Thursday, May 9, 2013


 May 9, 2013

For the finale of Indonesia it's time to return to where it began: Bali.

But first some scuba diving in Komodo National Park. Supposedly some of the best in the world, and I can tell you that it's really great. The coral was perfect. The fish innumerable. And we had turtles swim withing a meter of us. I just watched the dude and he was checking me out as he cruised by. Now the currents are really strong here, so you really have to pay attention to your guide, and when he says to stop and turn around, you best do it. Or you'll be pushed down into the deep.

On the second dive it was a drift dive along this coral wall. And I have never been on a ride like this. The current is so strong we were FLYING over the coral. There was no way to slow down and if you drifted away from the wall you got pushed along even faster. It was pretty wild.

To leave Flores Island we took a flight. It was a propeller plane, that was actually pretty good sized. Maybe 45 passengers. A/C. Comfy seats. Much more elaborate than I thought it would be. The airport in Labuan Bajo is an old cinderblock building, but it fortunately had an air conditioning unit which we stood by for 45 minutes to cool down. They're building a new one right next to it, so things are changing. The dive master said 2 years ago there were 5 dive shops. Today there are over 20. My suggestion would be to get your ass to Flores now. It's an amazing place with the sweet balance of tourist services and local flavor that is hard to come by. It's really a wonderful place. The islands are impossibly beautiful. I stood outside our room on our last night and watched the sunset and every single direction was a postcard for tropical perfection. This place rules. I wish we hadn't already bought our ticket. I wish we had more time.

But the time has come to go back to Bali... and we did.

Bali is an entirely different animal with all the tourists and traffic and people. But it's wonderful as well. We headed up to the "mountain" town of Ubud. This is where Julia Roberts found "Love" in "Eat, Pray, Love". And it's a cool town. TONS of stores selling art of every conceivable kind. The art represents all the villages from all around. Wood carving. Bone carving (very cool). Kites. Textiles. Dresses. Penises.

Yep, I wrote that. There's a strange amount of phallises all over. Some small. Some HUGE. (Like 3 feet huge). Some on kites. Some on dragons. Some as ashtrays. Not sure what the fascination with the cock is. But hey, what you gonna do?

We saw a "fire show". It involved 50+ men chanting in a circle as folks in costumes danced around. There was a crazy monkey-man. Burning coconuts. And it even rained during the performance, which was really cool. They performed it at the temple where they've done it for hundreds of years. It was cool.

The next day was the Eco Bike Ride. I think they say "Eco" cause that's what all us traveling hippy tourists give a shit about. Not sure what's Eco about it, but it was super awesome anyway. You ride in a van up to the crater rim of Mount Batur. The view is awesome. Apparently it blew it's top in 1963 and created the lake there and knocked the top 1000+ meters off the top of the mountain. Nutso.

Then we hit a coffee plantation. You get to sample beans, chilis, and shit coffee. Not that it's bad, but it's literally made with shit. Yep. There are these little ferret like animals that eat the beans, which are fermented in their stomach and then they crap out the bean whole. Then some brilliant Balinese person decided to roast the beans and make coffee. And sell it for a shit ton of money (pun intended). It cost $6 for a cup there. $12 for a cup in Ubud. And you know what...'s bitter like coffee is. I'm not a coffee conneseur, so I'm not the best judge. But the other samples were good. Some much so.

Then it's no the bikes for a 25km downhill ride where you stop at a traditional village, where we take pictures of people making bamboo mats. And it occured to me how weird it is that we come into peoples homes and take pictures. That's weird. It would be like someone coming into my room while I"m editing and taking pictures, going "wow, that's so cool and different." Not sure how I feel about it. But I did learn alot about traditional Balinese family life and beliefs, so in the end it's probably okay. They do get paid as well.

We stop at rice paddy's and other cool spots. It was fun.

The end has an optional 8km uphill portion, which me and a gal Jennifer from Germany went for. It wasn't to hard, but it was hot as balls. And the last 1 km was on a busy main road with big trucks.

A great trip.

This is a car road too, not just for bikes

The rest of the time in Ubud was spent eating, seeing shows, enjoying the swimming pool at our totally awesome tree house temple homestay. Homestay because it indeed is someone's house. However, it's like the coolest multilevel, temple, castle place ever. Our room was at the top and looked like a treehouse with ornate carvings of Hindu scenes and swastikas.

Um, what?

Yep, swastikas. Lot's of them. Some vertical. Some at the 45degree Nazi angle. What's up with that?

