West Papuan Paradise

Unsurprisingly, given our plans and dreams in London 2016, it seemed fitting that we would spend the end of 2017 diving what is probably the richest coral reef ecosystem in the world.

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In truth, it was simply good fortune and a last minute cancellation with Papua Explorers, that meant we ended up in the heart of Raja Ampat as 2017 moved in to a new year. It took some substantial reorganisation and planning for us to get to this remote location in West Papua, just after Christmas. But as a consequence of this rethink, we were able to spend a fantastic five weeks in Cambodia a country that had not been in our plans before – that’s the joy of traveling without a fixed agenda.

That change also meant we spent Christmas day in a hotel in Sulawesi that ran out of food, beer and cocktails on the day itself, but such is life on the road – and at least we were able to swim in the pool, relax and talk with family and friends around the world.

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Christmas Day proved to be a struggle in Sulawesi …

Raja Ampat

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The beauty and wonder of this dive destination was well worth the effort of getting there though, and we had some spectacular dives in seas that were bursting with life. Even the journey from Sorong to our destination on the island of Gam, West Papua promised something special – a pod of over a 100 dolphins turned up to play in the speedboat’s wake.

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Can anyone identify these dolphins? Thought they were Spinners, but didn’t see them spinning!

The exceptional diversity of marine life in Raja Ampat is down to both it’s remoteness from large scale human habitation and its position between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, where strong currents ensure coral and fish larvae are shared between the two oceans. Even by the standards of the Coral Triangle, this is an abundant habitat and we saw fish, sharks and coral that we had never encountered before. Wobbegong sharks, Oceanic Mantas (one ‘dive bombed’ me!) and Walking Sharks stand out, but there was life everywhere, alongside the most beautiful coral I have seen.

We also stayed in a truly idyllic environment, with a spacious pondok (cabin) on stilts over the sea, where we fell asleep every night to the sound of schools of fish moving in the shallows below.

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Our Pondok, where we were woken every day with a tropical dawn chorus
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Local carvings were everywhere
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sunrise

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We had peace, calm, beautiful sunrises and sunsets, with exotic birdsong from the jungle behind us. Plus we had some great company from divers who had travelled from around the world to greet 2018 in this special place.

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Diving locally almost every day ensured we could be conservative in managing our surface interval time and avoid any recurrence of Anne’s DCS. And staying in the centre of the marine park meant we were able to observe how the local villagers interact with tourism and benefit directly in preserving this marine eco-system, probably the most important guarantee for its continuing survival.

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Full credit to Papua Explorers for their efforts to educate and learn from the locals as well as explaining to tourists both the complexity and necessity of action to ensure this paradise survives.

And what a paradise…

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An ocean-going yacht on the horizon at sunset

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Farewell to Asia

Leaving West Papua marked a new year and a farewell to South East and East Asia, through which we’ve been travelling for over a year.

We are now in Melbourne Australia, reuniting with friends from what seems a lifetime ago when we were tram drivers here in the

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Waiting for the Cool Change

early 1980s. And of course, summer in Melbourne is currently in a hot spell – lowest temperature last night, 28°C; it’s now a hot 42°C, as I write this.

Like all Melbournians we’re hanging on for the ‘cool change’, that will see a 20° drop in temperature in half an hour – it’s due about 8.00pm tonight.

As with other times in this adventure when we’ve caught up with family and friends, there are likely to be fewer blog updates and photos as we concentrate on friendship and shared moments. We do intend to travel this vast and beautiful country over the next few months though, and will share the wonder as we go.

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Classic early morning, Swanston Street …

Click ‘follow’ to see where our adventure takes us …

One year on the Road

Just a few pictures from every month over the last year …

Not the ‘best bits’, because all too often there’s not a photo record of them. Just clusters of pictures to give a flavour of our wonderful adventure since leaving London twelve months ago.

We’re hoping the pictures say it all. If you haven’t been following the blog, this should sum it up.

And of course, dear family and friends (the old and the new!), please get in touch with all your news.

We’re having fun but we miss you all.💚

November/December

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December/January

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January/February

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February/March

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March/April

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April/May

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May/June

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June/July

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July/August

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August/September

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October/November

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The last shot was from 6.00 am this morning. The classic Angkor Wat at dawn. More from Cambodia in our next post.

