more hills on a skinny, rocky trail overlooking hill after hill of palm trees (It was really beautiful). I passed some little dwellings (houses would be putting it too nicely), and about three times I asked for directions to Kassowari. Everybody kept pointing me in the same direction down the trail, so even though it felt wrong (the distance was too great), I trusted them more than my instinct. Eventually, 30 minutes later, I found myself at the little town of…..guess what….Kassowari! AHHHH!! How stupid is this, Kassowari Resort is in the town I had jogged from, and here I was, in Kassowari town. I know this from talking to the Canadian owner of a brand new resort called Black Sand’s here in Kassowari. I was a bit frustrated, and listening to the man talking about how his plants were having a hard time to grow in the dry season didn’t help much. I asked him which was the fastest way back, and he said it was from the way in which I came. He also mentioned some people have rented ojeks for the route (motorbikes), but he said when you do it once, you’ll never do it again. I figured with the day slowly wasting away (it was now around 1 o’clock), I was willing to risk it….plus, I’ll never have the chance to do it again, let alone not want too.

I found a guy napping under a tree and woke him up to bargain with him a price. We agreed at something around five dollars (in Rupiah of course), then off we went. Yup…it was worse then I expected. What was easy to do on foot, was rough to do on the bike. Not only that, but this guy was definitely trying to make good time. The rocks were slick, and a couple times we wiped out softly to the rubble. I was always ready to jump off, so I felt I was never in too much jeopardy. Several times however, I had to jog ahead just so the bike could get through…it certainly wasn’t easy. Saving about fifteen minutes by returning via motorbike, a short 3 minute ride from the start of the road dropped me off finally at Kassowari Resort. Halleluiah!!!

Michelle was up stairs talking to the ’owner’ (really the manager which we joked about being the owner), and had already sorted out dive gear, waiting on me to arrive. Perfect (expect for the fact I was really late). I apologized to her for holding us up, but she was in a good mood and thought the whole situation was funny….I was sweating so bad, she could tell I worked hard to get there as fast as I could. We tried to rent a kayak from the resort as well, but when that didn’t work out, a small fishing boat was just about to leave. We asked for a ride, and for a small chunk of change he came through. Michelle and I (with the help of the resort staff) loaded our gear into the boat, and went out around the corner. We got dropped off at our own little beach, planning to walk our gear back after our two dives were complete (Yes…that was my idea and it was as stupid as it sounds).

A few breathes were needed to admire how beautiful our surroundings were…completely isolated by palm trees on three sides, and a bright blue ocean to our front (with a huge palm tree island in the nearby distance). From our own little strip of sand, we slipped on our equipment and faded into the sea.

At first, not much was visible, but then little things started to emerge. A nudibranch here, then one there….along with a cool crab so adapted it looked just like the soft coral it was on. We took a little break in between dives (you have to or you will explode!!), and I found a coconut and husked it open. We drank its juice and ate its meat, reminding me of the good times living on the beach for a month in Palau!

At the beginning of the second dive…just after spotting a new ’Nudi’ species, I realized my camera wasn’t working (perhaps dropping it in the sand wasn’t the smoothest of moves). I signaled to Michelle how I planned to surface while she perhaps could remain below marking the spot of our new find! I went up the 30 feet or so (slowly of course), then realized it was too risky to open up the camera there in the middle of the ocean. I was afraid of waves splashing in or the camera falling out. I decided to swim to shore, fix the camera, and hustle back out there. I did just that.

When I returned to sea however, I noticed Michelle was surfaced as well. Apparently, the seven minutes or so that passed by had Michelle freaking out down there alone. See, the sound of a boat had passed nearby, and with me not being in sight any longer, she was worried I might have been split into pieces by a passing propeller (in South East Asia you really have to watch your back for boats overhead when your about to surface). She though she marked the nudibranch’s locations, but we never found them again. Oh well, there were more to find…and the Camera was working!!! I can’t blame her for being worried about me, I would have probably done the exact same thing if the roles we reversed.

Eventually, we ended up diving in an area known as ’Nudi Retreat’!! Yes, there were nudibranchs…but sadly, there were other divers as well (that paid a lot more than us, Ha). Nonetheless, the wall was covered in beautiful coral structures and bright colored sponges. Some new species of sea slugs (for us) were photographed…Yahoo!

When our tanks ran dry, we snorkeled back to our private tiny beach. We rested for a moment, then proceeded up the steep slippery hill heading back towards Kassowari (The resort of course…I didn’t want you to confuse it with the town…I mean what idiot would do that?). Michelle had her BCD on with the tank, and in her arms she held all the fins, masks and snorkels. I also had my BCD on with the tank, and two more tanks were respectively in each one of my hands. The first slope was rather easy, but after that the lactic acid built up and I began realizing how much more difficult this was going to be. I mean we were probably a mile or two away, not exactly sure of the direction, and it was nothing but up and down on unmanaged trails. I had to stop every once in a while to give my arms a break, and eventually (probably half way) decided to leave a tank and come back for it later. I hid it in the bushes, and we carried on.

I felt sorry for Michelle the whole way for complying to such a ridiculous idea, but regardless, we pushed through and eventually the tiny trail met up with a larger path. About two hundred meters from here was the beginning (or end) of the village. I dropped off all the gear from my sore back, and returned empty handed for the tank I had hid. Michelle proceeded down the hill, and the plan was to meet me at the paved road below. The day was almost gone, and night had nearly taken complete hold when I finally emerged from the jungle. There was just enough light to see the people’s faces in the crowd that Michelle had acquired. Everyone thought we were nuts (that definitely transcended the language barrier), but they were enthused to help us regardless. When we finally made it back, we tipped everyone a couple Rupiah, but for the father and daughter team that helped us out the most, we invited them up for a drink at the resort’s bar. They were extremely nice, and it was fun to relax with a drink (we were the only people there) after a day of exciting dives.

We chatted as best we could and after one beer, our friend (Captain Charles…the father of about 40 years old) was already feeling it. In Indonesian culture it’s not taboo to be touchy between guys, and I mean that in a straight way. Still, for me, it was a little unusual. He wanted to hold my hand while walking around…and although I wanted to be friendly, it was a little weird so I tried to avoid it. They invited us to see a monkey, so we decided maybe to check it out tomorrow. We bid farewell, then decided to find a hotel back in Bintung.

The manager of the resort was on our side, and understood how we couldn’t afford their ridiculous price. The security gave us rides by motorbike, and we followed the manager who was picked up by her boyfriend heading back to town. We went to a tiny hotel she recommended and rented out a room. Afterwards, we followed them to a nice place to eat where we parted ways. Through out our journey we’ve had several occurrences where people go out of their way to lend us a helping hand. This was another example…she was extremely gracious. We are extremely grateful to have met so many beautiful people along the way.

For dinner I had fresh fish grilled on the BBQ while Michelle dined on some vegetables. The market type atmosphere was lively and festive, and there was a lot to take in. The people of Suluwesi apparently eat Ticous (jungle rat), but we were unlucky (or lucky) since we didn’t succeed in our attempt to taste it. We couldn’t find it for sale anywhere…most likely even the wild rats are going extinct here in South East Asia. After our quiet dinner in a hectic place, we returned back by motorbike taxi and went to sleep recharging ourselves and our camera batteries for more exciting diving days manana (I don’t have a tilde button, sorry!).

Bright and early, we hopped out of bed and walked over to the central area of the town. We purchased some rice dishes that we planned to snack on for a picnic lunch. We also bought some cookies for our buddies back at the resort. We grabbed a cab and drove to Kassowari. The plan today was a little different. We rented the same dive gear, but this time had the taxi driver bring us back towards town a bit and drop us off on a beach where we could access on our own, a dive site named ‘Nudi Falls’. We suited up, and although there were a bunch of raggedy boats docked along the shore, below the surface was a completely different world. The vertical wall was flooded with life. The nudibranchs were thicker than expected…and I was expecting thick! In addition, the highlights included two ribbon eels, one was electric blue! We saw several lobsters, a couple blue-spotted rays, and a handful of the bright green, crazy mantis shrimp that were constantly inquisitive. Between dives we enjoyed lunch, and our leftovers fed a skinny dog and a family of chickens. Michelle had fun chasing the chickens, something I ended up getting yelled at for after the dives by the locals. It was entertaining!

After two beautiful dives, we dried off then carried all the gear to the roadway….something that was easier than yesterday’s haul, but not a walk in the park. It was probably a good 300 meters. We waited for a taxi/mini-bus to come by, and this lasted a little longer than expected. About an hour later (now dark), we caught our ride and rode by Bemo (mini-bus) back to the resort. Wow, how much fun can you have…what a day, what a week, what a year, what a life!

We dropped off our rental stuff, then decided to take up Captain Charles and his daughter’s offer and see the monkey. I was expecting it to be a Tarsier…the world’s smallest primate, so I figured it would be neat to see (plus Shane P. and Ruthless got to see some in the Philippines that I missed the boat for, literally). Off we went down the dark road while a cab was scheduled to come pick us up in a few minutes. The entire town had no electricity (power outage), so most places were pitch black. As we walked through the town, we asked locals where Captain Charles was, but even saying the name without the native accent made things difficult. Finally, about ten minutes later after waiting in a strangers house, Charles and his daughter came in and we proceeded with a huge group of probably thirty people to find this monkey. Haha, it was kind of funny, cause it felt like the whole town was following behind us. Captain Charles held my hand too for a little bit of the way…giving Michelle plenty of time to make fun of me and take pictures. I wanted to be liberal and support their customs…plus, I’m secure in my sexuality (I think)…(The I think part is a joke), and I didn’t want to offend him in any way by not accepting the kind gesture. Changing the subject, we finally found the monkey…and it was tied to a tree. It was a type of macaque, black in color, and it wasn’t anything near what I expected. Nonetheless, the whole hunt for the monkey was an interesting scenario that Michelle and I will cherish for some time to come. Fortunately, the cab came and found us, honking its horn a couple of times to get our attention. It was a perfect excuse to leave, so we sadly said bye to our new friends, then piled inside for the long ride home (well….Manado).

Dozing on and off, we pulled up to the mall where Michelle and I were feeling a little hungry. We ended up having some salad, then taxied back to our hotel. We re-rented a room and called it a night.

The following day we rushed around town completing errands. We found a flight leaving early the next morning, and bought two, one-way tickets back to Bali (only for transfer). In addition, we scoured the entire city in search of a Bank Negara…since it seemed to be the only bank doing cash advances on my credit card. Later in the day we used the internet for a bit, and all-in-all, we accomplished lots of chores. Now, more than ever, we were ready for a land adventure……where else can you explore more than, you guessed it…..BORNEO!!!

Where Money Must Grow On Trees….Papua (Oct. 11th – 28th)

November 28th, 2007

After a brief layover in Manokwari, we continued onwards to Jayapura, Papua’s largest city. Jayapura is located in the North East corner of the province, smack against independent Papua New Guinea. In getting there, we flew over endless miles of jungle my mouth was salivating to explore.

Upon landing, we realized Jayapura was an extra hour away since a powerful river destroyed a crucial bridge linking where we were to our destination. We bargained with a taxi driver, then loaded our gear for the circuitous trip to the city. I was anxious to get into the bush, but some necessary shopping had to come first.

First impressions…Different. Every section of Indonesia has been unique from each other, but this land takes the cake. We drove through miles and miles of Sago palms (Papua’s traditional food source) with towering mountains blanketed with jungle in the distance. The people looked more African than Asian, not only in color, but in features like big lips and thick ’fro-like’ hair. I was psyched to be here, enthusiastically speechless absorbing the ambiance the entire way to Jayapura. Papua….How Crazy!

The sun had set by the time we arrived, and the first order of business was to find a hotel. After walking around the main street for a bit, we decided on Kartini Inn, only 90,000 Rupiah (~9$). Rushing to get back to the streets, we dropped off our packs and reentered the bustling town.

In Jayapura, the majority of the people were Papuan (as expected) but many Indonesians also called this place home. We walked the markets which sold everything from fruits and veggies to CD’s and knit carrying bags (purse-type things which constantly had Michelle’s attention). We scouted out a few grocery stores, then after a bite to eat, returned back to the hotel to get some rest.

The next day we had a list of errands to run. I needed to re-buy a compass since my former one was stolen out of an external backpack pocket by curious luggage handling airline employee. In addition, we needed to buy food and supplies, stop by the post office to send home some picture CDs, figure out airline tickets to Wamena, and get our ’Surat Jalans’ (traveling permits for Papua). We contemplated whether these passes were necessary or not, but getting them turned out to be a wise choice.

Errands lasted the entire day, but by night fall everything was basically finished, except airline tickets. All the flights for the next day were full, so we decided to return to the airport tomorrow with fingers crossed. Back at the hotel, a TV in the lobby was showing ’Princess Bride’….I mean who could refuse that?