Well, turns out the swastika was and is one of the oldest symbols in history. It means all sorts of stuff and was only corrupted by the Nazi's during the 30's and 40's. So for much of the world it still means peace, prosperity, good luck, good fortune, good health etc etc etc.

And so ends the Indonesian portion of the trip. I can tell you, it was awesome. Alicia was a great travel buddy and the country is an awesome place. It's so cool how each island is different and unique. The people are wonderful. The terrain spectacular. It really is much cooler than I even thought it would be. It was a place I always wanted to go, but didn't know much about it. Very little in fact. Now I know enough to recommend it. I definitely say GO.

Bali is the most tourist friendly. And parts of it are challenging. But overall Indonesia is a wonderful, fascinating, beautiful country.

So we both left today. Alicia is on her way back to LA. I flew a few hours and landed in another land. A place that already feels very different. Malaysia.

I rode a bullet train from the airport. I saw the Patronas towers in the distance. I ate beef balls at a stall in Chinatown at 10pm. I'm staying at a hostel. I'm on my own and ready to see where the road takes me...

Craig O

PS: I appologize for the lack of emails, but I've been having big issues with Gmail security. Often when I log in from a new computer the security locks me out and the ONLY option they give me to verify myself is through a text message. Guess what? My phone is in LA. If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know as I'd like to keep the updates coming.

Saturday, May 4, 2013


--> Four days. 25 people. One small boat. And dragons. 

As is the case when traveling, sometimes I like to do things outside of my comfort zone. Things that are a challenge. Things that push my limits. And here in Indonesia I decided to do so by taking the four day / four night boat ride from Lombok to Flores with a stop or two in Komodo National Park to visit the dragons. And as if it wouldn't be hard enough on it's own, I decided to take a long ride and attempt to meet the boat at the port rather than meet with everyone else at the originally meeting spot. Why? In order to see some of Lombok off the beaten path. And my friends, it was.

This started with us leaving Gili T on... so many days ago I don't remember. :)
We took the $1 public ferry over and hired a car to take us to Senaru where the waterfalls were. (This will be another email, as the waterfalls were AMAZING and very Indiana Jones).


It was 2 hours away and there was no Wi-Fi. No Internet. No ATMs. Sweet.

Rather than double back we decided to head over the mountains the next day. Now, this is a 4 hour drive. Cost about $50 to have a driver take us. The road was barely 1 1/2 lanes wide but has 2 way traffic. (In fact that is the normal here in Indonesia. Tiny roads that somehow manage trucks and buses and mopeds). It was so steep and full of blind curves that we would race up, horn honking and somehow noone ever got hit. The views were incredible. Steep slopes with tiny towns at the base. It felt more like Switzerland than Indonesia.

We arrived in Labuan Lombok, the port town that has a blurb in the Lonely Planet saying "This is where you come to take the ferry". There are no hostels, guest houses, tourist services. The ATM wouldn't take my card, but did take Alicia's. Otherwise we would be in trouble. Though we do have some US $100 to change if need be. The only place to stay, and supposedly where we're meeting everyone the next day, was a hotel for $7 a night with no sink, no shower and no fan. It's hot. Balls ass hot. So no fan is no good. And we're about to be on a boat for 4 days, so no shower is no good.

So we have the driver take us north, back along the coast, hoping to find a place to stay. Any place. We kept looking for a sign with the indonesian word for "Lodging" on it. We drove and drove and I thought... hmmm, this might be a problem. Then we lucked out and found a little bungalow place. It wasn't fancy. But it had a fan and shower. It was in a dirt, tree covered lot. Had a little shop. A bunch of folks who didn't speak English and a town with one tiny shop and one warung (food stand). And it was awesome. Black sand beach. Nice sunset. Frogs. Geckos 18inches long. Sweet. We ate at the warung and it was Soooooooo good. We sat on the floor. Chatted with this dive instructor who was also eating and had a lot of smiles with the locals.

So good!

The next morning we had mom and dad who ran the bungalows take us back to town, we got some supplies, spent 1 1/2 hours buying our return plane ticket from Flores to Bali, and sweated. The ticket had to be gotten from a travel agent and they had to ride a moped to another office because of some issue. There were all these super cute kids that kept coming in to say "hello" in Indonesia (which happens to be "Hello" :). We took pics. Ate some food. Made some friends.


