It was Anne who first suggested a trip back ‘home’ as part of our journey, and it turned out to be a great idea. Of course home needs to be in parenthesis as our house is still rented out and despite all the wonderful family and friends we have been able to catch up with, the local haunts revisited and familiar food and beverages consumed, it still feels like we are ‘on the road’, although in a very familiar environment. Landing at Heathrow (yes there was light rain!), the Piccadilly line to North London where we’ve spent the last three decades brought a smile to both our faces.
We’ve spent just a few short weeks in these refreshing, cooler climes and now before we know it, we’re flying back to Kuala Lumpur later today.
So this blog post is not like the others. Whole sections of this part of our trip are not photographically recorded – those times were spent in the company of loved ones, family and dear friends, catching up, talking – often late into the night, and just hanging out with each other smiling, laughing and enjoying the moments. Inevitably there were people we failed to see or others where we only had a brief time to share stories of these last ten months. But that’s life and there’ll be plenty more to share when we finally return.
We managed to catch England and Scotland in the last throes of summer, so there were blue skies and sunshine interspersed with those grey days which will soon be the norm for the autumn and winter to come. It was wonderful to walk in the still green countryside and feel a cool breeze on a long warm evening. Fond memories to take back to SE Asia.
Of course we are visiting a country that has been crushed by seven years of ‘austerity’, a political dogma that has hurt so many and visibly damaged so much of the infrastructure that ordinary folk rely on. People stressed and depressed trying to do a job in sectors like health, social care and education, where funding cuts make it is impossible to deliver to those in need. Meanwhile wealthy politicians make light of the million plus people, many who are working hard every single day, yet rely on food banks to survive. There is a palpable viciousness here and the ticking time bomb of Brexit looks set to make it worse.
But for us, our thoughts are now all about the next stage of our trip, we feel lucky to have the chance of adventure and the resources to backpack the world. We feel energised by all the company of these last weeks and are keen to get back to diving again in Komodo.
Our flights from KL to Denpesar on Saturday and then to Flores the next day may yet be disrupted by the rumbling Mount Agung, that looked so majestic and peaceful just a few weeks ago. But that’s a story for the next blog.
After a few days in London, happily spent with Oona and close friends we flew up to Edinburgh to see Grant and Virginia – who were busy preparing a film shoot in the Outer Hebredies with Stella (looking forward to seeing the end result!). Edinburgh has its own character, steep streets with elegant Georgian gardens and buildings, all overlooked by the castle. And now the tram line is working, its easy to get to and to get around.
The Tower of Glenstrae
And then we were off out West, back to Glasgow by train and then on to the fabulous Tower of Glenstrae and our dear friends Maggie and Takki, where we like to think we started this adventure in November last year. This time our good friend Anne joined us, her first visit to the tower, and conversations, wine and whisky flowed long into the nights as old friends reconnected in a wonderful environment.
We made the most of the good weather with a trip to Mull, thanks to Takki for all the driving, and providing the brilliant walking weather!
After Anne L headed back to Glasgow, the weather stayed (mostly) kind and we explored Stirling (great castle) and the magnificent Kelpies, where again the stormy sky added to the dramatic environment.
A brief stop in Glasgow for haggis, neeps, tatties and some street art, then back to London town.
We enjoyed our time there, connecting with friends (thanks for the grand shed accommodation Julie!), organising our visa for the next two months in Indonesia and shopping for essentials. Then we spent a wonderful week of family time in Bristol – great to see Pam in good spirits, before heading to Stroud to catch up with Simon, Liz and family. Back to stay with Mary in London. And that is about it.
But as I said at the start this blog is missing the core part of our trip ‘home’. The hugs, the smiles, the craic and the loved ones – you’re with us in our hearts every step of the way.
Our plane is about to depart, goodbye London town… Asia, here we come!
In the past, maps were sketchy, illustrative affairs with missing detail, unchartered territory and oftentimes relied on rumour and superstition, when information was lacking.
It was the 16th Century Lenox Globe that first warned ‘hic sunt dracones’ when mapping East Asia, and certainly this could be related directly to tales of Komodo dragons told by local fishermen. More probably though, as with other maps outlining fantastic creatures, wild beasts and frozen seas, it was simply warning the intrepid traveller that they were about to enter unknown and uncharted territory and should expect the unexpected.
