Week 141: Orang-utans and Proboscis monkeys in Borneo

Week 141: Orang-utans and Proboscis monkeys in Borneo

This week I dropped off my bicycle as a shipping company office in Jakarta to have it sent to Jessica’s house in Borneo, I was originally going to send it by cargo plane but it was half the price to send it by ship, although the ship could take a while. Hopefully it will arrive here in the next few days, but I plan to head over the border into Malaysia so that I can extend my visa when I come back into the Indonesian part of Borneo. On Monday I got a lift to the airport from my host in Jakarta and flew to Balikpapan in eastern Borneo, where Jess met me at the airport and took me to her parents house. The only problem I have now is that I originally took my bicycle to the cargo office thinking that I would have my bike the next day, so my toiletries and the battery charger for my camera are now stuck with my bicycle and I wont get them for another week or so.

Orangutans

On Tuesday we got straight into my plans for Borneo, we headed out to an Orang-utan sanctuary in the forest north of Balikpapan, where rescued Orang-utans are taken and gradually prepared for release into the wild. One thing I did think was strange was that the sanctuary give the females contraceptive injections so that they apes can have their mating season without producing babies. This is because they feel that an ape born in captivity could have issues going from the restricted area they are born in, to the freedom of Borneo’s forests. Apparently the calculation for the amount of contraceptive drugs to use is tricky, because when I arrived there were babies. The sanctuary is also home to a number of Sun-Bears, the staff said that the conditions they were held in were because of a lack of funding, but I still was a little uncomfortable seeing them in cages. Apparently they have 58 hectares of land ready to home the bears, but the funding has only allowed them to fence off three hectares, so the adult males are being kept separately in cages to stop them fighting each other.

Proboscis Monkey

I was hoping I could see some Proboscis monkeys in the same forest as the Orang-utans but the staff told us they don’t live in the area, but if we travelled about an hour to the north, we could arrange for a fishing boat to take us up the river to see them. So we headed off to black river, which isn’t black anymore because of all the mud in the water caused by the illegal coal mines close by. We arrived a little early, the monkeys don’t like the sun, so will only come out around dusk. But we rode up and down the river and eventually spotted a few groups of Proboscis monkeys. I tried for ages to get a good shot of the large males with their huge noses, but they wouldn’t face the camera, just turn their backs on us or stay partially hidden behind branches and leaves, luckily I got some decent video footage.

Dayak Tribe

This weekend we headed off for a couple of trips with Jessica’s family, on Saturday we drove to a canopy walk and on Sunday we went to visit a Bornean tribe. But just as in most of the tribes you can visit in Africa, they aren’t really living like tribes anymore. In Africa the Masai and Himba tribes have villages where they go during the daytime to show tourists how they used to live traditionally. But here in Borneo the tribe just has a large traditional hall where they dress up and dance every Sunday for tourists to come and take pictures. The eldest and youngest members of the tribe are dressed up so that people can pose and take pictures with them at a rate of $2.50 per picture. One particular old guy was sat on the steps of the traditional hall and people sat with him to take pictures, as I watched I couldn’t help but imagine a bitter internal monologue where he reflects that the clothes he wears used to mean something, a mark of respect, but now his family dress him up and sit him there as a tourist attraction every week. I am making this sound like a terrible experience, but it wasn’t at all. It is only like that if, like the only other European tourist I saw there, you expect to be visiting an actual tribe like you have seen on documentaries. Those tribes are out there, but you can’t visit them so easily as the tourist villages. This is because they are protected, the more interaction they have with tourists coming and taking pictures of them, the more they become the same as the tourist villages. The Indonesian tourists who visited the tribe were more than happy to see the dances and see the traditional clothes, the same way we would go to a museum or re-enactment. The village has an interesting culture and history that people are interested in, it gives them a source of income and each week the village hall is full of domestic and international tourists, I really don’t see a problem with it at all.

Week 140: Jakarta and Changing Plans

Week 140: Jakarta and Changing Plans

I started the week in Yogyakarta saying goodbye to my host Jessica and her family. I only spent a week with them but they were so friendly and welcoming that it was kinda hard to say goodbye. I cycled to the train station behind Jessica’s car and took my bicycle to the cargo company for packing, they had insisted on packaging my bicycle, but when they actually saw it they weren’t so eager. I told them what needed protection and made sure it looked secure enough before I headed to the train station for what I hope is my last train journey for a long time. Travelling with the bicycle gives me the freedom to take train journeys or hitch a lift when I need to, and the fact that I couldn’t get a third month on my Indonesian visa has meant I had to take the train through Java, even though I would have preferred to cycle through slowly and see more of the sights.

Packaged Bicycle

After a nine hour train journey I arrived in Jakarta at around midnight and met my host at the train station. Jakarta is a busy capital city with traffic jams all day, I cycled into the city a few times and didn’t see any traces of the flooding I had seen reported on the news while I was in Yogyakarta. I don’t really enjoy cities and Jakarta doesn’t have a great deal of attractions to distract you from the traffic, there is a national monument in the city centre but the visit isn’t really an activity so much as a photo opportunity. On Friday I stayed with a different Couchsurfing host for the weekend and was talking to their friends about Orang-utans, which are my main objective for the remainder of my time in Indonesia. While we were talking I found out that the only places to see them in Sumatra are in the far north of the island, which would make it difficult to get to and then get to Singapore before the end of my visa.