Then we got picked up by the Kenchana Tours dude on a moped. One at a time he took us to the port and our boat. I went second. As I rolled in I saw a nice big boat with multiple levels. Sweet!  Oh wait, that's the Perama tour boat. A different company. Oh well, the one next to it is good sized, if not as nice... oh, wait, we're driving past that one too. And stopping in front of a boat that was so small I couldn't believe we were about to take it on the open ocean. I don't know the dementions, but it looked to be maybe 45 feet long. By 9 feet wide. There was a "simple toilet", meaning a squat toilet with a hole to the ocean. There was an upper deck that you could barely sit up in that had dozens of mattresses. There was an open front area with a shade cover. And then the front deck on the bow you could sit on.


I'm on a boat?

The Lonely Planet says this is no luxury cruise. In fact they say it's often sketchy. That a boat sank last year year. Yep, sank. (It was a Perama boat (which is why they have a new boat now!). (I'll find the link and include it later to the story of the sinking. They unfortunately for them, had a travel writer on board when it went down). I made sure to see all the life vests and Alicia and I were thinking... hmmmm....

Then the buses arrived. And the people started filing out. Like a clown car. They kept coming on board. The boistrous Canadian dudes, the Dutch gals, the Russian, the Aussie, the Brits etc etc etc etc etc. As they piled on with their gear and bags and selves there was literally no place to sit and barely any to stand. Hmmmm...

Alicia and I thought about getting our money back and taking the Perama boat 3 days later. But we didn't.
We didn't jump ship.

The boat sailed.
We were in it. No turning back.

It took awhile, but it was interesting how little personal space I needed. How much it didn't matter that we were on top of each other. HOw we all found our spots to chill, to visit, to experience. They put the big bags in the holds which opened up space.

The first day was 5 hours of cruising with a beautiful sunset. BEAUTIFUL sunset. Over Mt. Rinjani on Lombok. We sailed into the dark, ate a decent meal cooked by our kind crew of 5. (yep 5 crew folks. 19 travelers. Sound clausterphobic yet?) I chatted with the Canadian's a lot. They're fun guys. We put music on the ipod speakers and had some fun.

The boat anchored by an island for about 5 hours. Not sure why. It was dark. Couldn't go ashore. I jumped in with a couple folks and we swam in the bioluminescence. It was pretty sweet. Creepy too. Pitch black ocean. Swimming in the dark. But cool.
We listened to Dark Side Of The Moon and looked that the stars. I think this is going to be alright.

We all go to bed around 11am. Silence. Peaceful rocking...

... and LOUD ASS engines. Around 2am they fired up and we set sail for the next destination. Earplugs helped a lot. But the waves were kind of wild and spray splashed in on the folks on the lower deck sleeping. I was at the front of the top deck, so I had a good breeze and even a little spot for my stuff.

DAY 2:
Paradise. Right there. We anchor off an island. Have breakfast. Snorkel about. Then head for a waterfall.
Now those who know me, know that jungle waterfalls are one of my favorite things. I love to trek through jungle and find some perfect waterfall, and this was one of them. Only a 15 minute walk, and there it was. Cold. Flowing over volcanic rock pools. The rock was rough enough you could climb up in the current of the falls. Which was awesome. Up at the top you could jump into a deeper pool. Ryan from England lept off this rediculously high tree branch, as did Oksana from Russia. (I was starting to get names down, though I often call people where they are from.)

I could have stayed here all day. In fact, me and a dude from the other boat were the last to leave. (Oh yes, there was a second boat following us. They were no where near as much fun as our boat. We were team Awesome. They were team... not so Awesome. :).

We move along to the next island. Easy crossing. Snorkeling and fun were had. Everyone is starting to get to know each other. It was fun... even though there was no place to sit. But I figured out to use the very hard pillows as cushions to sit on. That helped.

Then came ocean madness.
We left at 2pm for 18 hours of motoring to get to Komodo National Park. It was open ocean and felt like rough seas. The waves were half as big as the boat. It was tossed and turned. They came from the front and sides, so the boat would roll in odd patterns. It was hard to stand up. Harder to use the toilet. And impossible to do anything but look out at the waves. Sometimes the bow would drop so hard it would rocket spray up into the air and it felt like it would plunge into the waves... but it never did.

We enjoy the sunset... sort of. It was beautiful, but hard to truly enjoy. Alicia felt very ill, took motion sick meds and napped. I took some too before bed. Dinner was not good tonight. Some buttery fish stew. On a rocking boat. No good.

At 7:30pm, everyone went to bed. No shit.

Except me and 2 other guys. I put on the Pink Floyd. Yep, All about the Pink. And rode out on the bow. SPLASH! WOOSH! The biolumenescence was awesome in teh wake. The stars were bright. It was cool.