Early the next morning (and I mean early, 5am), we took a taxi back to the airport. After pleading with a Trigana Air desk woman, we were directed to their office about 10 minutes away by car. When we got there, we met three girls from Norway (pretty cute might I mention), trying to get tickets to Wamena as well. I don’t know if it was their long blond hair or what, but collectively we got the airline to fly an extra plane at 2pm that afternoon…prefect!!!!!! The girls spoke flawless English and were escorted around by a local guide named Matese. He was a funny guy, and I liked joking around with him. In fact, I think he ended up liking Michelle and I more then his clients (I mean who wouldn’t), and we were offered a ride back to the airport in their chartered mini-bus.

When we returned, the time was 11 o’clock and Michelle and I were a little hungry so we split ways with our new friends planning to reunite before departure. We left by foot and walked to a spacious, but empty restaurant. We sat under the only fan rotating, but before we ordered, a cute older foreign (USA) couple walked in and began searching for a place to sit. It was extremely hot, not only in the restaurant, but in the entire country, so we invited the two to join our table. They gladly accepted, which became a treat for all of us. Apparently, Leon and Lorraine both first came to Papua in the 50’s and were the pioneers in evangelical work for the region. We asked both of them a million questions about what it was like accessing the most remote of locations and missioning to untouched, potentially dangerous people. We heard some great stories, although all of it was from a pro-Christian infiltration point of view.

The lunch, which we all shared together was delicious, and afterwards the couple was nice enough to drive us to the airport. It was a unique experience listening to their past, especially since they have witnessed so much change while living in the country for over some 50 years.

We re-joined our Norwegian friends and eventually boarded the plane. I had Matese draw on me a Papuan Tattoo with a marker, and he got a big kick out of the assignment. Not before long, the lowland jungle gave way to steep mountains covered in clouds. Minutes later, a valley opened up…Balieum Valley. We began our decent after the hour long ride, anxious to breath some fresh air.

Wamena….being the largest city in the Baliem valley doesn’t really mean much. The airport was small and empty, and a short walk away form the landing strip was the center of town. Here, you could definitely tell all the Papuans were of one tribe…the Danni Tribe. They all had the same exact (Jewish-looking) noses…rounded and droopy. Most people were barefoot, even though the city was somewhat modern with wood paneled buildings and paved streets. Interestingly, it was fairly common to see traditional naked Danni men strolling about town wearing nothing but a penis gourd with a slung bow and arrow around his shoulder…something straight out of National Geographic!!

We walked with the Norwegians to a resort they booked online, then planned to have dinner together. Michelle and I left to find a cheaper hotel of our own. In no time at all, we were resting on beds at Nayak Hotel. Wamena was a bit chilly, not a temperature you would expect when hovering above the equator. It was about 65 degrees Farenheit at the peak of a sunny afternoon. Quite comfortable if you ask me, especially great to fall asleep too, but painful if you ask Michelle. Sometimes I think she would prefer to sleep inside the flames of a fire.

We went back to the Norwegians and found a tiny restaurant where we got to know them a bit more. The conversations started off slow, but picked up to be a lot of fun. By the end we were bashing our respective countries; us upset with them for harvesting Free Willy’s whale meat, while they insulted us for ruling the world (Ya, there’s a good insult). The discussion was all in good fun. We exchanged Emails and eventually parted ways. Tomorrow they begin their trek around the valley while Michelle and I planned to go over the mountains to find more isolated natives. We returned to Nayak and went to sleep.

The next day we split up and searched different cargo and missionary companies who fly planes into the dense interior. Eventually we decided on Suzie air, a cargo airliner that flew to Dekai the following morning. The price was steep, 100 bucks a piece (one way), but it was something we were both enthusiastic about. We bought the tickets!

Having the rest of the day to spare, we decided to bus to a more isolated village within the enormous valley. We chose Kukulu, based on a recommendation to see a mummy. We packed into a local filled mini-bus and began passing tiny village after village, constructed the same ways they were centuries ago. About an hour later, we were surrounded by naked women and children, as well as gourd-covered men. There little community was really cool to be inside of, a culture completely unique to the rest of the world. I bought a bow and arrow from one of the men while Michelle purchased some beads and purses from the women. They archaically still use stone tools as well, which I did not expect. Oh, and on a side note, the women amputate their fingers to the middle knuckle (except for the thumb) when a relative passes away. Every woman you see has missing fingers, and the majority of elders only have nubs remaining. Kind of gruesome if you ask me, considering they chop it off with a sharpened stone tool using no anesthesia or proper bandaging techniques (by today’s medical standards).

We parted ways with our tribal friends, returning to Wamena. After some delicious fire-roasted sweet potatoes in the coolness of the night, we fell asleep back at the hotel anxious for tomorrows adventure.

A late rise had us rushing to check out and sprint to Suzie Air, only to realize the flight was delayed from 7am to eleven O’clock. This opened up time for us to get some breakfast and hit an ATM up. Eventually, we were in the sky destined south.

Wamena, smack dab in the middle of Papua is high in the mountains. Dekai, a short hop south placed us right back in the humid rainforest of the lowlands. The plan was to find a merchant ship at the port, and hitch a ride to the town of Senggo. From there, trek inland to the Korroway (a tribe of cannibals). We hopped out of the dust covered, twin-propeller craft without a map (there were none) or a sense of direction (we never have any). The sun was stiffeling, causing an instant stream of sweat to drip down my back. We were hard pressed to find someone that spoke Indonesian, let alone English. We began walking down a road…luckily the only road making the choice rather easy.

The longer we walked, the more individuals our posse would accumulate. Eventually about 10 curious people began tagging along to see where we were going and what we might be doing when we arrive. A police man (sent form Jakarta to enforce Indonesian tariffs on the city) made us enter his office. Thankfully, we got the traveling permits, since South East Asia does not pass up opportunities to charge you extra money for a ’violation’. We bolted from the police station after paying a couple rupiah (traveling fee) and ate at a little tiny restaurant just incase it was our last. Sadly, all that was offered was the same old Nasi Goring (FRIED RICE)…thank you Indonesia.

On full tanks, we soon realized something completely unexpected….money really must grow on trees, because things here were multiple times more expensive than even Singapore. Being only a couple ojecks (motorbikes) in the town, it was 20 bucks a piece to get them to take us the 20K (further then we expected) to the port. We did our best to negotiate, but apparently fuel prices are just that ridiculous in this region. Having no choice, we jumped on the backs and began sliding down a wide, gravel road.

Indonesia is doing its best to infiltrate and modernize Papua. For Dekai, they eventually want to transform it into a big city where they can centralize all the locals (making them easier to tax and use as cheap labor). Also it will help them in extracting the Earth’s resources, such as timber. The road we were driving down, I’d say spanned 50 meters across (half a football field) and cut right through the otherwise pristine jungle. It was kind of sad to see, but at the same time it was granting us transport to the river, so I can’t be too hypocritical now can I?

The jungle looked alive. The ride was gorgeous. The epiphytes alone were like the size of a trees. I was stuck scanning the road’s edge in hopes of a snake, but found none. Occasionally flocks of parrots would fly above, squawking loud enough to hear over the roaring of the motorbike.

After skidding a couple times, nearly wiping out on the loose gravel, the rainforest gave way to freshly cut open ground. A couple tiny wood-paneled houses, one doubling as a primitive mini-mart, stood to satisfy the worker’s needs. Currently, construction was underway to make a concrete pier to cater to the merchant ships….just what we were in search for. The river was small, but surprisingly some fairly large boats were tied up right against its steep, muddy bank. I sent Michelle with her womanly charm to see about hitching a ride downstream. It was cute watching her negotiate with a couple crews and I was anxious to hear the outcome. It turns out, as far as getting to Senggo (where we wanted), these boats could only drop us off at Basman. From Basman, we would have to charter a longboat (made from one enormous tree) to get to our desired location. With that now the plan, we selected a ship hauling cement as our home for the next night (what turned into nights) planning to depart tomorrow….so we thought!!! We set up jungle hammocks on the bow of the boat, but a heavy rain washed Michelle out to the cabin. Having dealt with sleeping wet while camping in Palau, I toughed it out and slept drenched in order to not encumber our hosts with an extra body. Surprisingly, I got sufficient rest.

Tomorrow came and went, but the boat did not move an inch. Communicating was not exactly easy to do with the crew, and after asking if we would depart (the next morning)…the answer we received meant nothing cause we knew there was no understanding of the question. If the boat didn’t disembark by tomorrow, we planned to scratch the idea and just trek around the jungles of Dekai. With nothing much to do for the day we got to know the boatmen a lot better. This gave us the chance to watch the dynamics between the Indonesians and the Papuans.

The crew was all Indonesian, consisting of six people (which I‘ll get to later) we bonded with immediately. However, the interplay between them and the Papuans was disappointing, as expected. There was definitely a class system, as the Papuans did all the manual labor. It was sad watching them ’slave’ in the destruction of their own pristine beauty. Witnessing them hauling heavy cement bags from the belly of the boat while plastered with the gray dust stuck to their sweat-soaked bodies was an image that really stuck in my mind. I began pondering however, what it must be like from their point of view, rather than from a pro-conservationist westerner…I mean am I at liberty to judge what‘s taking place? To them, they were transitioning into a life with generators…allowing them to cook with the touch of a button, refrigerate food to prolong spoilage, and watch television, granting them a window to the World. Is that so bad? I mean don’t they have just as much a right to those luxuries as anyone else on the planet. They seemed eager to change their ways and adopt the lifestyle that diminishes the difficulty of living. To me, losing cultural diversity is disheartening, I mean it’s what excited me about Papua in the first place, but by being there, in Dekai, watching it happen first hand…right in front of my eyes…I now feel it’s bittersweet rather than my previous all-negative point of view. As we globalize further and further, it’s only a matter of time till we lose the differences that make our species unique…and in my opinion, the more homogeneous we become, the worse off we’ll be when disaster strikes. I’ll have to wipe away the tears and realize how privileged I am to be here now, able to still witness ancient practices in untouched environments before the whole lot of it becomes extinct.

Oh, back to the crew….Michelle and I loved these guys. I bonded fast with James, a funny dude about 30 years old that had a pet bird named Enrique. Every time I saw a parrot in the sky, I’d point at it and holler ’Enrique’ and everyone would laugh (Yes, at least in the third world my humor‘s a hit). The captain (about 25) was a bit reclusive, but his younger brother Jerry was a comical little rascal. Then there was Constan, 27, who was dead-set on learning English. He had a great heart but sometimes drove me nuts with how much he wanted to ’try’ and speak. Arul, about 20 was second youngest to Jerry (18), and was a hoot himself. I’d always joke around with these guys, I mean after all, Michelle and I had to represent the people of the United States. Can you imagine, us, being the only Americans these guys may ever come across…We have to look good (I’m sorry USA). Lastly, there was ’Fader’ (The way SE Asia says Father), Michelle’s favorite. He was the only senior one in the crew, probably in his late 50’s, and just as fit and ripped as anyone else on the boat. He loved talking to us in Indonesian and he spoke as if he thought we could understand everything that came out of his mouth. Michelle and I would always look blankly at him, then laugh when we looked at each other.

That night, dusk, Michelle and I went for a walk down the road transecting the jungle. The sunset was spectacular, but what I remember most was how peaceful it was. The sounds were smooth and steady, and even the birds seemed subdued from daily life, returning to their trees to roost. Night time sparked the fireflies to swarm in large number, and our barefoot walk back to the boat was illuminated by their abdomens. It was a great way to spend the evening…you gotta love the jungle!

That night the crew felt bad for us and convinced Michelle and I to sleep in a little bunker below the sleeping quarters. We accepted and although the wooden planks were hard and unforgiving, it sure beat falling asleep wet.

Next morning, thank goodness, Arul began untying the knots and we pushed off. The river, I swear is about 50 feet wide at the most and doesn’t appear to be very deep, but some of these boats are monstrous. One cargo ship must have been at least 30 feet wide and 150 feet long! Michelle and I climbed up the wooden crossbars stretching out past the front of the boat. Here we were, cruising down a tranquil, reddish-brown stream in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by everything we were hoping for and more! Aboard our merchant ship, I felt once again like an ancient explorer destined for an new, unknown World.

Tribal village after tribal village passed by. Native Papuans starred with dangerous looking eyes at Michelle and I as we flowed through. Apart of me was excited to trek to untouched people for adventure, but another part of me began to question the morality of the whole situation. I mean, no matter what, us visiting a traditional village will most likely result in aiding the change of their culture. Whether it’s buying a souvenir or giving them something of ours, a part of me doesn’t want to get involved. Also, it’s not really nice of us to show up unexpectedly in order to watch them like they’re a tourist attraction or some kind of exhibition in a museum.

We cruised past Mengai, then Braza (too tiny to be on even the most detailed of maps), stopping at sunset in Basman….a whole day away by boat. The plan now was to find a long-boat driver, negotiate a price, and tomorrow charter upstream to a base camp where we’ll begin our trek. James said he knew a boat captain, so we went ashore on a manhunt.