‘Follow’ to keep in touch.

 

More tales from Sulawesi

We flew from north to south for the second part of our journey through Sulawesi – from Manado to Makassar. Travelers had told us that the journey to the Togian Islands in central Sulawesi was easier from the south, and we also wanted to visit the mountainous region of Tana Toraja, with its unique traditional way of life.

Edwin, our guide from Minahasa (see Sulawesi Penjelajahan) recommended a Torajan guide, Gibson, who we met in Rantapau. His local knowledge gave us a fascinating insight into Torajan culture as we spent two days touring the area.

Tana Toraja

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The Toraja inhabit the vast, rugged landscape of the South Sulawesi highlands. Although nominally Christian Protestant (imposed by Dutch colonial rule and evidenced by the numerous churches and cathedrals), the Toraja have an ancient animist faith that continues to determine much of their daily lives. Gibson recalled a local priest explaining to an anthropologist that his congregation were Protestant for one hour every Sunday, but animist for the rest of the week. They have an ancient caste system, centred around the extended family, their traditional home and complex rituals about death.

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A Tongkonan – traditional family house

Although modern Torajans may have left the area and made money, for example in the Indonesian oil and gold mining industries, their position in society is not measured in modern wealth but where their family is in the ancient hierarchy. Torajans (loosely translated as mountain people) believe in a mythical land to the south, to where the dead must travel and much of their elaborate ceremonies centre around this transition.

Family homes, tongkonan, are built collectively in a traditional style, using interlocking, elaborately carved wood, with no nails, always pointing north to south. The roof is made of overlapping bamboo, styled to represent the bow and stern of a boat.

They are built on stilts and have similarly crafted rice stores around them. The rice stores are a sign of wealth and have a raised door and round pillars to keep the rice safe from rodents.

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Rice Store – a bamboo ladder is used for access

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In tropical conditions, the bamboo roofs are soon bursting with life and need to be replaced every six or seven years.

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Internally, the room allocation also represents life’s journey – the young sleep in the northerly-most sections, the elderly nearest to their final destination, in the south.

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Interior with interlocking timber. Below our Torajian guide Gibson.
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Toraja is surrounded by mountains and rice terraces are everywhere

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Death in Toraja

We were introduced to the Toraja view of death with visits to a series of cliff faces and caves where upper-class Toraja dead are entombed. The graves are guarded by tau tau (life-sized wooden effigies) carved in their image. These eerie, striking cliff cemeteries and caves are scattered throughout the region.

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Bodies are put into graves once they have decomposed, meaning many generations will share the same space. The coffins (shaped like a traditional house) are carried to the cliff face or cave, and left to rot. Torajians have been outraged and offended to discover some of the ancient tau tau have been stolen and sold in the international art market.

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Anne and Gibson in one of the cave graves
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Many bodies, once decomposed, share the same coffin. As the wood rots, skeleton parts fall to the ground below

 

Burial tree

The most poignant burial site we visited was a tree where babies were buried. Situated close to a Torajan village, only those children from the village who had died before growing teeth were buried. They had to be buried within an hour of death. They were placed in the tree in the foetal position, and once sealed the parents walked away without looking back. The sap from the tree was believed to nourish the child until it was ready to make the rest of it’s journey. It was a sad and peaceful place in the forest.

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Each patch marks where a baby has been buried to be nurtured for its onward journey

Thankfully most of these graves are decades old and our guide explained that UNICEF now provide a free healthcare programme for new mothers and babies in the region. Infant mortality has dropped accordingly.

Sacred buffalo

One constant factor in our tour through the region was the importance given to buffalos, both as a sacred animal and a signifier of status. We saw them washed and pampered everywhere and found ourselves discussing the key discerning features of the most prized animals.

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The fairest of them all. Blue eyes, pink and black skin, only the wealthiest Torajan can afford this buffalo.

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Unlike elsewhere in Asia, they are not worked; rather they wallow in mud and have their needs catered to daily – until the moment when they are brutally sacrificed, usually in a funeral ceremony.