Now of course we travel with a digital map in our hand, where routes are already plotted and a search engine tells us whether dragons lie ahead before we set out. We search the globe seeking the new and exciting, while simultaneously clutching reviews and guides telling us where others have been before and what to do when we arrive.
Luckily, in defiance of Google Maps and Lonely Planet, as the ancient Greeks observed ‘No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man’. So for us, this section of our trip is unchartered territory, containing more mystery excitement and adventure – and yes, here there be dragons … and other wondrous creatures besides.
Towards the end of our time in East Bali, we again hired a car and travelled the less populous sections of this beautiful island in a 14 hour day of driving, exploring temples, coastlines and remote villages.
The luscious green rice fields, lakes and mountainous volcanic landscape of the Balinese countryside is spectacular.
Temples can be ornate and stylised …
… but also a bit scary
Pura Ulun Danu Bratan is on a lake amongst the clouds
After our month in Amed, we headed back down to Padang Bai for a few days diving in somewhat tough conditions (strong winds, cold water and heavy swell in a fishing boat) before taking a ferry to Gili Air, then on to Lombok, and from there heading to Flores for diving in Komodo.
With only sand for roads, there are four types of transport in Gili Air
We headed down to Kuta, in the southern part of Lombok, famous for its beaches, clear water and surf.
This part of east Asia still has plenty of travellers, but the roads are often less well made, or non existent in places, the beaches more remote and pristine and the lifestyle slower. We had a definite sense of the road less travelled as we bounced our motorbike along dirt tracks in southern Lombok (but yes, Google Maps was still there!), and we began to anticipate our final diving adventure for this part of our travels in remote Komodo
Sarongs and bracelets for sale …
Yes, we bought a bracelet.
The trip from Lombok to Flores takes three days by sea and road, so with our visa running short we had to fly back to Denpasar and from there to Labuan Bajo.
Our time diving at Komodo was simply fantastic. The environment above the surface is serene – calm seas, clear water and a beautiful unspoilt landscape. The resort was relaxed, friendly and peaceful and all the staff at Scuba Junkies Komodo worked hard to ensure everything came together for some world class diving. Plus we met some wonderful dive buddies from around the world, with evenings re-living the days dives, telling tales, smiling and laughing over a meal and a cooling Bintang. Happy times.
As always, I struggle to describe the experience of diving. It’s exhilarating, tranquil, awe-inspiring and breathtakingly beautiful all at the same time. The coral is teeming with life, the pelagics are majestic, in a boundless crystal clear sea. Whether you are hooked on in a pumping current surrounded by Mantas, sharks and devil rays, or gathered around an impossibly tiny Zebra crab, bemused by the mating rituals of cuttlefish, or just astounded by the wonder of it all, diving is special. We are lucky indeed to share this joy with each other.
Thanks to dive buddies Kristin, Sascha, Louisa and others for sharing these
Here be the Dragons
On our final ‘no dive day’ before flying to Denpasar and then on to Malaysia, we visited the nature reserve to see the Komodo Dragons. Perhaps not as graceful as the marine life we’d been witnessing over the previous days, but, with their armoured scales, flicking tongues and reputed speed, still pretty impressive.
So, we are currently in Melaka, Malaysia and we board a flight for our short trip home next week. We are really excited about catching up and hearing all the news before getting back on the road again.
At the end of September, we plan to dive in Sulawesi (and perhaps back to Komodo, depending on visas), then maybe heading towards NW Australia, aware that we will need to go looking for some new dragons.
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*bersantai (relaxation, rest) Indonesian/Malay bahasa
** see also,breaking newsat the end …
Once we had decided on our destination (see previous post, Borneo Briefly), the journey from Kota Kinabalu in Sabah to Bali was smooth and straightforward, with a direct evening flight from Air Asia.
Landing in Denpasar late at night proved a bit challenging though, as we negotiated the ATM (withdrawing a quick 2 million rupiah), then hassled to sort a taxi at 2.00am. Trying to calculate and adjust exchange rates that had moved from a tenner for 55 ringgit in Malaysia to an equivalent 172,000 rupiah in Bali, we were always going to be mugged by the taxi at the airport, especially at that time of night. But at least we sat calm and cool in the back of the cab crawling around the tiny silent side streets, as the cab driver asked everyone still awake if they knew where our lodging was.