The people of Basman are of the Koroway Tribe. By the rest of Papua, they are known as the cannibals. The people we came in contact with no longer live in trees or eat other people, but they still live humble lives with the majority of their subsistence coming from the rainforest. They looked much more powerful than the funny looking Danni’s in the mountains, and I don’t think their faces were capable of smiling….I didn’t see a grin from anyone. Indonesians lived here as well, more than I expected. They were the owners of the little shops, and given incentives by the government to move in and colonize certain locations. I don’t really see them treating Papuan’s as equal, in fact, Arul referred to them as stupid people that live in trees. Nonetheless, I see the children of both races playing together indifferent of each other‘s color, which as Michelle pointed out, shows racism is definitely taught…not instinct.

We found James’ friend and got a price to motor us to Senggo…..8 million Rupiah!!! That’s about 800$, can you believe it? We talked the guy down to as far as 5 million (500$), but he wouldn’t go any lower. We negotiated with some different boat owners, but their lowest price was five hundred as well. Apparently almost all of the money would go to gas, so anything less wouldn’t be worth it to the driver. Michelle and I found the price hard to believe, and we definitely didn’t want to pay that kind of dough. Plus, our crew on the Norma Bahari (our boats name) really wanted us to stay with them, tagging along all the way to Timika. We thought about it for a few seconds, then gave our friends the green light. So to Timika we go!!!

Back on the boat, we untied and began traveling by moonlight. Michelle and I laid out on the deck watching grey clouds illuminated by the moon, pass over head revealing stars by the handful. The river had gotten wider now (100 meters across) due to contributions from some tributaries, and the jungle was now much further than a leap away. Sometime around 3am, we anchored in the middle of the river to give rest to the crew. Michelle and I slept under the sky.

As the sun began to peak, we awoke to our friends setting up for another day of river cruising. At about 12 o’clock we stopped in a tiny village for a couple hours…not really sure why. It did give Jerry enough time to buy 2 baby parrots from the locals which he will resell, along with Enrique in Timika. Of course, I don’t condone capturing wild animals from the jungle and captivate them into the pet trade, especially when they feed the baby chicks human infant formula, but there didn’t seem like much I could do. I definitely didn’t know where the nest was to return the babies, the only thing I can think of is education…but even that won’t work if the people need to make money. Job alternatives would be a solution.

Michelle and I disembarked as well and went on a photo safari of the local inhabitants. Naked babies posed for some crisp pictures while some mangely looking dogs blocked the board ways. This town, just like Basman was entirely connected by a boardwalk. The rotting wood didn’t appear stable, and I had to constantly pay attention to holes. Nonetheless, the rickety structure was allowing people walkable transportation even during the rainiest of seasons. The locals here were of the Asmat tribe, once revered for head hunting. To me, they looked extremely similar to the Koroway, and guess what…the Indonesians were here too. They’re everywhere! To support them taking over all the unique islands in Indonesia, Michelle and I bought some canned fish in chili sauce to share with the crew.

On board once again, we continued down river. Day turned to night with another vibrant sunset that quickly used up all the memory card space in our cameras. Something about the water-saturated, clean atmosphere over the jungle really produces a canvas for spectacular colors. After about 3 more hours of propelloring by night, we arrived to Agaz, the capital of the Asmat range.

Agaz was a little fishy, let me explain. Michelle and I were thirsty, so upon arrival, we wanted to jump out and go to town….which we could tell was much bigger than the former villages we had recently visited (from the amount of visible lights from the river). The port had about 15 big boats tied up to a pier, and ours being last to arrive meant jumping from one to the other. This wasn’t that easy, considering some were massive vessels. On one attempt, I nearly wiped out by slipping on a landing (extremely slippery wood). The fun (horror) didn’t stop there either. From the last boat, a guy had to pull a huge rope connecting the ship with the pier, in order to leap across. I went first, and with the 4 foot distance, I barely made it. My fingertips were holding onto the top while the rest of my body dangled in thin air about 20 feet above the dark, fast-moving water below. I pulled myself up, then braced myself to help Michelle do the same. It turned out, I had to help her a little more than expected, which almost ended in both of us going for a swim. Finally, together, we both made it to the dock….something I don’t think should have been that difficult. it was a little rough, but get this, it was hardly even a pier at all. For the first 20 meters or so, only the grid of a former dock remained. That meant we had to walk across a concrete skeleton a foot wide. This gave way to something much more ridiculous. Where the concrete ended, about 3 feet away, rusting metal began. You were basically taking a leap of faith, and landing on a four inch wide platform of iron that now stretched for more than 30 yards. It was insane!!! All this wasn’t lit up, and for parts of it you had to step over obstacles while other sections were completely destroyed and laying broken in the river. I was ready for the rest of it to fall apart at the next attempt to get across. I normally like this kind of thing, but something about this wasn’t churning right inside. I was already shaky from just getting to where the concrete ended and I felt it wasn’t worth the risk of falling in and flooding our cameras, but Michelle was eager to give it a shot….She was Nuts!!! She went off out of site…while I remained like a coward guarding the cameras on the concrete. It was weird, I normally love this kind of stuff!

I began getting a little nervous (more nervous then I already was) about letting Michelle go to a new town alone, in the dark, but she’s not the type of girl you can restrain when she wants to do something (but that’s what you learn to love). Anyway, about thirty nail-biting minutes passed before she came back frantically, with a mouth full of things to say about her traumatic Agaz experience. Apparently, the rusty, crumbling section eventually gives way to a slippery wooden bridge consisting of a 2 by 4 type beam, then nailed to another 2×4, then to more and more down the line….all being supported by random stakes, she said was way worse then the rusty metal part. On a whole other level of frustration however, was that some Indonesian guy pretending to help, solicited her for sex while she was on her way back. She was furious about the situation and we returned to the boat to talk more about the occurrence. Things calmed down and Jerry, James, and Arul left the boat to buy some liquor. I know this because when the returned they were excited to have us all drink with them. Personally, all I wanted to do was relax, especially if more drama was to commence with these pirate-like sailors that were harbored all around us. Michelle however convinced me, along with the guys to have a little fun….I mean we were their guests and they wanted to treat us to a good time….Let’s do it!

We formed a circle and Jerry mixed together coke and a local whisky of which we took shots of 1 by 1 (the mixture). Apparently, straight shots of the 40 proof would be too much to handle, but as it turned out, shots of the mix were a little to rough as well, since everyone except Michelle and I started feeling sleepy after four sips. These Indonesians were a bit of lightweights! It turned out to be a great time that I’m glad to have participated in, and after all the festivities (around 2am) we crashed for the night.

The next morning I was anxious to get out there and tackle the pier that filled me with so much fear. Yup….it was exactly as sketchy as I remembered….what a hazard. Nonetheless, it was rather easy to do with calm nerves and daylight. The 2×4 part was described nicely by Michelle, since each plank appeared to be a buffet for termites and you could see broken pieces of the former ‘bridge’ littering the swampy undergrowth. The wooden section was long too, stretching probably fifty meters itself…making the whole shaky stretch from boat to land, nearly a football field (100m). I learned to love the challenge and both Michelle and I made it across alive!

First order of business…registering with the local police. Things went smoothly, allowing us legal rights to explore the town. The entire village was on stilts, just like the other little port stops we had visited before, but here (ironically because how terrible the pier was), the boardwalk was really nice and maintained. In fact, people traveled across it by bicycle. A town with bikes (BMX style for some reason) dominating as the mode of transporation….it was an interesting sight.

The people were friendly, responding as we greeted them. The tribal women loved me, and I loved that…Ha. We had some Nasi Goreng at a local restaurant (thanks Indonesia), as there were no ethnic (Papuan) restaurants to dine in(remember it’s the Indonesians that do the businesses). We bought some tight artifacts, then brought them back to the boat expecting to depart. That turned out to not be the case….we were told we’d leave at 10, but 10 turned to 11, then to 3, then to tomorrow!! Since all this was conveyed to us in non-English, we had absolutely no idea when the boat was leaving, but we had no choice really. With nothing to do, we headed back to the town to take more pictures.

Arul, while walking across the wooden section of the ‘pier from hell’ spotted an ’Ular’, the Indonesian word for snake!!! I jumped into the knee high muck and spent a good 5 minutes excavating the mud of where the serpent though he could outsmart me. Eventually, I got him out and everybody was happy (really just myself). It was a cool snake…I still haven’t identified the species. What intrigues me about this guy however, is how its pattern is very similar to an anaconda’s pattern from South America. It was definitely a water snake from its tiny head and upright eyes, but more interestingly, it had the exact same circle blotches on top while sporting crescents down its side from head to tail. Once again…I was the only one who cared (don’t worry, I’m used to it).

I released it in front of a crowd of Papuans who definitely thought I was gila (crazy in Indonesian), and we continued to town. Only 10 minutes later we heard…’Tavis’…’Mechil’!!! It was Constan, apparently they were having trouble clearing us for Timika with port patrol, but after a brief visit with them showing our stamped Suran Jalats, they recognized and we and the Norma Bahari were free to set sail to the Sea! And that’s exactly what we did.

After about ten more minutes in an ever widening river, the ocean emerged and we were now ocean voyagers. Eventually (unexpectedly), we went out so far, the land disappeared. Nighttime soon covered us, but the boat that could, kept chugging. When morning came we still couldn‘t spot land, but it felt like we were making great time (Actually it felt like I spent years stuck on this boat). Finally, around 10 o’clock we rolled into another river bordered with mangroves for a scenic jaunt that ended in Timika. Wow, what a journey. We didn’t trek into the rainforest and find the most pristine of peoples, but we did meet many different ethnicities that still live extremely modest as well as toured through a large part of Papua. In addition, we really bonded with our crew mates and in honor of our gratitude, Michelle and I invited them out to a bar called Scorpion tonight, which they always talked to us so highly about.

Constan helped us get a taxi, and we booked a hotel when we got to town. We split ways with him, then went on search to see how and when we could fly back to Wamena. Today was Thursday, and we found a flight via Mulia for tomorrow (Friday) or Monday. Not yet truly having a chance on foot to explore Papuan lowland jungle, I opted for Monday and Michelle was just as excited.

Later that afternoon we met the head of Security for Freeport. He offered us a ride back to our hotel and we gladly accepted. His name was Marcus and originally from Sorong, northern Papua. He was about 49 years old and really excited to show us around. He offered us a tour of Freeport free of charge for tomorrow and with nothing in the itinerary book, Michelle and I gladly accepted. The plan was to pick us up around 9.…what a service!

As 7 o’clock pm approached, the crew from Norma Bahari began filing into our room. Earlier that night I ran out and got a cheap bottle of whisky to get the party started pre-game style. I ended up having to run back to the hotel room from this crazy guy that wouldn’t leave me alone….you get a lot of that out here. Michelle was making fun of me for sprinting back to the room and locking the door! About the crew…there were more of them then I remember….it turns out they invited a couple of their friends. We went through the bottle a little to quickly.

The plan also changed from Scorpion to Queen. I didn’t like the sound of that, but I was going with the flow…I had no choice. At about 8, we headed out. Queen was exactly as I imagined. They had some terrible band impersonating the group Queen, which I already considered horrible music in the first place (Sorry if I offend you…not really). On top of that, the drinks were ridiculously expensive, I think about 20 USD for a pitcher of beer, is that unheard of or what? Michelle and I bought 2, then let everybody else fend for themselves. James ended up buying us one on his nickel, which kind of made me sad cause I know he really couldn’t afford it, but did it because he really wanted too. It was a great gesture. Sick of Queen, even though it was cute watching Michelle having a blast dancing with Jerry who was having even more fun, we unanimously decided to move the party to Scorpion. After the reckless driver (Someone we didn’t know) scared Michelle and I to death (almost literally), we parked the car and entered into a shady building that reminded me precisely of a Palauan ’Buy Me Drink Me’ bar. When we arrived, it was Karaoke and things were slow, but it picked up a bit when the Dance music kicked on. We all got jiggy wit it. After another death defying ride back home, we bid farewell. What great group of fun individuals…Michelle and I were so fortunate to have selected the ship we chose, we made great friends.

The next morning, Marcus came bright and early, eager to show us a good time. We drove the 15 minutes ride to Kuala Kentana, a micro city built by the American Company, Freeport. Now, if you don’t know what Freeport is, you are just like I was before Papua, but Marcus for one, felt like Freeport is the most famous thing in all the world. He was shocked we had never heard of it, he thought the whole world was aware…here, let me enlighten you.

Freeport is the largest gold mining operation in the world, and the third largest copper mining facility. The American based company pays royalties to Indonesia that Papua barely benefits at all from…which is a strong reason why Papua whispers about liberty. Freeport created this little town we drove through as a safe haven for their employees. As we gazed around, it reminded me a lot of a cute little suburban neighborhood in the states. They even had an 18 hole golf course with an elaborate, classy clubhouse. I began talking to Marcus about finding big snakes, and he said road cruising around the golf course at night is where they are usually seen. I got excited, and before we knew it, plans were made for later that evening to go on a search.

Freeport was interesting. At times it felt a little too Utopian and a bit too cheesy, but it was definitely a nice place and everyone seemed to like it. They had tennis courts, parks, golf, nature walks, a fitness center, and a cafeteria. Marcus dropped us back to our room around 2pm , giving us time for lunch before going on a serpent night safari! Tonight, I planned on catching my first big python (In these parts, it would be a scrub python).