As shown earlier, houses are decorated with buffalo horns to demonstrate traditional status and wealth. When we visited the market in Rantapau we were told that the most prized animals were sold for up to US$4,000.

Death’s Journey

The importance of death to the Torajan way of life is shown most clearly in extensive funeral celebrations, taking place over days, and normally years after the person has died, with the body remaining in the family home throughout. The funeral itself is a celebration involving hundreds and is more of a going away party than a sad occasion.

When a Torajan dies the deceased is not buried but is embalmed and stored in a traditional house under the same roof with his or her family.  Until the funeral ceremonies are completed (often years later, depending on the family being able to raise the money for this most important celebration), the person is not considered to be truly dead but merely ‘a person who is sick’ or ‘asleep’.  During this time, the deceased family member is symbolically fed, clothed, cared for and taken out, and is still part of the family until arrangements are in place to send her/him on their final journey to the land of souls.

The funeral we attended was particularly lavish and involved two deaths, a man and a woman.

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The eldest daughter of the deceased with his tau tau

Both were of the status to have tau tau, which means over 200 buffalos would be slaughtered on the final day and the meat distributed within the community. Pigs and buffalo are also slaughtered daily, to feed the large numbers attending.

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With our guide we were welcomed to the celebrations
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Traditional dancing and singing

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Temporary accommodation needs to be built to house and feed the visitors, and the family members dress in elaborate traditional costumes.

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Everyone is involved, it demonstrates the importance of family and community to Torajans.

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The funeral procession involves carrying the coffin back and forth, with much laughter and good humor.

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The Togian Islands

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Situated only 40 km from the equator, in the Tomini Gulf, central Sulawesi, the Togian Islands are difficult to reach.

We hired a car for two days to make the journey from Rantepau – Tentena – Ampana (not a cheap option) in order to then catch the speedboat to Wakai. With an overnight stop there, we could catch the public ferry early the next day to the volcanic Pulau Una Una. We had met a couple in our lodging in Rantepau, Willi and Katja, who were heading in a similar direction, but they decided to take the public bus in order to save some money and maybe get to the Togians quicker.

The first leg of our journey, the 300km from Rantepau to Tentena took 11 hours to drive – two mountain ranges and a long section of the highway/roadworks reduced to a sea of mud in a tropical downpour, with a truck stuck at one stage, blocking the road.

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The highway can be slow at times – truck in mud

After a night’s sleep in the Victory Hotel, Tentena, we got up early the next day to find Willi and Katja sitting in the breakfast area – they had just arrived! Their bus had broken down and the journey had lasted 20 hours. They decided to travel the next stage in the car with us and we got on well, sharing information and stories from our collective traveling adventures.

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Public ferry from Wakai to Una Una

So, getting to the Togians is an adventure in itself, but there is a real sense of peace and isolation when you arrive, you really have ‘got away from it all’.

We spent our time in Sanctum Una Una, a dive resort with great diving just a short boat ride away. Our cabin looked out over the tranquil sea and the sounds we heard were rolling surf, the humming of cicadas and the burp of geckos.

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What a place to spend your birthday! Anne, living the dream …
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Driftwood Manta

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With such a wonderful location, the other key ingredient is the people, and they were fabulous. Joni and Indah were so friendly and kind – we won’t forget the birthday cake for Anne, Indah😁 🎂😁. The dive guides, Dorian, Allie and Emiline shared their enthusiasm every day and even though Anne couldn’t dive she saw bump heads, schools of  barracuda, turtles and beautiful coral while snorkeling.

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Not a sunset, moon rise on the equator

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We even met Will and Katja again – this is them surfacing after a dive at the end of our jetty

Happy days!

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Manta Man Dorian – he found a Manta, the first seen in Una Una – on my rest day 😢

Great staff, great guests and great crew. Thanks guys.👍

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Moving on

From the Togians we took a complex route back to Bali and checked in to our regular Denpasar lodging -for the fifth time this year I think! 20171117_064157_crop_748x489We’ve stored our dive gear with Made and Widuri in Jepun Segara and are touring Cambodia for a month or so. In reality we don’t intend to rush around too much, so it may be a country we will have to return to.

Follow the blog to find out!