The 10 minute ride proved to be more like an hour, but we got there and slept soundly through what was left of the night, then woke to our first cup of Balinese coffee for breakfast.
Of course Kuta was unrecognisable from our visit 36 years previously, but despite the buildings, clubs restaurants roads and traffic it still hangs on some charm. The small canang saris (offerings with incense in a palm leaf tray) are everywhere, especially outside shops and on the shore.
Little Hindu statutes, or even temples are prominent in people’s homes or in losmens. And when you are approached to buy a bracelet, a Bintang or a massage, just like all those years ago, the people are invariably calm and smiling.
Alongside the upmarket, often arrogant and exclusive resorts, restaurants and bars, normal interaction still happens – food stalls, kite flying and little ‘bars’ on the beach, with eskies, plastic chairs in the shade and a crate to put your feet up, watching the surfers as the sun sets.
Kuta was never going to be our destination in Bali, and after a day or so sorting essentials we took a Grab to Padangbai, further East along the coast. Although it’s a ferry port, connecting Bali to Lombok, Flores and beyond, it’s a sleepy little town for the most part. This was accentuated by our lodging, up on a hill (with the family living in the floor below us) and being woken by sunlight and birdsong rather than motorbikes at dawn. We checked out the local dive shop, hired a couple of motorbikes, visited the local beaches and considered whether this might be the place for us to chill and recharge for a month.
The steep hills and very narrow roads put us off using motorbikes for anything but local exploration, but we managed to hire a car for a couple of days exploring.
They drive on the left in Indonesia (it seems the Dutch, and their colonies did before the Napoleonic invasion – not cars obviously, but the colonies never changed) and we felt safer and happier driving a car rather than motorbikes through the mountains and countryside of SE Bali. We could talk, share the scenery, discuss/argue about the route and clarify what we were looking for as we travelled this beautiful country.
We visited Ubud and Klungkung over a couple of days, taking time out of the car to visit temples, go on walks through vibrant green rice terraces and soak up the beauty of rural Bali.
So, after two days wandering and discussing, we ended up in Amed. In reality Amed is a string of fishing villages that follow the coast, increasingly merging and linking as tourism expands. There are no big hotels, just small groups of lodgings, warungs (small family shops and restaurants, used by everyone) lots of fishing boats and the odd dive shop.
The beach is black volcanic sand/pebbles and the sun sets behind the 3000m high volcano, Mount Agung the highest point in Bali. We had been recommended Amed by Eedes, a dive buddy we met in Bohol, and we soon agreed it was the place we were looking for. The dive shop, Adventure Divers, came up with some suggestions of where to stay longer term and we soon found a little place on the beach, with a kitchen, including a fridge and a two ring stove. Lily Amed is a quiet, laid back place with super friendly staff and just a few bungalows, so it’s never really busy. Perfect.
We’ve been able to relax, to plan, to cook, eat healthy breakfasts and watch sunrises and sunsets. Our local Warung Enak has wonderful food when we don’t want to cook, and they have been kind enough to let us have fresh Tuna, brown rice, black pepper and proper bread for when we cook ourselves.
We’ve been diving with Adventure Divers, just on days when we felt like it, and experienced some lovely dives, from the iconic USAT Liberty wreck to muck diving and some interesting and varied natural and artificial reefs, all surrounded by black volcanic sand.
Most importantly we have been able to rest up, read books, think, talk and plan. And we’ve made some decisions…
So, we’ll move on from here in another few weeks, head back down to Padangbai then to Lombok and Komodo.
Breaking News …
From there we are flying back to Denpasar as our two month visa runs out, then off to Malaysia, and from Kuala Lumpur we’ll fly back to the UK for five weeks to say hello to all our family and friends. We land at Heathrow on the 24th August (nine months after we left) and we’ll fly back to KL on 27th September. Super excited 😁.
We don’t quite know where we’ll be staying (offers appreciated) or how we’ll be traveling around yet, but we’ll be in London, Bristol and Scotland and maybe points in between. Get in touch (comments below, or SM) and let us know when you’ll be around. We are so looking forward to seeing everyone we can, it’s been a while …
And, to finish off for now, a few pictures from peaceful Amed.
‘Hello, what’s your name, where are you from?‘ is the familiar call on the beach in the afternoon (after school) as kids try to sell bracelets.