Around 7, Marcus picked us up and when we returned to Kuala Kentana it was already dark. It was drizzling….perfect for snakes. We drove around the course once, then we stopped at the club house. This evening they were featuring a Thai-buffet and we wanted to treat Marcus to the feast. He declined, so we bought him a beer instead. Michelle and I signed up for the food. The spread was insane…..and we were the only ones eating it! Everything from Roast Lamb to Spiced Duck. Seafoods I had never heard of with sauces I never knew existed. The desert tray alone had 6 different pie/cake/custards to select from. We were in Heaven! I felt like I was in Africa just in from Safari, back in the 1800’s. The staff was five stars, and the ambience was of Victorian Nobility. Michelle and I joked to each other in Old English accents with wealthy sounding, superficial chuckles. It was such a treat, considering the staff all had tuxes, while we were wearing bush attire. It reminded me somewhat of the life I’d perceive Steve Irwin or Jeff Corwin might have. Exclusive access to private land, being coached around simply to spot wildlife, then to eat at such an elegant establishment. This whole evening will definitely be a night to remember, snake or no snake!

After we ate, Marcus picked up his kids to help us search via automobile. They were young little guys, about 8 and 11, and loved the idea of adventure. We looked high and low, even out into the tiny neighborhoods which of course border right up to the rainforest. We never saw the giant we were hunting, but we did manage to find several little wallaby looking creatures. They hopped around like mini kangaroos but were only the size of, I’d say, a skinny housecat. Definitely marsupial!

Now into morning hours, Michelle was dozing in and out, and we all felt the same way. Marcus dropped us back at our hotel (what a nice guy), and we crashed. He asked us if we ever wanted to do it again, to just let him know….I hope he meant that, cause I planned to! The next morning the script was written for relaxation, save up strength, then go out for another night of searching. We ended up running errands, searching for Mp3 player songs, and getting to know Timika a little more in depth. I came to the conclusion that Indonesians perhaps aren’t the brightest in the bunch….but that’s from my standpoint, maybe it’s just a culture thing. For lunch we got to try traditional Sago from (finally we found) an ethnic Papuan restaurant. It was much different then I expected….like eating a watered down, half solidified, nasty tasting Jello, but we enjoyed the opportunity and did our best to finish it. Sago is a staple food source for the traditional Papuans created by smashing together the fibers of the Sago Palm.

Later that night I got a little too caught up in preparing ’The Box’. Because we had so many souvenirs with us, and because they were going to be traveling with us on plane, train, and automobile, I felt it suitable to make them a good box. Michelle thought I was nuts for the time I spent taping box after box together (and she’s right), but boy, what a work of art emerged! We decided to save the hunt for big snakes with Marcus for tomorrow.

Morning came and we went to buy some foam to package the box as well as make Cd’s with our camera chips. Time whipped around fast, and before we knew it we were meeting Marcus back at the hotel. We drove off heading for big snakes (fingers crossed).

He began telling us about how his friend saw a huge python last night, crossing the road and yes, this notion made me feel a bit pre-orgasmic. He also started mentioning how another staff member keeps seeing baby crocodiles in this one waterway. He asked if I wanted to check it out….come one…do you really have to ask? Off we went!

Around and around a dusty dirt road till….‘There’s a Croc!!!’, I shouted! Marcus slammed on the breaks and about 20 meters or so in the road was a beautiful looking 3-4 foot freshwater crocodile. Michelle and I hopped out of the car with cameras armed to sneak up and get some beautiful pictures. When we got within ten feet, I passed Michelle my camera and went in for the capture. Blinding it with the light, and tip-toeing as quietly as possible, I situated myself in leaping position and darted straight down. SUCCESS!!! Wow, my first crocodile encounter! We took lots of pictures and we even got Marcus to pet it despite his hesitation. It was a great way to start the evening, and even though I was thirsty for more, this single reptile could have quenched my thirst. We released it and continued.

Back at the golf course, this time we traded in the truck for our feet. We began to circumnavigate the greens, fairways, and fringes. On closer inspection of this huge tree in the middle of a fairway, we found several giant millipedes, but a brown snake (about 3 feet and skinny) as well. It was just chillin up amongst the roots/vines of the strangler fig. I climbed the tree and wanted to grab it by the tail, but before I did that, I wanted to make sure I could drop it onto the ground and not someone’s head. When I turned back, all I saw was Michelle’s flashlight and I didn’t know where Marcus and his friend who was accompanying us were positioned. I tried to convey what I meant…I wanted them to get out of the way, but the snake decided to take the advice before the onlookers. Oh well, if it was the python, it would have been a different story.

We continued on and found many cool spiders, geckos, and katydids, but never another snake. We decided to call it a night around 12, and Marcus once again drove us home. Even though the snake of my dreams is still on the lose, I’m happy it’s that way and now I definitely have something to look forward too. I can’t thank Marcus enough for providing us the access and transportation to such a neat area. A Crocodile…we can add that one to the list!!!!

A knock on the door woke us up. Oh man, it was the guy from the airline ticket office reminding us we have to be at the airport at 7!! We thought it was eight (another miscommunication), so we got up and rushed as fast as we could. Michelle for some reason ended up carrying the big box on her lap while she back seated a motorbike rider…I got pictures, it was crazy. At the airport we hurried to the line, only to wait (hurry up and wait) till about 10 for our departure. We ran into Marcus one more time, who works security for the airport as well, and gave him a present (cookies) to show our appreciation. Eventually we were up in the sky in a packed little Trigana twin propeller jet. First over rainforest, then up over the turbulent mountains. We landed about an hour later in Mulia. Mulia is another mountain city, similar to Wamena, where we had just enough time to snap a few photos. The tribe here is of the Lani, a similar group to the Danni of the east. About five minutes after we touched down, we hopped right back onto the now empty plane for the short skip to Wamena. It was as if we chartered our own flight….It was only Michelle and I, the pilots, and one other person.

When in Wamena, we instantly brought all our luggage back to our familiar hotel, Nayak. With several hours of daylight left, we decided to try and make it all the way to Kurima, a small village to the North. We rickshawed to the Bemo station, then hopped aboard for the hour long drive. The serene mountain setting was perfect for this group of Danni people and after walking down a trail for a little bit, we were invited into the house of a friendly local.

Michelle and I were ecstatic to enter inside. The house smelt of roasted wood (kind of pleasant), and the floor was soft straw. In fact, the whole thing seemed to be built of straw. It was extremely dark inside, but the flash would reveal a whole different appearance on camera. The two gentlemen that were showing us their house were decked out in tradition. They proceeded to dress me up as well, of which I was eager to comply. Michelle too got decorated in feathers and bone…it was a great experience, and something we only wished would occur!

After having fun with our new friends, we headed back to the central area of the little community and began walking back to Wamena along the maintained dirt road. We passed a beautiful rainbow and several nice pictures of people tending the earth as they have for thousands of years. Occasionally a couple of Danni’s would pass by us in the traditional garb….nothing. After an hour of walking, a Bemo finally came and we rode it all the way back to Nayak.

Searching for a place to eat, we passed tons of football (soccer) fans just coming out from the stands. The community seems so ancient, but the sport has definitely infiltrated the entire province. I think Wamena was playing the great Indonesian team of Makassar or something, and pulled through with a victory. Afterwards, a parade of fans came screaming by at all the pedestrians. There was excitement in the cool mountain air.

We found a place to eat and did just that. Same old, same old…Nasi Goreng. We returned to the hotel where we repacked all our souvenirs till exhaustion…then fell asleep with alarms set bright and early.

Beep…Beep, we woke and carried everything to the airport. The plane departed and we were on that piece. In Jayapura, we wanted to find a flight heading out that day, so while I guarded our valuable gear, Michelle went in hunt of our next destination. Coming back to share with me a variety of itinerary options, we both decided on Manado, Suluwesi for our next vacation…Ha, how many vacations can you take in one year?

We left Papua, still as enigmatic as when we first arrived. We didn’t exactly do what we originally intended, but in the process, I felt we saw a lot more of the land that Papua is today. For the first time in Indonesia…we were meeting people that looked and acted completely different, and most of them couldn’t help but to display a huge smile. For me, I loved Papua. It was both what I expected, and at the same time much different. Meeting certain indigenous people was easy, while meeting others required months of planning and a fat bankroll. Seeing first hand the destruction of the environment and cultural diversity was sadning, but the endless miles of river cruising through pristine jungle was uplifting. Catching a Crocodile was a dream come true, and the sunsets were the most beautiful I’d ever seen. Papua sure has a lot to offer, and I feel we couldn’t have capitalized on it any better. We made great friends of all different races, and left them with a wonderful impression of who we were. Papua, what a unbelievable place to retreat to. A land of mystery where on every glance you learn more about yourself…the simplicities of what it truly means to be human.

Life, Liberty, & ‘Just Us’ Trapped in Timor (Sept 30th – Oct 10th)

November 3rd, 2007

Back on the ground, unwary of gigantic carnivorous reptiles, we stayed one last night at Labanbajo. From there, we bused all through Flores. We stopped halfway to spend the night in a little mountain village of Bajawa. An overpowering volcano dominated the horizon, pretending to guard the community, but in reality posed a serious threat. The people were friendly, but the town had no real draw to keep us entertained. The next morning we were out in the road trying to find a bus to Maumere….sure enough, one came cruising down the street as expected.

Just another South East Asian bus ride…no air-con and plenty of flat tires (well…one really long one). Around 12 noon we stopped for lunch at a monastery cafeteria run by nuns. This whole region kind of reminded me of Mexico with it’s arid landscape, and this dusty catholic church fit the part to the T. After some Mexican food (not really….way more spicy) we re-boarded the same bus only to find we were now at the mercy of a different driver. As we began the second leg of the 10 hour journey, Michelle and I vocally noted our new driver’s aggressive and careless style. We were familiar with South East Asian public transportation (a little too familiar), yet this driver was just a little crazier zipping around steep blind mountain turns and bends. Nonetheless, neither of us were that concerned…….until it happened.

BANG…..It sounded like an aluminum can the size of a steel drum was compacted by a demolition ball dropped from outer space. A full second of silence elapsed after the bus screeched to an eager stop. Michelle and I were the first off the bus.

Michelle found one of the victims flung off the road into a steep forested cliff. She immediately climbed down the 20 feet to asses the victim. I ran to the front of the bus and saw the motorcycle pinned under the bumper with skid marks leading back to the site of impact. I was now experiencing my first severely messed up injury, for not only the bike, but a man was also dragged the good 30 feet before the bus came to a halt. This guy’s head was cracked wide open, with a puddle of candy apple red viscous liquid leaking out of the fractured cranium, and I mean fractured. I could see a chunk of skull angled perpendicular to the rest . (A scene that still remains vivid in my mind even as I write this article much time later.) He was not in good shape, and instantly everyone from the bus was around him. I hurried back to help Michelle assist her patient (this is all within seconds).

The man, neither of them wearing a helmet, was laying on his back against the ground in the exact same positions as which he was catapulted. Michelle, EMT certified, and me, Wilderness First Aid Trained (yeah baby) began to check for injuries. He was conscious and not paralyzed, since his appendages were slightly wiggling. When he attempted to lift his leg, blood poured out like a spilled glass of sangria onto Michelle. With his bone protruding from his leg, we both knew making a splint would be our next move. Some by-standers started to watch, but unable to direct them to give assistance (language barrier), the just stood dumbfounded from the road above. I remember glancing at the driver, seeing him pace back and forth with his hands on his head (which of course doesn’t help anyone). I got my shirt and ripped it down the middle, then broke two firm sticks to act as a brace. While Michelle had the difficult part of holding his blood drenched leg, we dressed the wound in a way only Dr. Frankenstein would appreciate. Demanding 2 men watching to aid us in carrying the individual up to the road, we loaded him into a seat near his lifeless-looking buddy (already packed away inside a stopped SUV now turned ambulance). The vehicle took off at the same time I was in the process of jumping out the rear.

Our crashed transport was going to stay at the scene, so we hopped on one of a number of buses curiously stopped. Squished between locals, we continued to Maumere with nothing in my thoughts except the continual replaying of the dramatic and tragic events that just took place. Less than an hour later we arrived to the city where we exited the bus paying just 3,000 Rupiah (about 30 cents), the cost for the short jaunt from the incident. We ended up not being charged for the majority of the voyage, but at the expense of a life (most likely). Although it was a learning experience for both Michelle and I, we would have paid pocket’s full to skip the event that may have killed a son, brother, or father.

In Maumere we used the Internet and walked to a guest house. The whole incident gave me purpose to reflect the value of life. Just minutes earlier, I could imagine these two young guys laughing and joking with each other while on their way to their girlfriend’s house (who knows). For one of them, I’m pretty confident he already arrived to a more permanent destination. It’s sad how quick a life can turn upside down, and how for granted we take our loved ones being near or just a phone call away. Proud of ourselves for our reactions, but churning within from what our eyes just witnessed, we did our best to fall asleep knowing that the lives of the people we love most could be instantly stolen without ever giving them one last hug goodbye. (I Love You Mom, Dad, and Shane! (Oh, and Michelle Loves her family too)).