 

Sulawesi Penjelajahan*

*Penjelajahan journey/adventure, Indonesian

It was around 4.30 last night/this morning (8/11/2017), when the rain came crashing down on the tin roof of our cabin in the Togian Islands with the intensity that only a tropical thunderstorm can generate. The racket, compounded by the cracking of thunder and lightning directly overhead, overwhelmed the previous, gentler sounds of cicadas, geckos and rolling surf. We are in the shoulder season in Sulawesi, that period between the wet and dry where blue skies give way daily to clouds and intense rain that lasts for an hour or so.

We have been in Sulawesi since mid October, diving and traveling in remote areas with fascinating scenery and people. Though it’s not even close to being the biggest island in Indonesia – it’s about the size of England, with a population of around 18 million – it impresses you as an intriguing adventurous place, difficult to travel around but full of varied, unique traditions, and wild, untamed land.

Flying in to Manado, in the north, we headed out by boat to Living Colours dive resort on Bunaken island, under threatening skies. The storm, and darkness arrived as we hit shore, with the boat threading it’s way through the mangroves, intermittently lit by lightning flashes. The next day saw blue skies and lovely diving – healthy coral, plenty of fish and turtles, and good visibility. Daylight also revealed the beautiful setting where we were staying, isolated, idyllic, peaceful (and with great food ☺).

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Diveboat in the Mangroves at Living Colours, Bunaken

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High tide

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Our cabin

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Heading out to Bunaken at sunset. View from Manado
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Christianity is important in the region – cathedrals next to shanty towns

Unfortunately after our second day of diving (easy, gentle, multilevel dives), that evening,  Anne developed a skin rash on her stomach that was tender and painful to touch. We were in contact with medical advice and insurers through the night and Anne took rehydration salts and painkillers. Diagnosed as mild skin DCS, thankfully it had disappeared by morning. However we took the boat back to Manado to consult the dive doctor there, who recommended Anne avoid diving for the next month.

So, our plans had to change. We stayed on at the resort, and I dived without Anne till the end of the week😢. We cancelled our diving trip to Lembeh and instead went back to Manado and booked a nice hotel, from where we planned to explore Northern Sulawesi – Tangkoko and Minahasa.

Tangkoko and Minahasa

Considering there is no developed tourist infrastructure, and given the variety of local languages, cultures, and terrain, the only way to properly explore the remote parts of Sulawesi is with a car and a local guide. We found a guide from Minahasa, Edwin, with

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Our guide, Edwin

decades of experience, who explained so much about the local cultures as we travelled through a beautiful landscape of vivid green ricefields, mountains, lakes and volcanoes. The highlight on our first day was a visit to the Batuangas Dua Saudara nature reserve. It is now famous as the location of the dispute over the Macaque selfie, and we were hoping to spot some, along with the tiny nocturnal Tasiers that live in the reserve.

In the late afternoon we entered the forest and luckily found a troop of Black Macaque monkeys, crashing through the trees, eating, playing, fighting and having sex, before heading up to the canopy above to shelter for the night. Photographing them in the fading light and the gloom of the forest was challenging – they were moving fast, crashing through the branches, running along the forest floor, often disappearing only to reappear for a moment and then move on.

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Female displaying

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Rodin Macacque
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Not quite navel gazing!

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And let’s not forget those tiny, shy Tasiers …

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Tiny little fingers!

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Following our exertions chasing primates through the forest we stopped at a local Warung for dinner and the local speciality of Tuna head – tasty, but hard work.

Tomohon

The following day we traveled through Minahasa, to the Tomohon area, with its traditional stilted houses, lush, productive land and beautiful volcanoes and lakes.

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Lokon volcano 

 

 

 

 

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We spent a lovely lunch watching birds feeding on the flowers, then visited Danu Linow volcanic lake, saw fish farms on the banks of Tondon lake, high in the mountains.

Tomohon Market – Pasar Beriman

Tomohon is famous for its market – Pasar Beriman, and there really is a staggering display of produce from local farms. Edwin had a long discussion with us about local customs in the consumption of meat so that we were prepared beforehand. We still found the scenes shocking though.

As a consequence I have placed that description, along with some graphic pictures in a separate file.