MONAS

The main place to see Orang-utans in the wild is Borneo, so I started to think about going there instead and then getting to Singapore afterwards. Maybe even travel to the Malaysian part of Borneo and take a boat to West Malaysia, surely there would be a boat going there, but no apparently the flights are so cheap that there is no demand for the boat service. So I am going to fly to Borneo for the last two weeks of my visa and hopefully see Orang-utans and Proboscis (Big-nosed) monkeys before I have to get to mainland Asia and get back on my bicycle for the foreseeable future. Luckily my host from Yogyakarta, Jessica, is originally from Borneo and will go to visit her family at the same time I will be there, so I will stay with her again while I am there.

Week 139: Yogyakarta

Week 139: Yogyakarta

After a 14 hour train journey from Banyuwangi, I arrived in Yogyakarta and managed to talk the cargo guards into letting me unload my bike straight away, instead of waiting 4 hours for them to unload it. I managed to make the train journey productive, at least in part, by making some progress writing my first travel stories book and editing my diving footage from the Gili islands, which I’ll try to upload as soon as I have a decent internet connection. I met my host Jessica at the train station and cycled to her place, following her car through the city. Yogyakarta is a university city with lots of students, which means lots of cheap places to eat. I’ve had some great local food each day I’ve been here, some nicer than others. My first day in Yogyakarta we walked through the city centre, visiting markets and some of the landmarks. While we were in one street market we saw a bowl of fried bats, apparently eating the heart of the bat help with asthma.

Fried Bat

I think I was lucky that Jessica’s mother was staying with her, because she has been cooking me lots of really nice food and trying to fatten me up. Her mother came to stay with her and help her clean her house after the Kalud volcano erupted last month, most of the ash has gone from the city, but in some places you can still find ash at the sides of the roads. One of the main attractions around Yogyakarta is Borobudur temple. A 9th century Buddhist temple which is the largest Buddhist temple in the world, covered with carvings on each level and decorated with hundreds of buddha statues. It took us an hour or so to walk around each level, slowly circling towards the top of the temple. We arrived just before sunset, but had to leave before sunset as there is a special, more expensive, ticket price to see the sunset at the temple. The ticket was already really expensive ($20), but I think it was worth it as I’ll only visit it once, the views out over the forest to the mountains were really awesome.

Borobudur

Each day we have driven into the city to eat some local food, we went back to one particular place a few times to have durian ice cream. It’s kinda expensive, but that is because durian is kinda expensive compared to other fruit. But one large durian ice cream costs about $2. One of the best experiences was tubing in Goa Pindul, an area of river which flows through a cave system, for $10 you can take a three part package deal which includes a tour of a cave, which involves crawling through some tight passages, tubing through a cave to see the rock formations inside, and my favourite part was tubing down a river through some really beautiful scenery and stopping at a waterfall for some swimming and jumping off of rocks into the plunge pool. Another interesting experience was the cabaret show on Friday night, which featured a group of ladyboys lip-syncing to some pop songs and dancing around on stage. I was really surprised to see that in a country which has such a large amount of muslims, especially when you take into account the fact that I saw a large group of muslim women protesting in the city, asking for an end to democracy in Indonesia and calling for the formation of an Islamic republic. I’ve already arranged my train journey to the capital city, Jakarta, I’m not sure how long I’ll stay there as I still need to cycle to Sumatra and make it to Singapore before my visa ends.

Goa Pindul

Week 138: Visa Extension and East Java

Week 138: Visa Extension and East Java

This week has been much better than I had thought it would be. I had to wait around in Singaraja while the incredibly slow Indonesian immigration service took 4 days to do what most African immigration services can do in an hour. I dropped off my passport and filled in the application form on Monday, they then said I had to come back on Wednesday to pay them my $25, then back again on Friday to collect my passport with the extension. Luckily I was staying only a couple of Km down the road from the office, the staff were really friendly, the office supplied free water and sweets and I was staying with a really awesome CouchSurfing host. My host and his family were really friendly and welcoming, I spent the daytimes trying to stay cool in the house with his two young kids, then we went out in the evenings to visit his friends, cycle through the city and go to swim in Gitgit waterfall. Then on Friday morning I went to pick up my passport which had an underwhelming (considering the amount of time it took) stamp in it granting my visa, then I cycled almost 100Km. First 85Km to the ferry to Java, then about 15Km to my new CouchSurfing hosts place.