With a desire for Timor, we woke up and walked to a Merpati office (a local airline). We bought tickets for a 3pm flight to Kupang. After breakfast/lunch and a little more Internet time, we were flying across the sea of Flores. We landed at 4pm and taxied to the bus station. Just as hoped, a bus was heading to Atambua at 7, a border town squished against the new country of East Timor. Waiting at the bus station for a couple of hours gave time for a very common Asian phenomenon to occur….starring! Locals would come up to us, young and old alike, and without saying a thing just stand there looking. It still feels weird even though it’s been going on for a while now, and a part of me is anxious to be back in the states where my skin doesn’t draw much attention (There, my good looks are the problem, Ha) After meeting a few individuals within the crowd of 20 people we attracted (one with the name Arnold Schwarzenegger no less) we climbed aboard the bus heading north. The sun went down, and Michelle and I both fell asleep.

At 2am we were dropped off at a hostel. It was definitely infested and so disgusting that Michelle used her raincoat to cover the pillow. Regardless, we were too tried to be seriously concerned.

Morning came bright and early (as normal) and we caught some motorbike taxis to take us to the border. Being 7:30am, upon arrival we were only greeted by money changers….apparently the immigration officers don’t get there till 10. Oh, and because East Timor uses U.S. Dollars, it was kind of odd being hustled our own currency. While waiting, we went for a stroll taking pictures of the beach side village and meeting it’s inhabitants. The highlight was this nasty old lady that kept following us trying to get Michelle to kiss her shoulder in order to receive a blessing! Something that still cracks me up to think about. After a 35$ entry visa, we were in East Timor heading to Dili, the capital city.

Again, it felt as though we no longer were in South East Asia. Indonesia is so diverse, many regions are yet too be heavily influenced by stereotypical Asian lifestyles. Indigenous bamboo walls and palm thatched roofs dotted the dusty road sides and blended well into the parched landscape. Rice paddies and Muslim mosques were replaced by goats and sheep. At times it felt very middle eastern. The people were much darker, but just as curious. For some reason however (I think it was the smell…just kidding), they were a little intimidated by Michelle. Literally, no one would sit next to her. I definitely utilized the opportunity to poke a little fun….but it was uncanny how many times someone would get up to move away, while being near me was OK. We never understood it!

Ethnic villages gave way to Dili, basically a concrete slum, something out of ‘Black Hawk Down’. In one word….War Zone (ok, I thought it was one word before I wrote it). The heart of the city had a number of refugee camps compiled of tarps and tents surrounded by chain link and barbed wire. The UN was in full force. One out of every 2 vehicles seemed to be an off road equipped white land rover sporting big UN stickers on the sides. The construction looked more like barricades then homes and the unpainted gray color of the cylinder blocks randomly sported graffiti-written propaganda and hate words. Several vehicles were completely body armored. It was common to see thick metal screens welded over the glass of a car, but even more typical were automobiles with cracked windshields from a thrown rock. In fact, Michelle pointed out that the entire time while we were there, we never once rode in a taxi that didn’t have cracked glass. A couple UN helicopters would occasionally roar above, and the Australians had army plaid personnel armed and roaming the streets. Why were we here again?….Oh ya, we now only have Brunei left to check off in order to have visited all 11 South East Asian countries!!

We walked to a guest house, but it was full (of UN workers). Another option had a room available, but it was 20 dollars. Things here were much more expensive, not only because of the U.S. Dollar but because of all the UN employees that can afford to spend more than the locals on food and accommodation. Our only other alternative was camping in what seemed like a hostile country…..we booked the room!

That afternoon we walked down to a dive shop and learned it cost 25 dollars to rent full dive gear. We reserved two sets for the next morning and on our way back to the hotel we stopped at a 4$ western buffet! What a feast….forget the rice and noodles, I was now gorging on steamed veggies, beef stew, and mashed potatoes….food I thought no longer existed. On full western stomachs….we did the American thing and returned to our room to watch some TV. Hey, there’s a war outside, what else are we gonna do?

Ahh, nothing but diving on the itinerary for today! We woke up and bargained with a taxi driver on an all day price. We settled at 20 bucks (10$ a piece) and stopped by the dive shop to pick up the equipment. Our destination was known as ‘K 41’, the forty first kilometer mark outside of Dili. We drove there, parked the car, set up the gear, then walked out into the turquoise sea. Coming to East Timor, we really didn’t expect much of anything. We were gladly impressed. The diving was World class! Just off the shore, deep drop offs produced an abundance of untouched life. Tropical fish, corals, anemonies, but what turned out to be our favorite…..the Nudibranchs!!! Over 10 different species of the ultra-colorful slugs danced over the rocks into my camera’s memory chip! Photogenic lion fish and thousands of bright Anthias added crème to the pudding (I happen to like crème in my pudding). We did 2 dives in the same spot, then rushed to Dili to return the gear by 6pm. We ended up a little late, but the nice people at ‘free flow’ didn’t mind a bit. Instead, they were eager to see our underwater pictures since they were nudibranch junkies themselves. They even so much as gave us a lift back to our hotel! What nice blokes (for being English).

Early the next morning, we headed to the Indonesian Embassy to see if we could get a visa on arrival back at the land border crossing from which we came. The answer to this question determined our activities for the next few days. Either we are free to leave at any time, or we remain stuck until clearance from the Embassy. The outcome…….incarceration! Not only were we required to get the visas here in East Timor (Timor Leste, as it’s called in Portuguese…their official language), but it was going to take 5 days to receive!!! Oh well….Nudibranchs beware!

Michelle, who left me to see about flying form Dili to Kupang (hence getting the visa at the Kupang Airport on arrival), stormed back to the embassy where I was waiting. She was out of breath and persistently saying “we got to get out of this country!” in a very frantic and eager tone. Apparently, while she was alone, 2 disturbing events took place. Firstly, she was talking to a UN investigator who mentioned two Dutch women were stabbed the day before in a mugging incident on the beach about a mile away. That didn’t scare her too bad, but put her on high alert. The trauma came from the next event. While taxiing back to reunite with me, she said the driver kept touching himself in a sexual way. He pulled down a side street, locked the car doors, then took out his junk right there and then. Michelle pulled open the lock and ran outside, back to the main street. The car apparently followed her, so she grabbed a UN security guard from a parking lot and made him escort her all the way to the embassy. Michelle is a pretty tough chick, and seeing her rattled kind of caught me off guard. Eventually though, she calmed down, despite the news of being trapped here for five more days! For the rest of the day she carried a knife….watch out Timor Leste! Ha!

We decided to get out of Dili and see a little more of the typical laid back Timor Leste life. We took a Mikrolet (mini-bus) to the town of Liquica, a tiny fishing village about an hour away. We were dropped off at what they told us was a hotel…..but instead turned out to be the spare room of a local family (more fun in our minds). We met a little kid, the son (Leap), and he helped us out for the next few days with anything we needed! We eventually made up a cool hand shake that impressed all of his friends…it incorporated a nifty flip that had the crowd go wild!

That evening we went for a walk down by the beach. We were scouting out places to snorkel for tomorrow. The sky was already too dark to make a valid assessment, but we were fortunate to catch a beautiful sunset. We ventured back up to the hotel after stopping at a delicious restaurant along the way (the grilled garlic-herb fish fillet was great, in case your in the neighborhood). Liquica had no tourist draw, only a simple, laid back lifestyle which is exactly what these tourists (us) wanted. At this point, anything was better than Dili.

Our room was tiny with bunk beds on the side, and a mattress on the ground. It was basement like, with concrete walls and no windows, but a tiny fan kept the air circulating…..until we were right about to go to sleep! All the power blacked out, and it got stifling hot! Liquica apparently gets the overflow of electricity form Dili. Randomly for hours throughout each day, the power cuts off. The people have grown to except it, and don’t refrigerate or freeze any food. Instead of being upset when the electricity shuts down, they are fortunate and happy for the time it’s on. It was interesting to see them living around intermittent sparks of power, but for me, I wasn’t interested in a social studies lesson. Even though I went to the bathroom and bucketed cool well water all over me (no showers), I struggled to sleep, sweaty as could be…yuck!

With light sneaking through the crack under the doorway I awoke in the room all alone. Michelle apparently snuck out before I opened my eyes. As I laid in the room waking up, she returned with a bag of groceries. Apparently, she walked to a market down the road a bit. With her, she brought back eggs, beans, tomatoes, and onions. She was so excited to cook breakfast! I got out of bed, and we walked to our new family’s kitchen. They allowed us to use their huge ‘wok’, and we cut up the veggies nice and tiny. Then we mixed in all the ingredients to make a scrambled egg type thing….didn’t really know what we were doing. We had some chips though, so we ate our breakfast like a salsa! It was delicious and a lot of fun to prepare! Even our family had some, surprisingly, since they saw how uncoordinated we were with the 3 foot size pan!

After breakfast, we scurried down to the sand and searched for a reef. We didn’t find anything that looked enticing, so we changed our plans around a bit. We returned back to the main road to catch a mikrolet. We hoped aboard the first one that came by and headed along the coastal road with our eyes peeled towards the sea. About ten minutes later, around a steep bend we saw a beautiful reef. We stopped the truck, paid a couple Rupiah, and headed down to the ocean with masks and snorkels in hand. What a life, when your biggest concern is finding a good place for a relaxing dip! We jumped in the cool water and explored below.

The current was a little rough, making the visibility not the greatest. In stead of wasting time here, we decided to change locations to a nicer place somewhere else. We walked back to the road, and immediately caught another ride. It almost seemed like our own personal pick up service….except everyone was afraid of Michelle! Ha, poor girl! A few minutes later we were out and about exploring a new section of water. Past the sand and spotty patches of grass, we finally made it to reef. Starfish and sea cucumbers were everywhere. More tube worms as well, and some neat dotted cowries. My favorite was catching a tiny little electric blue lobster I found by flipping over a rock on the sea floor. It’s carapace was only an inch long! He was a fiesty little guy!

After the swim, we returned to the shore leaving our masks, towel, sunscreen, and my extra camera batteries on a rock while retreating 50 meters away to a patch of tree-shaded sand where we enjoyed lunch…a picnic! We had with us lots of veggies from the market! Freshly grown lettuce, tomatoes, carrots and string beans…all normal things that tasted much better while eating it on a deserted beach after hours of snorkeling! After munching, I went back to get our things, and noticed that the sunscreen, towel, and my mask and snorkel went missing!!! We had been robbed!!! Oddly, they left my camera batteries and Michelle’s mask and snorkel (I don’t understand…..WHY ME???). I mean, these people don’t even use sunscreen and they hate Michelle!! It was a job well done to say the least, cause our stuff was never out of sight; but in the excitement of such a beautiful picnic, our enjoyment must have distracted us. Oh well…they didn’t steel anything that valuable. Fortunately, Michelle convinced me to bring my camera (for I felt no threat to thieves, I mean our stuff was in site), Thank you Michelle, these guys are sneaky bastards! We questioned some kids playing in a nearby tree that were watching me suspiciously while I searched for our lost objects. When we offered them five bucks to give us our stuff, I could see them contemplating it in their minds. We didn’t have any more money to offer them, and being around 10 years old, I didn’t feel like making this an international situation by beating one to death, haha! They didn’t understand English and we really weren’t that upset, so we caught a bus back to Liquica unable to do more snorkeling. Ain’t no thang!

We had dinner at the tiny ‘restaurant’ attached to our ‘hotel’ which turned out to be much better than expected. Realizing that our family had a TV hooked up in the room right next to ours, with a DVD player and all, Michelle and I got excited! We had bought cheap knock off DVD’s back in Jakarta in case we were stuck on long bus rides or hotels with a DVD player in the lobby. Anyway, here we were…perfect. With Leap along side us, we watched the movie ‘De Jevu’, which came in great and captivated me in plot. What a simple day it was. No stress, no war, no plans….a beach holiday where no one beach holidays….Timor Leste! While laying in bed, the electricity stayed on till I fell asleep. I was able to happily drift away to an artificial breeze with a content mind and soul!

The next morning we decided to return to Dili. Saying good-bye to our host family, we bused back to chaos. We reserved the same room for three nights, with a plan of diving tomorrow (Monday), picking up the visas Tuesday, and leaving the country on Wednesday! We ran some errands, which included buying some fresh fruits and veggies at the market. We bought a lot of avocados, allowing us to make a delicious salsa and guacamole! We returned to the hotel, cut up all the ingredients, and prepared the most delicious and simple meal ever. Yum!