Sleep... 12 hours... kind of.
A number of times I woke up to a KABOOM! as a wave slammed into the front of the boat. I thought, why I am here?

DAY 3:
Total calm.
We've reached the Komodo area. Which is AMAZINGLY beautiful. Island after island. And the water, though filled with wild currents, is very calm. We made it!

Team Awesome! (most of them anyway)

We passed where the boat sank in 2011 (the currents took the wreck to the depths, so nothing's there). We pull up to a beach and hop in. There's a path to climb to the top of the island and get a view all around. Pirate ships abound (okay,they're dive boats), and the view is amazing. It's interesting, the fauna and islands ehre look a lot like...

... Southern California! Yep. I came half way around the world and sailed 3 days to get to the Channel Islands Nat'l Park 40 miles from my house. :)

The vegetation and climate of Indonesia apparaently changes as you head east. From the jungles of Java and Borneo, each island become more arid and more like Australia as you go east. Cool.

This is the Tale of Captain Jack Sparrow!

After the hike and a quick swim we're back on the boat. Moods are great now that we're in calm seas. We listen to music. "I'm on a boat" is a favorite. As is "Captain Jack Sparrow"... even though no one had it. Shoot!

We snorkel at the red sand beach. It's more pink than red. But still cool.

Then lunch on the way to Komodo. Finally, there will be dragons.

We get off, join the rangers and go for a 1 hour hike in the heat. I felt like I was in Jurassic Park. I kept looking for dragons at every corner. Under every bush...

... but there were no dragons.

We head to the cafe, gift shop (yep, even here) and ranger station...

... and there are dragons!!!!

The 8 foot long lizard just waddled up near us, under a stilt house and laid down. We got within 10 feet of it. They can move very quickly and their bite is deadly. Everyone thought they were poisonous until a few years ago. But apparently they have so much bacteria in their mouths that the prey dies of infection. That, and they eat their prey whole. Bones and all. They have 3 different kinds of poop. One for bones.

Nearby another sat in the grass. And just over there were 4 of them. ONe had to be 10 feet long. And a wild pig trotted in amongst them! Sweet!  We're gonig to see them kill the pig!  ...

... or not. Ballsy ass pig and four Komodo. ANd they just hiss at it a little, but the pig doesn't give a shit and gets to licking up the blood from the goat carcass hanging in the tree. Yep, this might be how they make sure you see dragons. It might be something the rangers were going to cook and eat. Not sure.

It was really cool to see. And when the dragons came towards us hissing and stomping, we all backed up pretty fast.

Back on the boat and set anchor on a calm bay as the sun got low.
ANd the flying foxes came out. Thousands of bats heading to feast.

We ate. We drank. We danced. We laughed. We listened to music. It was a blast.

It's Bintang Time!

ANd the sea was so calm it was like glass. You could see the reflection of the stars in the water. And the bioluminescnece flashing too. It was AMAZING. TOTALLY AMAZING. I've never seen anything like it. I thought that scene in Life of Pi was just fantasy with the stars reflected, but here it is. Totally real.

And yes, Pink Floyd came out again.

DAY 4.

Up before sunrise. We're tooling into the calm seas. Sun. Islands. Sand. Sweetness.

Not going to lie. Even though I've made many friends, I'm ready to be off the boat. Onto dry land. Take a shower. Yum, shower.

We head to Rinca (pronounced Rincha) Island for more Komodo. The island is smaller. The food is different. It's very pretty and full of rolling hills and grass and palms. Saw numerous buffalo, but the only Komodo were back at base camp. Though there was no goat this time. Our guide, Cuba, was awesome. A 20 year old from the island. He knew his stuff.

Welcome to Jurassic Park
Really? I'm watching you

Out to sea for lunch, and a final snorkel, frisbee, swim spot. It was fun.
Lots of laughs. Even saw some RBR's brewing. (Random Backpacker Romances).

We head to town, and with little ceremony all get the fuck off the boat and head for places to stay. There were some thank yous and smiles, and ultimately it was a great adventure, but I'm glad to get our room way up on the hill overlooking the bay and with the shower. Oh thank god. No Air Con, but a fan and the view is incredible.

View from the room

We all met at a bar that night and laughed and danced and talked of the future, of the adventure and where life will take us. Many don't know. Some will rent scooters to explore Flores. Some will fly back to Bali. We're going to dive before we go.

And there you have it.
I have seen the last Dragon's on earth.
Did they fly and breath fire and did the Kaleesi mother them?
But they were dragons none the less.