Gitgit Waterfall

I arrived very tired, washed and ate with my new hosts then had a long nights sleep. My new hosts are also really great, I had originally planned to stay one night, but decided to stay for two. We spent my first full day visiting their fruit garden where they grow dragon fruit. We harvested a bucket full, then sat eating them with a coconut to wash it all down. In the evening we went to the train station to get some information about my journey to Yogyakarta. Unfortunately the company was on holiday on Sunday, the day I wanted to travel, which meant that I would need to stay a third night here in Banyuwangi, but I didn’t mind because it meant I would spend more time with my hosts and would have a chance to visit Ijen Sulphur Volcano. So today I took a scooter and rode up the mountain and hiked the last few Km to the crater. On the way up I passed by many of the miners who carry the sulphur down the mountain and sell it, each miner carries 100Kg of sulphur 800 meters up out of the crater itself, then about 3Km down the steep track on the side of the mountain. Each man will do this twice each day and will earn around $20 for doing so.

Ijen Sulphur Volcano

At the top of the crater there are clouds of smoky gas which escape from the volcano and swirl up to surround you as the wind turns. The smoke smells really bad, like eggs, but it also burns your eyes, nose and throat. Visitors are only supposed to visit the edge of the crater, but it is possible to walk past the no entry sign and down the 800 meters to the edge of the lake where the mine is located. The further down you go, the worse the smoke gets, but the more beautiful the views are. The lake is a light blue colour, surrounded by these strange pale grey cliffs, then at the edge of the lake is the bright yellow sulphur rock. I hiked down to the edge of the lake and got some pictures and videos, the pictures are already available on my Facebook Page and Google+ Page, the video will become available at some stage.

Ijen Sulphur Volcano

Hiking back out of the crater was terrible, the wind had changed direction and I was in the smoke most of the time. But once I was out I headed back down the mountain to my hosts place to shower off the smell. My plan is to get the train to Yogyakarta early tomorrow morning, it’s supposed to be a great city to visit. I guess I’ll see for myself soon enough.

Week 137: Diving in Gili Air and back to Bali

Week 137: Diving in Gili Air and back to Bali

After staying with my first CS host in Mataram for just one night, I moved to my second host. A 24 year old local guy and his family on the edge of the city. We had a great couple of days hanging out with some of his friends and visiting the beaches. Unfortunately he was kinda busy during the week so I decided that I would head north to the Gili Islands for a few days and return to Mataram for the weekend. So I set off on a really beautiful, but really difficult stretch of road. The road follows the coast line past several really beautiful bays, the only problem being that each bay has a huge hill separating it from the next. I pushed myself to struggle over the first couple of hills, but then ended up just pushing the bike. This was made even harder because I cycle in flip flops and was so sweaty that my foot was sliding out of the back of them on the steep slope. I eventually got to the port for the local ferry to Gili Air and waited for the ferry to fill up before we could leave.

Lombok

The Gili Islands are three small islands just off the coast of Lombok, the largest of the islands is a party island which attracts backpackers who want to surf, snorkel and dive in the day time, while partying hard at night. The middle island is very quiet and more traditional, but the island which is closest to Lombok, and the island I chose to visit, is Gili Air. I had heard that Gili Air is a happy medium between the relaxed Gili Meno and the party atmosphere of Gili Trawangan. Just as I arrived on the island I met another cyclist who had travelled to Indonesia from Hungary. He offered to show me a cheap place to stay so we headed over to the other side of the island where I set up my tent for less than $3 a night. The next morning I headed out to arrange some diving and see if I could find a place I could camp for free. That is when I found 3WDive, a small dive company close to the ferry port. For about $70 I did two dives with them and slept upstairs in their dive shop for two nights. The diving was great, about 25 meter visibility on the first dive and 15-20 meters on the second. We saw baby sharks, turtles and loads of reef fishes. It really wet my appetite for more diving, but I don’t think that will happen until I get to Thailand to do my DiveMaster course and maybe even an instructors course, so that I can earn some cash. I took the GoPro down with me on the dives but the footage isn’t amazing. I will see what I can do with it when I have some time to sit and sift through it.

Gili Air

While I was on Gili Air, I had a little time to think about the rest of my time in Indonesia. At the time, I was planning to return to Mataram to extend my visa, head west through Bali into Java, extend my visa again in Jakarta then head through Sumatra to arrive in Singapore. The only problem is that you can’t extend your visa more than once (without ‘paying extra’), Java and Sumatra are big islands and will take a long time to cross. I decided that I needed to prioritise the rest of my trip in Indonesia. My new plan was to get a boat direct to Bali, from Gili Air, head to a town in the north to extend my visa. Then head west into Java, get a train part of the way so that I can see a stilt village that I want to visit, then visit Jogjakarta and Jakarta before I cycle to, and through Sumatra, stopping off to see some Orangutans on the way. So after making the decision, I headed off back to Bali and spent 2 days cycling to Singaraja to extend my visa. Now it is just a case of waiting for the unbelievably slow process of extending my visa. Which instead of taking less than an hour, like most other countries I have visited, this will take almost a week. Luckily I am staying with a really nice family who live close to the immigration office, this means I have fun things to do with the family while I wait, but also means I can cycle to the office each morning to try to push the process along (and steal a hand full of mints from the desk).

Gili Air