Anxious and ready for another day of diving, we hopped out of bed and taxied over to ‘Free Flow’. Today, we decided to hit up another dive site, creatively named ‘K 57’. The founders were either really logical or people lacking originality. Regardless, we taxied out there, and in about an hour and a half we were in the water all alone. Similar to ‘K 41’, it was another wall dive. The reef ledge just dropped down about 15 meters allowing for a myriad of inhabitants to call the cliff home! Once again, no surprise, the ‘nudies’ (as they are referred to by us people in the know, ha) made me happy! A sea turtle, more lion fish, and a bazillion clown fish made the experience even better. Not only does diving like this save us money (no guide or boat requiring extra fees), but I personally enjoy being on our own much more regardless. Spending as much time as we want taking pictures of a slug, or exploring in any which direction we choose makes it truly an adventure. Three tanks and over 300 photos (no, really) later, pruney as could be we headed back to Dili. Even though we were late once again to drop off our gear, they had no problem and were anxious to see more of our photos! What a blast it was!

That night we made some CD’s with our filled camera chips, then used the Internet which was on the other side of town. Before we knew it, it was midnight and the cafe was closing down. In any other capital city of a South East Asian country…finding a taxi at this hour would not have been a problem, but here it was an impossibility. This left us only one alternative…walk it! This proved to be a little more daunting then expected, and something I don’t feel like doing again. We left the safety of the Internet cafe, and entered a dark city of screams and barking dogs. While passing a refugee camp, these three guys started to follow us. Being with Michelle opens a whole new can of worms. When I’m alone, I don’t feel too much of a target, but with some fine ‘white bread’, things are much different. Plus, I can’t just out-run someone, I have more than myself to worry about. The situation didn’t look good, and it got to the point where Michelle shrieked ‘They’re gaining on us’, despite our brisk pace. We turned the corner at a near sprint, and fortunately, they never followed. It was an adrenalin pumper, that’s for sure…and this was definitely the wrong place to be at the wrong time. We passed a couple more slummy refugee camps with bum-like people laying around them, but no more close calls so to say. We made it back to the hotel and locked the door tight! Lucky to be alive, we washed up and went to bed.

The next day after breakfast we headed out to the embassy to pick up our visas! Perfect…we got them just as expected! We spent the rest of the day walking around the city taking pictures and scheduling our departure. We stopped back at ‘Free Flow’ and let them upload some of the photos to their collection of dive site pictures! We also reserved seats on a bus to take us all the way back to Kupong….where we could leave the island of Timor once and for all. After a farewell dinner at our delicious buffet, we fell asleep and rose early to catch the next morning’s bus. Off we were, past the check point and into West Timor, Indonesia without a scratch. The bus ride was a little unnerving, after witnessing the dramatic events only occurring a week earlier. I am now very skeptical of this insane driving style. Before I thought it worked for these people, having grown up adapted to the aggressive nature behind the wheel, but now I was bracing myself for impact around every turn. It was a bit stressful now knowing how easy it is to get in a wreck; it’s a little unnerving.

I had no expectations of East Timor. I knew it was the World’s newest country having received independence from Indonesia in 1999, but I had no idea it was worse off being liberated. Apparently the refugees aren’t from another land, but of their own. Either their homes were destroyed, or where they formerly resided, they are no longer welcomed (being killed by their neighbors if they were to return). The vote that enacted their independence was unanimously for freedom, but now with corrupt elected officials there are several radical civilians that are upset with their government and the way it was instituted. The UN is doing everything it can to get the country up on its feet and running, but they have a lot of work to do. If they are successful, I can foresee Timor Leste having a lot to offer. They have quaint little sea side villages with beautiful people and endless coastlines, however the true paradise lies below the ocean’s surface; destined to one day become a diving Mecca if things get stabilized (for the second time). For us, not knowing what to do, or how long we’d be doing it for, left all ideas wide open. I can’t think of a better itinerary than what took place. Despite the danger and unhappiness of Dili, I had a blast. Dodging perverted men and angry locals would have been torture for some, but for us, the pluses outweighed the negatives. I want to patent and wear the shirt proudly…..’I Survived East Timor’!!

Two Days/One Knight…Dragon Hunting (Sept 25th – 29th)

October 13th, 2007

Enough with tourists, we jumped on the ferry from Bali to Lombak. After dark we arrived and loaded into a van taking us to Mataram….the island’s largest city. There we rented a cheap room and found a bite to eat (the local dish…a spicy chicken something or other).

The next morning we decided to rent motorbikes and get in a quick snorkel before catching a bus later that afternoon. We enjoyed some complimentary noodles for breakfast, then headed to the bus station to buy tickets. Try and figure this one out! While stopped at a red light, we were flagged down by a cop. Obeying the ‘law’, we pulled over only to be told in broken English we were in violation. The officer was trying to tell us that in Indonesia you are not supposed to stop at a red light if you are on motorbike. As unheard as that sounds, Michelle and I both knew what was happening. The cop asked for our licenses, but mine being stuck in Thailand held by their law enforcement officials didn’t help out very much. We were escorted up the stairs of a tiny run down police building where we began our argument. It was futile to try and defend our reasons for stopping (red for crying out load), so we switched our tactics from pleading innocent to negotiating. They came at us with 150,000 Rupiah (15$), but we got them down to 100,000 (10$). The entire ordeal was a waste of money and a huge scam, but to prevent hassling again by the local cops, we got them to sign a piece of paper saying we already were pulled over and fined. We left and finally made it to the bus station wasting precious time.

We found a bus departing at three, and it now being 10am left us a few hours to spot some fish. As we hurried to the coast, once again, a cop motorbiked in front of us and flagged us down. You know it’s corrupt when the pigs fly at you from all angles for doing nothing out of the ordinary. Before even giving the chance to hear our charge, we handed over our signed slip, and reluctantly the cop let us on our way. What a system!

Michelle and I decided to split ways for the afternoon. She didn’t want to rush; rather she fancied taking pictures of local people and villages along the way, whereas I wanted to get out of the baking heat and into the waves. No hard feelings as we parted ways, the plan was to meet back at the hotel at 2.

Soon after I was solo, I made it to the ocean along a high coastal mountain road. It was so unique, how the sea appeared alive and vibrant, while the land was dry and arid. Lombok is way different from Bali (which is tropical) and is known as a dry island. It will actually be the first of many in the stretch of islands we soon plan to visit. I saw from above a neat area that looked like great snorkeling, so I parked the bike on the side of the road, climbed down a rocky terrace, and leapt into an aquatic paradise.

The corals weren’t that spectacular, but I saw a lot of neat things. Giant tubeworms were everywhere; some came in beautiful neon orange but most were green or brown. In addition, many different species of starfish dotted the sand. Some of them were huge, the size of a cookie sheet, while others were small (millimeters) with flashy colors. My favorite of course, were the brittle stars….with each leg moving independently like the tentacles of an octopus. Time went by faster than expected, and before I realized, I was rushing as fast as possible to get back to the guest house.

Reuniting with Michelle, from the hotel we mini-bused it quickly to the station. There, we hopped aboard and strapped down for another long voyage. By morning (an overnight trip), we planned to be all the way on the other side of Sumbawa (another dry island)…the next island from Lombok. One highlight from that bus ride was when Michelle decided to use the onboard bathroom (a luxury in these parts). If you don’t know what a squatter is, you’ve never been to Asia. The toilets here are much different then the western ones of which you are probably accustomed. To make a long story short, while Michelle was squatting in her crammed little cubicle of a restroom, the bus slammed on its brakes to avoid plowing into a hefty cow. Another giant bus barely avoided rear ending us (thank goodness) as it veered into the other lane. I heard Michelle slap against one of the walls in the bathroom and it made for a funny story when she emerged from doing her business.

From Sape (the port at the end of Sumbawa) we took the 7 hour ferry to Labanbajo, the first city on another dry island, Flores. Passing mountainous bone-dry islands, we arrived at around 5pm. We got a cheap hotel room for 50,000 Rupiah (five bucks) right on the water, and had some unbelievably delicious garlic chicken at the restaurant upstairs. I thought Flores was going to be more developed, but it was a welcoming misconception. We talked to Marcel, who lives at our guesthouse about visiting komodo, and being the cheapest we found for what we wanted to do, we booked our boat and captain for tomorrow at 6am sharp…..We’re doing it!

Bright and early, anxious to go, we packed up then dropped off our bags in Marcel’s room. Armed with only food, water, cameras, and swim suits, we headed to the port excited to see our boat and meet our captain. To our surprise, the boat was enormous, and we had more than just one captain. In total, it apparently took four people to man the vessel. We met our new friends, then pushed off towards an awaited adventure once only dreamt about.

The boat was huge, at least 30 feet, with a mast stationed at the bow. Its wood hull was painted white, and a picnic table was placed on a covered deck for us to sit on out of the sun…relaxed, comfortable, and worry free as we venture into the unknown. The staff was considerate and hospitable, but none spoke English which made conversation a little difficult. The scenery couldn’t have been scripted for dragons any better. If massive reptiles were to roam, this would be their territory. The sea was a bright, royal blue with the gigantic arid mountains reflecting the rising sun off their red soil. Middle Eastern looking palm trees sprinkled over the otherwise empty, rocky landscape. The first stop was Rinca (3 hours away from Flores), a lesser known of the two islands making up Komodo National Park. Here it is apparently easier to spot the mighty reptiles, and leaving the safety of the boat we now walked upon land no longer the dominant species.

This became reality faster than expected. Right off the dock, a large Komodo dragon was sumberged amongst mangroves. While we were taking pictures, I turned behind me and saw what a ‘BIG’ Komodo Dragon is supposed to look like…..and it was coming right at us!!! This guy was a monster, literally! I have seen many of these lizards on TV or in zoos, but nothing could prepare me for the feeling I got when the king of all living reptiles began galloping towards us at an unnerving speed. I got our captain’s attention and alerted everyone of the situation, and we quickly jumped up on a slightly raised platform out of harms way. What an introduction!! This dude must have been around 10 feet, easy….with his tongue flickering the air in our direction in hopes of a meal (us!!). As quickly as he came, he lost interest and continued onwards, Wow….Welcome to Komodo National Park!!!

While walking just a short ways to the headquarters, we were escorted by a ranger. Unable to venture into the bush alone, we were constantly in a group of three. At the headquarters, we met our (mandatory) guide, Johnny. For a guide he wasn’t that bad, but still someone Michelle and I could do without. We began our trek into the island’s interior.

The unique landscape reminded me of an African savannah carpeted over the Appalachian Mountains. We passed a troop of Macaque monkeys, then a wild buffalo wallowing in a dried up river bed. We even spooked a pig out from a thicket of dead grass and spiny bushes. What do we, humans, have in common with these three species?……..Here, we are all on the menu!!!

An hour and a half of circuitously tracing a dried riverbed, we were finally led to a spot where a little water still remained. Just as expected, here was where the kings were cooling down from the hot sun. We inadvertantly startled them from their bath, and in all directions the massive beasts scattered. One of them we followed up a hill, keeping one eye on the animal and one behind the shutter of the camera. Capturing an unbelievable experience by photo, we truly walked amongst dragons in their kingdom. Eventually we parted ways with our 11 foot scaly friend, and headed in the direction of headquarters along a different route. We passed two buffalo carcasses that had recently been fed upon, leaving only the rib bones, skull, and horns as evidence of mighty predators. Everything else, from leg bones to stomach entrails, was devoured and digested. Being cannibalistic, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to search for a komodo claw amongst the white, dried feces of another Dragon. Sadly, I came up empty handed.

Further down, a beautiful palm tree invited me to climb up its trunk, and high above I could see the varying colors of blue making up the surrounding ocean. It gave me a moment to reflect what an incredible treat it was to see Komodo Dragons in their domain. I felt like an explorer in this land, discovering dinosaurs for the first time, experiencing a lost world written up in a fictional story to scare little children. To add frosting to the cake, as if 12 dragons in total weren’t enough, in a head-high orchid inches from the trail coiled a spectacular Green-Tree Viper. In most environments, this for me would be the prized find, but in this exotic land of fantasy, this stunning green snake was merely a bonus to the beginning of a spectacular day.

We traded our guide back for our captain and sailed off into the horizon. Three hours later, we tied up to a buoy and I leaped into the water. I immediately thought I died. Not because of the beauty of the underwater world, but because the ocean was freezing cold! I was not expecting the sea near the equator, surrounded by desert, to be this frigid. As my heart began to stop and the circulation slowed down, my body adapted as much as humanly possible. I warned Michelle about the drastic temperature change, but she just waved it off as me being a baby. After an hour of snorkeling however, we both needed to retreat from the sea and warm up on the deserted sun-blasted sand of our private beach. Michelle went for a short jog to rejuvenate heat into her extremities, while I used the time to ascend a cliff and scout out our reef! It was a beautiful sight!

The sea was a rainbow of colors. Fish, coral, and even the rocks came in all sorts of designs, shapes, and patterns. New discoveries appeared in every direction. My personal favorite were the nudibranchs (sea slugs)! We found two; one was sky blue, with darker blue and yellow blotches randomly speckling its back, while the other was long, about five inches and electric orange spotted with yellow circles!! I got good pictures of both, don’t you worry!