Sulawesi animal Document

Don’t go there if you think you might find it upsetting.

Pasar Beriman

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After our journey through Minahasa, we headed back to Manado for a nights sleep before flying down to Makassa to explore  southern Sulawesi and the Togian Islands.

Sulawesi was proving to be more varied and fascinating than we’d imagined. We will update the blog with stories from the south soon. Click ‘follow’ to get a notification of our next post☺ – and please comment/like and get in touch to your hearts content….

Roadtrip through Flores

The grandly named Trans Flores Highway cuts through forests, climbs over mountains and skirts around volcanoes on its 550 kilometre route from Labuanbajo to Maumere. Although it’s a single lane highway throughout it is an impressive feat of engineering, with spectacular switchback routes crossing a wild, luxuriant, dramatic landscape of dense forest, landslides, ricefields and lakes.

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Our driver Mr Donatus, and his son Herman
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Tourists are sufficiently unusual to be worth a wave and a smile
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Dramatic Volcanoes dominate the horizon at times

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For whole sections of the journey, signs of human habitation can be sparse. But the highway links the towns and cities with diverse, traditional rural cultures that seem unchanged in centuries alongside the five distinct linguistic and cultural groups that make up the islands population, from the west to the east.

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Labuan Bajo. We started from here after six days diving with Scuba Junkie
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All aboard the Trans Flores Highway

This beautiful four day roadtrip (and our diving in Komodo, of which more later) plunged us right back in to South East Asia, after our brief visit back to England (see ‘Home & Away’ ) in September. It was a fantastic way to acclimatise to the adventure and excitement of travel, we were back on the road and in a spectacular landscape full of wonder.

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We came across this buffalo and his mudbath up in the mountains in the Lembor ricefields

In comparison to Bali, Java and certain sections of Lombok, Flores seemed less developed in terms of tourism, and the locals less reliant on this as a source of income. The overwhelmingly rural economy seemed productive and people looked to have larger houses, gardens and a sustainable way of life. Of course poverty is never far away, but the roads were full of children walking to school and we were met with lots of smiles and laughter.

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The majority of Flores is Catholic (due to the Portuguese colonial regime). Every village has a church and many of the schools are Catholic run
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…. and the odd cathedral

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School’s Out

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Origami proved popular 😊

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The land in Flores seemed productive. Vivid green ricefields stretched across valleys, fruit and vegetables were on sale in roadside warungs and the forests themselves were full of jackfruit, papaya, mangoes, cashew, macadamia, bananas and pineapple.

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bananas in all varieties

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Macadamia
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The famous Spider Web ricefields

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It’s a stunningly beautiful landscape

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Of course much of central Flores is mountainous and pretty near impossible to cultivate. The terrain and the thick groves of bamboo, rising 20m+ mean that some areas are impenetrable.

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Nothing gets through here

We passed by some impressive volcanoes on our journey, some of them like Agung Inierie, currently active.

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Steam and water flowing from the crater of Agung Ebulobo

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We also came across a tribe of monkeys, foraging for food, on our journey through the mountains.

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Traditional villages in Flores

We visited a number of traditional villages  including Bena, where housing is a collective endeavor, built and lived in by families, some of whom are said to originate from Java. Although declaring themselves Catholic, it was clear that this was a religion bolted on to the ancient adat/animist beliefs which governs their daily lives.

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The stone plinth in the center of the village is the place of burial for tribal leaders and also where traditional sacrifices of buffalo are made

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We were able to meet and interact with many people on our journey. The general lack of tourists and the company of Mr Donatus and Herman helped (along with a bit of origami for the children).

Their pictures and portraits capture the beauty and diversity of Flores.

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Above and below are residents of the traditional village of Bena. In the full resolution picture of the girl below you can see the entire village reflected in her eyes.

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We came across a festival/celebration on the way to Bajawa, we still don’t know what it was about, but everyone was happy!

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Stopping for a coffee at a roadside Warung, we met this couple.

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This family came running out to say hello when we stopped to look at the view.