After diving back into the ocean, spotting endless patches of xenia and hard coral as well as a giant school of coral catfish and a blue spotted sting ray (!!), we exited the chilling splendor back to the warmness of our boat. A short ride from there anchored us meters away from the town of Komodo! The sun was setting, and the illuminated village appeared primitive at best, lost in time along with the rest of the island. Two naked kids paddled in a dug out canoe to our boat to try and sell us some carved dragons made by their father. Michelle ended up purchasing one of the souvenirs in order to evoke timeless smiles on their faces.

Soon another, a slightly larger boat came to us. Aboard was Efan, a local Komodian and he was offering us a ride to his village. We eagerly accepted and soon found ourselves standing on Komodo! The village was as basic as they come. The only building material was wood, and everyone was out and about, especially the children walking up and down the only street (unpaved and unlit of course), paralleling the adjacent sea. We saw all of the town and met all of it’s 100 people in about fifteen minutes, then tip toed into Efan’s house. We were introduced to his wife and his brother, a hunter of local pearls, and they presented to us some in hopes to make a deal. I was obviously uninterested, but thought it was interesting to see all the different colors they come in. Everything from common pinkish…to some containing tints of yellow, green, and even blue. They had several black ones as well, which were my favorite. Michelle contemplated buying one of the little treasures, but decided to save it for when we return to the village the following day. We said goodbye to our new friends, and Efan drove us back to our boat. There, after dinner, the crew laid out some mattresses for us, and we fell asleep off the shore of Komodo rocking to the waves of the ocean beneath.

Once again, we awoke to another day of dragon hunting. The sea was smooth and the village in the rising sunlight glowed as orange as the mountain backdrop. We pulled up anchor and set off around the bend to enter the park. By wobbly dug out canoe, we were paddled to the dock where we walked to park headquarters. We signed in, then assigned a guide. With foliage more dense then Rinca, we began trekking inland. A top a hill, we saw a beautiful view of komodo as her mountainous coastline trailed off into the haze of evaporating sea water. With landscape just as exotic and science-fiction as Rinca, we spooked pigs and stumbled upon buffalo, but this time also bumping into a heard of Komodo deer (another staple food for the dragons). Now, with pictures of every dragon food source, all we were left with was finding one of the reptiles on their island’s namesake. Then in happened………No, not a Komodo dragon, but a different dragon!! A dragon that flies through the trees!!! Don’t believe me, wait till I show you the pictures. I halted Michelle and the guide, cause camouflaged to the trunk of a tree was a flying dragon. I snuck around to the other side, and with Michelle verbally positioning my hand, I swung around and captured the little reptile! YEAH! I couldn’t contain my excitement as I gently stretched out its extra folds of skin along its rib cage. Unbelievable! A reptile that has adapted to soar through the sky. When threatened, this tiny guy (about ten inches long, including tail) leaps into the air, fanning out two symmetrical scaled membranes, and literally drifts to safety. Here it was, in my hands!! We took a million pictures, then let the lizard glide back to his tree, only to disappear to the canopy. Komodo, what a magical place!!!!!!

Continuing onwards, under cockatoo infested trees, we returned to headquarters without spotting one of the giant dragons. Our luck changed however, as one of the monsters strolled right up to a neighboring building!! What a beast it was too, reaching about 12 feet in length. A Komodo Dragon on Komodo…can it get any better?? Content, we returned to the boat to venture back to the village. I wanted something to remember the occasion by and Michelle wanted to buy her pearl. Off we went.

Canoe-escorted by a local, we were now back in the ancient village. We returned to Efan’s house, and Michelle purchased her pearl. I strolled down the dusty street and found some villagers repairing a wooden boat with what looked to me like tools excavated from Neanderthals. I expressed interest in a ‘hammer’ (wait till you see this thing), and showed them money to see if they would trade me. With smiles and laughter, we made the transaction, and I became the proud owner of a block of wood on a stick! I was probably more excited about it then I should have been!

Back aboard our house boat (essentially), we headed towards Flores. We stopped for one last snorkeling session in the crisp blue sea, amazed by the colors of soft coral and a giant school of spadefish that stretched for meters. The photos of our two day venture I’m sure will be money, but the memories, even more precious. I had the time of my life, and I’m sure Michelle felt the same way. We made friends with man and beast alike, and have treasures to remind us of the moments forever. Wow, Komodo….a place that lived up to everything I imagined and more. Where dragons, snakes, and flying lizards survive amongst villages all trapped on an island forgotten by time. Can this holiday of ours get any better? For one, I have no idea, but I’m sure going to put myself out there and give this world its fair shot!!! I love this place!!!!

Drinking with a ‘Fun Gi’ in Bali!! (Sept 22nd – 25th)

October 13th, 2007

The short sunset flight left me no time to ponder what the island of Bali had in store. We exited the aircraft and decided on Kuta, the touristy area near the airport as the location to tell the taxi driver. Twenty minutes later, after passing strip malls and souvenir shops, we were dropped off at the beginning of a crowded street to search for a guest house. Not before long, we checked into a comfy fanned room to unwind (60,000 Rupiah = 6$).

So far Bali was just as imagined; touristy but still culturally unique. A night stroll down Legion street led us passed traditional style dancing preformed by beautiful Balinese women and introduced us to the many art forms that Bali takes pride in producing. As we continued down the street, packed with locals and foreigners alike, we were hustled from all angles with options to buy anything from opium and cocaine to shrooms and weed. Shrooms, the only ‘drug’ for sale not yet legislated against (so technically legal) intrigued me. Unphased by its effects in Ko Phan Ngan, we decided to give it another chance!

We meandered the maze to a little secluded restaurant off the main drag and ordered a delicious dinner saving the special cocktail for desert. The restaurant had a large TV with DVD player, so we ‘Dinner and a Movie’d’ it with the film ’28 Weeks Later’ (not the best choice as you can imagine). The food was delicious, but I was greatly anticipating the next phase. With the blender stirring and the rage virus spreading, our mouths began to salivate more than the infected. We soon sipped away unknowing our destination!

Not before long I felt sick to my stomach. Although I initially was psyched about the movie, I now wanted nothing more than to return to the security of the room. I was feeling a little nauseous and dizzy. Michelle on the other hand was a ball of laughs. She was giggly as could be all the way back to the hotel, but boy, it’s funny how fast things changed.

Safe within four walls, I lied on the bed admiring how smoothly the ceiling would creep down a couple feet, only to rise back up again. Slowly, it began to undulate like the waves of an ocean current. The light that crept in through the cracks in the blinds radiated in all colors of the spectrum. I began noticing everything around me as if it was glowing under black light illumination. I was fascinated by the effects of the trip, but for Michelle, things were different. She became so frightened; it got to the point where she had to leave the room. Even worse, was that she was afraid of me! Apparently to her, I had turned into one of the zombie-like characters from the movie….despite all I wanted was nothing more than to just relax and experience the psychedelic effects. After spending an enormous amount of time trying to coax her back inside, she finally complied and began to drift away into a calmer voyage. There was one period when I did get a little freaked out. When I looked over to check on Michelle, she had transformed into a horrific giant hairy jungle rat woman (I could never describe such a dreadful beast), but overall, it was an interesting experience that I enjoyed partaking. You only live once right….why not go around the block!

The next day we decided to rent motorbikes and explore the beautiful island. After the complimentary breakfast (toast), we hopped on some scooters and headed out to Ubud. We were in search for rice terraces to capture some beautiful landscape photos! Much more enormous than expected, the island is huge! It took about 2 hours (including the drive through Denpasar, Bali’s largest city) to make it just to the middle. The distance was well worth it! We went on some back roads that took us past Hindu temples and smiling faces. People seemed pleasantly surprised to see such strange colored people. We took a couple small on foot detours to explore a few skinny paths leading out to where we uncovered stunning hillsides altered into terraces. After lunch over looking one some these escarpments, we hurried home before dark!

Back in Kuta, we returned to the restaurant we ate at the night before in order to re-watch the movie we didn’t complete. With no shrooms to alter our judgment, we ate a meal and finished the film. As a sequel, it wasn’t anywhere as good as ’28 DAYS Later’, but since I was expecting to be a little disappointed, it wasn’t that bad. The scrumptious food made up for it! After visiting a funky tattoo place…(WHAT?!?!), we returned to our hotel and dozed off.

The next day we spent the afternoon by the beach. It was a little too crowded for me, but something I wanted to see while in Bali. The shore was confettied with sun-bathed bodies, while the ocean was schooling with surfboards. The waves were relatively small for the break, running about four feet (big compared to St. Augustine), but clean as can be. It looked like a lot of beginners were out learning the routine, but a couple peeps caught some decent rides. Still, if I was traveling Indonesia to surf, Bali wouldn’t be my desired destination….the beach and waves were just too over-crowded.

Dinner again was delicious. Michelle got Gado-Gado, which is a vegetable dish with a nice peanut sauce on top…which turned into her favorite thing to order. I ended up getting some yummy chicken strips smothered in a Balinese herb seasoning (don’t know what that means specifically), and our meals satiated our ethnic indulgences. Just a simple day in a relaxed atmosphere, who would want anything more….Well, maybe Michelle and I!!

The next morning we decided to check out of the hotel and continue eastward. We paid a bus/taxi to take us across island to the port on the other side. Bali was everything you’d expect…touristy, yet still manages to remain tranquil with an exotic flare. Tropical sweet smelling flowers, crystal clear blue water, and the friendliest of all South East Asian people make Bali the holiday destination it deserves to be. Its atmosphere reminded me more of a Pacific Islander type lifestyle than an Indonesian way of living (I miss Palau). With all these accolades, I was still as anxious to leave as I was to arrive. Going east of Bali meant sailing into less chartered waters. It is in this direction my heart yearns; the unknown is calling me like a famished infant longs for the sap of a succulent nipple (WHAT?!?!?) ….Anyway, onward we go….Let’s do this thing!

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round & Round…………& Round………& Round (Sep 15th – 21st)

October 11th, 2007

We arrived to the sleepy port of Batam, a small island hidden in the World’s largest archipeligo, Indonesia! Looks may be deceiving however, because a short taxi ride to what we thought was going to be a quiet little town ended up being a mini-Singapore (minus the cleanliness). Back in filth and poverty wasn’t a shock, so we headed to the crumbiest hotel possible (I think it had bed bugs) to pinch some pennies.

Batam was nothing more than a stepping stone, as we were anxious the next day to board the ferry heading for Sumatra. The four hour boat ride, coupled with a four hour bus ride took us to Pekanbaru….an inland city. Used as another stepping stone, we then traversed to Bukittingi, four more hours by way of road. We arrived there after dark, and booked a night at Orchard Hotel where we fell asleep after a full day of travel.

Bukittingi was our first real stop in Sumatra (the only one really). We arose early to explore the town and immediately noticed Islam was the dominant religion. The morning was crisp and clear, with a slow and relaxed pace for the little mountain village. The people were kind and friendly, greeting us as we strolled the cobblestone streets absorbing the sights and sounds. By afternoon, we wanted to continue our stretch through Indonesia. Having less than three months to explore the county seems like plenty of time, but the immense expanse of this island nation will force us to rush areas in order to enjoy others. We went to the bus station and bought tickets for an overnight bus from Bukittingi to Jakarta. This turned out to be more of a story (nightmare) then expected!

We arrived at the station around 1 o’clock, and chose a company that had a bus coming from Medan (in the north). It was estimated to arrive around 3pm (2 hours away) to pick us up. Waiting and waiting….the hours slowly passed. 4, 5, 6 o’clock came, still no bus. The station shut down, and we were escorted by bemo (little taxi-like bus) to another office where we were told our bus had broken down, but was now just two more hours away!! We were extremely anxious to start moving, but we questioned if waiting for a piece of garbage on wheels was a wise decision. Nonetheless, 9,10,11 o’clock came and went. It wasn’t till 3am that our bus came clankering down the road; we climbed aboard the ride from hell.

Squished between cargo and people in musky fabric torn seats while being blown a jet of stale air, we managed to fall a sleep off and on throughout the night. Each time I awoke, my neck felt paralyzed and I ached with different body parts still painfully sleeping (with the pricking of needles), which I was powerless to readjust. When daylight rose, it was a welcomed excuse to not exert effort on attempting to sleep. Still squashed, the heat began to rise. The promise of air-con turned out to be phony, as the bus seemed to be streaming nothing but sizzling air from of the ceiling. The see-through curtains allowed for the sun to bake directly on to me, and my whole body began to leak sweat….especially my butt which glued itself to the sticky upholstery.

Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, lies on the west end of Java (the neighboring island). It doesn’t appear to look to distant by map, but by public bus the story is much different. A full day trapped in this oven on wheels seemed to subtract hardly any miles off the voyage. Perhaps the snail-like speed was aided by our 4 hour long pit-stop where the crew seemed to swap the smoking engine with miscellaneous pieces of metal found lying around in the street. If including the time waiting for the bus at the station, we were at the 30 hour mark by the second night!