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Even Mr Donatus posed for a photo

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And there’s always kids playing football …

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…  or marbles

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Gunung Kelimutu

On our final day of the roadtrip, we got up at 4.00am to see the sun rise over the stunning volcanic crater lakes at Gunung Kelimutu. The  three lakes, Tiwu Ata Bupu (Lake of Old People) is usually blue and is the westernmost of the three lakes, Tiwu Ko’o Fai Nuwa Muri (Lake of Young Men and Maidens) and Tiwu Ata Polo (Enchanted Lake) are separated by a shared crater wall and are typically blue green or red respectively.

The lake colours are meant to change on a periodic basis, due to their differing connection to the volcano beneath, although it seems their colours have remained stable for some time. It’s a wonderful sight though, 1,600m up and a little chilly as the sun rises behind the lakes and the clouds swirl around.

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Not easy to photograph, looking in to the rising sun

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The shared crater wall between Tiwu Ko’o Fai Nuwa Muri and Tiwu Ata Polo
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Pot Noodles in the mist. The mountain’s monkeys have developed a taste for food discarded by tourists 😕

Komodo

It would be remiss not to mention our time with Scuba Junkie again in Komodo, where we spent six days of wonderful, exhilarating diving, prior to the roadtrip. The story of the diving is similar to our last post from Indonesia Here be Dragons and we once again saw the ocean’s beauty in an unspoilt, majestic environment.

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One creature that deserves a mention this time around is the ‘black and gold sapsucking slug’, a rarity underwater, but with a name that seems somewhat unfair, given its beauty.

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File photo

We also had some challenging dives, where the current (on a full moon) was the strongest we have ever experienced. Hooked on in the aptly named Cauldron, we struggled to avoid being swept away (I saw a snorkel fly by at one stage). Fish were being thrown around likes leaves in an Autumn storm.

We kicked hard to reach the shelter of the coral gardens and Anne needed help from dive buddy Daniel to get out of the current. I was doing relatively OK, until I realised that with my exertions to cope with the current, I’d used up all my air! Again Daniel was able to help, sharing his second stage for our safety stop. Bintang for the BFG at beer o’clock. 🍻

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Calm enough on the surface, the ocean pours between these two islands generating a fierce current.

We are now in Sulawesi, diving in Bunaken with Living Colours and thinking about where next on our journey, as the wet season is beginning to arrive in this part of SE Asia.

Just realised, this blog post is without a sunset, that would never do. Click ‘follow’ to get updates, and comments are always welcome😊

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Wonderful Komodo

 

Home & Away

It was Anne who first suggested a trip back ‘home’ as part of our journey, and it turned 20170925_193914-705x1253out 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.

20170925_212953-612x816So 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.

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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.

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Sign of the times. Poundland Wood Green – once famous for its Banksy on the wall is now reduced to 90p land

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.

Scotland

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.

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The tenement buildings add real character to Edinburgh

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The railway station still has lots of  grand Victorian flourishes

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An old Saab – a fabulous prop for a road movie!

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.

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The tower from the ruins of Kilchurn Castle

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Rainbow over the Loch
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Storm clouds add to the atmosphere

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!

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Glorious walking in Mull
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The evening ferry back to the mainland was idyllic

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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.

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The low grey clouds flying by added to the grandeur of the Kelpies

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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!

 

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Here be Dragons

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.

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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.

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Pura Lempuyang – Gateway to the Heavens, with its spectacular views of Mount Agung. Locals visit this temple and then climb 1,700 steps further up the mountain in pilgrimage. It’s a real family outing, with everyone dressed in their finest clothes.

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The luscious green rice fields, lakes and mountainous volcanic landscape of the Balinese countryside is spectacular.

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Threshing the rice

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Temples can be ornate and stylised …

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… but also a bit scary

Pura Ulun Danu Bratan is on a lake amongst the clouds

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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.

Gili Air

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Gili  Air, with Lombok across the water

With only sand for roads, there are four types of transport in Gili Air

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Coping somehow! ☺

Lombok

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

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Sarongs and bracelets for sale …

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Yes, we bought a bracelet.

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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.

Komodo

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Air Garuda to Flores, see the speedboat in the corner of this picture
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It’s then a boat ride from Labuan Bajo to Scuba Junkie

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Bats heading out at sunset

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.

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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

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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.

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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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