As night fell, going from burning to freezing was a blessing at first but soon turned agonizing. We were at the point where your breath was visible and our lips turned blue. Personally, I’d much rather have it cold than hot, but both extremes were far from pleasant. Time ticked away slower than our progress, but eventually the flaming sun resurfaced once again to broil the liquid right out of us. The same anguish carried on as we hobbled down the dusty roads till 4pm (hour 49) when we finally made it to the sea. We flushed out of the inferno (now docked in the belly of a massive ferry, amongst trucks piled with chickens and pigs) and surfaced to the upper deck to catch the anticipated sea breeze. Distant on the horizon was the mighty Krakatoa projecting a harmless demeanor as our ferry disembarked into the Sunda Strait. Finally, a pleasurable portion wedged in between hellacious captivity. The sun sank behind the volcanic island of Sumatra illuminating an orange pathway all the way to our receding vessel. We enjoyed some iced-coffee in the coolness of ocean air.

Having saw plenty of Sumatra through the window of the bus, revealed a land I imagined differently in my mind. Although much of the ground was still dominated by rainforest, it didn’t seem to have that tropical vibe which I envisioned. In every direction you looked, Muslims were plentiful, but even more bountiful were kilometers of discarded litter blanketing the roadsides. Sumatra seemed like an interesting place to explore, but just didn’t seem to offer enough individuality to keep us captivated.

Two hours passed, and the lights of Java were now in sight. Reluctantly, we crowded back into the bus to continue towards Jakarta. After an additional two more hours (hour 53!!!), when we thought we had finally arrived, we were devastated with news we were only switching buses. Heartbroken, we fortunately got the front seat of a mini-bus which separated us from the majority of our fellow passengers. ANOTHER 2 HOURS LATER, the driver was asking us in universal hand gestures where we wanted to be dropped, and pointing at a map, we selected the section of town known as Jalan Jaksa. This skinny street was a corridor of guest houses and hotels, making it a perfect location for us to recollect our strength and hygiene after the longest 55 hours of my life!!!!

After probing interests in a few guest houses, we settled on an air-conned room at about 10 dollars (splurging for us). We showered and scrubbed up before touring our little section of Jakarta. Eventually we returned to the hotel to catch up on a good nights rest.

Early the next morning we woke up to use the internet. We were trying to figure the optimal way make it to our next destination…Bali. Our options were another bus (16 hours for 10 dollars) or airplane (30 minutes for 32 dollars). Not taking a rocket surgeon to make the decision, we opted for the later. We booked our ticket for tomorrow, enjoyed some breakfast, then taxied our way to the heart of downtown. We found a mall to try and find an underwater housing for Michelle’s camera but fell short. The experience was a good time nonetheless.

Jakarta was similar to Manila in the sheer volume of people running around a filthy metropolis. The denizens were friendly, but when I found myself in a crowd, I felt obligated to keep my hand in my pockets protecting my wallet. Contrary to Sumatra, the entire island of Java seemed to be one big city, and nothing more exemplified that then the capital. Back in a smog filled atmosphere, we changed the hunt from a camera housing to an Mp3 player Michelle wanted to buy. As a result, we hit up an electronic section of town to shop for the best deal. Eventually she found what she was searching for, and made the purchase with a huge smile smacked on her face! We ended up having dinner at a pizza place in a nearby mall (ironic I know) since we were in the mood for the salad bar they had on display. On full stomachs, we motorbike-taxied back to Jalan Jaksa and fell asleep to some television we were excited to watch.

The following morning we packed up our belongings, stored them in the lobby, and attempted one last time to find an underwater camera housing for Michelle. We taxied to a different electronic aisle of retailers, but quit with a similar outcome, nada! We returned to our backpacks and chartered a taxi to the airport. We checked in our baggage, had some Java Coffee while still in Java (something we needed to do!!), then boarded the plane to our next vacation within this massive excursion……Bali!

Kuala Lum”Pour Me A Sling”apore!!! (Sept 12th – 15th)

October 10th, 2007

The midnight train took us out of the jungle and into one built of
concrete. At 8am we arrived to the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur.
We dropped off our bags at a budget hotel for the day, then
unloaded our mud-caked laundry at a cleaning facility. After a quick
bite to eat we headed out on the town!

With a list full of errands, we first ventured to China Town for some
cheap trekking cloths to purchase for our next adventure. Afterwards,
a short bus ride away took us to the World’s largest twin towers
(Which you’ve probably seen before on TV, especially if you’ve watched
the movie “Entrapment”). Inside one of the skyscrapers we saw the movie
“Premonition”, which I felt was a little overdone, but all I craved
was the nice cool, dark feeling from within the comfortable
theatre. I also chowed on some yummy potato salad we snuck inside.

After the flick, we hunted for an outdoor outfitter to purchase some
leech socks and more water purifying tablets. This search literally
took us across town and back again in an unsuccessful mission to check
more errands off the list. Having our fill of Kuala Lumpur, we
collected our laundry and backpacks and used the internet
(someone’s got to write this stuff) for a bit. Michelle snuck away to
treat herself to a massage, then grabbed some food from the street
venders (more satay) for us to eat on the train.

Kuala Lumpur was a bustling metropolis with a very eclectic range of
religions. Within five minutes I was handed a pamphlet by a priest to
attend his Christian church, saw a Monk crossing the street, and
walked passed a huge Mosque dedicated to worshipping the countries
National religion, Islam. Most Muslim women adorn the headdresses
and conceal their entire bodies, except hands and faces. Currently, all
practicing Muslims are celebrating the Ramadan Holiday, requiring them
to fast during day light hours for the upcoming month. Red dots on
dark foreheads represent one last major denomination in the area, Hindu.
Despite the clash of cultures, it’s amazing how everyone seems to get

At 10 pm, yet again, we boarded a train destined for another
mega-city; so big, it’s a country in itself, Singapore!! Around 8 in
the morning the train stopped at a check point where everyone
disembarked to get their passports cleared. About 20 minutes later we
were back on the same train but now in a different country. A little
further and we were departing the train for good and it didn’t take
long to realize that Singapore was in a league of its own. BMW’s and
Mercedes filled the parking lots, and you couldn’t find one piece of
garbage hidden amongst the well manicured landscapes surrounding
every skyscraper. Uncharacteristic Caucasian roamed the streets as
locals, right amongst Malay, Chinese and Indian alike.

The metropolis had a network of subway like trains (MTR) that were
fairly easy to navigate. So after taking money out of the ATM we
headed below ground to get accustomed to the transportation.

First stop, China Town. The Chinese back in the day were the
slum of Asia. Their gathering pockets of people are still always the
place to find the cheapest clothing, food, and accommodations. We
found ourselves smack in China searching for a place to stay.

After bargaining a bit, we decided to splurge on a nice air-conned room
for 45 Singapore dollars. Not only was everything below that price
disgusting, but Singapore itself was pricey. Nonetheless, 45 Singapore
dollars comes to about 30 USD, and divided by two, it 15 a piece.
Choosing to relax for a little bit, we booked the room for two nights!

We left our backpacks and enjoyed some authentic Chinese
cuisine (I don’t think the food can get any more ethnic, not necessarily a
complement). Afterwards, we ventured back underground aiming towards
Orchard Road, a very high-class street of stores and restaurants.
Ignorantly, we had two bottles of green tea we were drinking while on
the subway. We immediately hid them when we noticed a sign posting a
500 Singapore dollar fine for doing just that….drinking on the train! The
countries regulations don’t stop there. Gum is illegal and little things like
spitting on the sidewalk are fine worthy. Possession of drugs is penalized
by death! Crazy or what?

Still with a couple items needed to purchase, we shopped
around and got pointed in a direction a 30 minute walk away. Apparently
here, camping gear is everywhere. Enjoying the sights and sounds all the
way there, unsurprisingly we were let down once again….no water tablets!
Michelle started mentioning she was nauseas and went to the bathroom.
She reemerged saying she forced herself to throw up. When she felt a
little better, we hurried towards the MTR as fast as possible.
Predictably, we had to make a quick pit stop as her body decided against
her will to fertilize some curbside plants with a mixture of partially digested
food in a liquid sauce of yellow gastric juices. I wonder what the
fine is for that one?

We made it to the subway where we high-tailed it to
Chinatown. Ten minutes later she was secure in the room, but suffering
from stomach cramps and a fever. Nervous about enough diseases to fill
a med exam, she had me search through the Lonely Planet guide book
reading the symptoms for illnesses contractible in Asia, such as
Malaria, Dengue, Yellow Fever, Guardia, Typhus, Hepatitis and all else
she could think of. With time she felt a little better as I tried to
convince her it was just food poisoning, and she fell asleep a couple
minutes later. I went out to find some dinner….What kind you ask?
Chinese was my only choice for miles. They were having some sort of
autumn festival and thousands of different colored light swung across
the narrow crowded streets. They also had some authentic performances
such as some weird lantern stunts (I can’t really describe it) along
with Chinese singing (not really my flavor). The culture aspect I
enjoyed, but it didn’t have me thirsting for a ticket to Hong Kong.
Neither did the food for that matter. Like the rest of South East Asia, food
was fatty and drenched in grease. Not necessary testing that bad,
and extremely inexpensive, it’s easy to over indulge and painfully
regret it later. I ate some fried noodles and some even deeper fried
chicken before returning to the helpless victim ready to thrown in the
white towel. She was horrible. At first I though I got confused and
entered a room reserved by Emily Rose. She was moaning and cranky,
but soon the demon submerged and she quieted down. We were
planning to go to the doctors tomorrow if things continued for the worst,
but I was still optimistic it would pass through. I went to sleep with
fingers crossed.

Phew, whatever it was, today it was on its way out. Michelle awoke with a
little pain, but far from last night. We decided to do nothing but
chill inside and stitch some cheesy little flags onto our backpacks (sorry
Shane about rippin off the idea). Relaxation was such a necessity.
Watching the news in English caught us up with current events and a little
MTV left us with the latest released music. Nighttime set in before we
knew it and with Michelle feeling better we set out to complete operation
Singapore Sling. The only goal I had the entire country was to enjoy a
Singapore Sling in Singapore, but this proved to be a tad more difficult than

Upon recommendation, we set out around 9 pm for a restaurant/bar a top
a skyscraper overlooking the city (country). Two MRT rides later, we
were prohibited from entering due to the dress code. My type of bar
would prohibit everything but bare-feet and sandals, but here my style was
out-casted. We left in search of the sling elsewhere.

A quick MTR dropped us at the harbor front. We climbed to the top of a mall and found a neat little upper deck park. The only thing was that sky-line view wasn’t as picture-esque as we had hoped. In the distance however, we saw these sky carts that glided on a cable across moonlit space. Assuming they’d be pricy, we ventured to find exactly how much. They were literally flying tables for a restaurant. You get served, then eat high above the city. How cool would that have been to sip a sling with Singapore beneath!!

Just in walking there, my facial hair grew a half an inch. It was just past 11pm, and by the time we found its exact entry point, the dream of ever drinking a sling by cable cart was closed!! Urgg! With our last night to complete the mission, I was beginning to get a little nervous!

Enough with walking, we decided to splurge on an over-priced taxi to get our butts to a cocktail lounge. A hill to the South West towered over the city, so we directed the driver in that direction hoping to relax with a scenic view.

Phew!!!!!!! Finally, everything we were wishing for and more; a beautiful restaurant serving fancy drinks and upscale deserts! We sat at a cute candle lit table in the courtyard overlooking shimmering Singapore. With Slings on the menu (but costing a fortune) we ordered one to share along with a slice of heaven…I mean cheesecake….mmmm!

Operation Singapore Sling complete!! The cocktail came out fruity and refreshing while the cheesecake arrived rich and creamy. Yahoo!! Content, but exhausted from the hunt, with the MTR closed down, we taxied back to the china town and fell asleep super-satiated.

Ahh, unrushed by a ferry for Indonesia departing every hour, the next day we woke late and checked out by 12. Capitalizing on our urban locale, we took the opportunity and turned our camera chips into CD’s at an internet café. This took quite a while since we got a little carried away with reminiscing over the good times as they flashed up on the monitor.

After paying a fortune to burn the disks, we ‘MTR’d’ it to the port and booked the 7pm ferry. This gave us time to buy some water purifying tablets from the nearby mall (which had an outfitting store), shop around for a bit, then grab a bite to eat. The mall had a pet store we checked out, and while peering into an enclosure with a bunch of bunnies, I noticed one was stiff and popsicle-like. From seeing plenty of dead things in my day, it didn’t phase me in the least. However, when I mentioned of the deceased to an employee, her eyes leaked like the Katrina over New Orleans (Ya, probably a bad simile choice). I thought it was odd, but apparently this one dead rabbit was like a brother to her. So sad (not really).

We boarded the ferry at 7pm, right on time (not normal), and headed off towards Batam, Indonesia. Singapore was a western oasis smack-dab in the middle of eastern philosophy. If sterile city living is your cup of tea, this is your Utopia. Bathed with beautiful modern architecture, soaked with multi-ethnic people, and scrubbed clean with regulations, Singapore was a great place to wash up and refreshen. But with fingernails yearning dirt and a mind craving adventure, this boy (and Michelle) had enough with hygiene and was anxious to re-submerge into the third world……Strap your seatbelts….it’s a bumpy ride!!!!!