Nusa Penida

So near to Island of the Gods, yet so far…

It’s only a 30 minute speed boat ride from Bali across the Badung Strait but Nusa Penida is another world entirely. The waters around this island are notorious in diving circles for strong currents and the chance to see the elusive ocean sunfish but most divers arrive by boat, explore the underwater world and leave again without setting foot on land. This had always been our experience and indeed we knew the names of the villages only as they corresponded to dive sites along the coast!

Mola Mola

We arrived at the dock at Toyapakeh, rented a scooter and headed north to the village of Ped with its view of the sacred volcano Mount Agung in the east of Bali. We know Ped from the dive site Pura Ped so we had to go check out the temple by the sea. We were blessed by some beautiful cloud action over Bali to the west and the line of  traditional jukungs on the beach.

The island is reputed to be like Bali was 30 years ago, before the tourist boom brought affluence. The buildings are simple, the livestock plenty and the people so friendly that you can stop to chat to anyone.

In contrast to the simple houses is the money that is being invested in the local temples. As on Bali, these temples are intrinsically linked to family and community life. Historically, the island was inhabited by dark spirits, demons and gods and the struggle between good and evil led by the Hindu high priests brought with it the name Penida, meaning “Island of the Holy People”. The island later became a penal colony for criminals from the Klungkung kingdom in Bali and cemented its’ demonic reputation. Since then Penida has been revered by the Balinese Hindus who make pilgrimages to the island. These visits are thought to give the negative balance to the positive side of divinity; the balance between light and dark, which is fundamental to Balinese Hinduism.

We visited the Pura Goa Giri Putra with its tiny, keyhole entrance in the stone. We scrambled through the gap and as we unbent our backs we saw the low entrance open up into a huge cavern full of supplicants and Hindu trappings. We spoke to a few people who were visiting from Bali to pay their respects to the dark moon.

On Penida the roads are narrow, steep and in pretty bad shape. Some of them have had asphalt at one time in their lives but very little remains except pot-holes. With two of us on a scooter you get saddle sore quickly. We headed to the south coast with its towering limestone cliffs and panoramic views over Batu Abah, another dive site we have been to. It was interesting to see the river of current from our vantage point above in comparison to the last time we experienced it up close and personal while trying to get back on a dive boat!

On the cliffs above Atuh Beach you have picture postcard, panoramic views over the pulau seribu (thousand islands). There are only really half a dozen limestone rocks but they are impressive all the same, especially the arched rock in front of the beach.

Just further along the coast we saw a sign saying Suwehan Beach 150m….we should have realized that the distance was vertically down the cliff! Then once we get the beach in sight we spot the rope provided to navigate the last shere 10m drop! But what a beautiful spot and we were the only ones there, which is hardly surprising as the descent was in places steep and strenuous.

On the south west coast the erosion to the island’s limestone has created more natural wonders. Broken Beach is a favourite destination with visitors. This is another impressive limestone arch with waves crashing through in to an enclosed bay. If you walk a little further on then you reach Angels Billabong, a natural infinity pool. This is beautiful but danger lurks from freak waves that have recently been known to wash the unsuspecting tourist out to sea, never to be seen again.

As we drive around this, as yet, unspoilt island it is hard to see how the local people can make a living. There is a village which weaves some unique ikat and we just had to relieve them of a few choice examples for souvenirs. The cash crop here is seaweed, farmed in the shallows around the North and West coasts but rising sea levels threaten this aquaculture, which feeds the cosmetic and food industries. Traditional crops of cassava, corn and coconut still abound, but no rice is grown on Penida. We travelled some of the more remote roads of the island, more as a result of being lost than on purpose, and the terracing of the hillsides provides an impressive backdrop to our journey.

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Kelimutu

Kelimutu is a dormant volcano in the southern highlands of Flores and just one of many peaks in the Ring of Fire. What makes it special are the tri-coloured crater lakes sharing the same caldera at a height of 1300m. Although Kelimutu is our destination the journey through the rain forest of Flores is very special.

We choose to fly into Ende because we are interested to visit a small house on the east of the town. This rather quaint and unprepossessing house was where the future President Sukarno of Indonesia was exiled for his nationalistic tendencies in 1935. There is not much in the house but a few of the black and white photos show a young man with a vision. Most Indonesians are unaware that he composed the Pancasila in this backwater and changed the course of their country.

As we leave the coast we head upwards, along a new road which winds through lush mountain passes. A river courses through the valley and waterfalls cascade from towering cliffs lined with tenacious trees clinging to the sheer rock. Bamboo grows up from the valley, thick and tall. The rustic homes we pass still have latticed bamboo walls with modern, and more practical, corrugated iron roofs. In fact bamboo is utilised everywhere and we stop to check out the bamboo bridge crossing the river just outside of Ende.

Kelimutu-6Agriculture thrives in the valleys. There are wild banana and papaya trees alongside the roads. Then there are the terraced rice paddies and clove, cocoa and coffee plantations fed by the irrigation systems using mountain water. There are vegetable gardens with a wealth of produce near every house. We turn a corner to see a local market spread along the side of the road selling some of the best produce we’ve ever seen. The carrots looked so good that we had to buy some! We also bought oranges, aubergine and cabbage…its good to share some money around!

We pull off the main road into a village where the ladies weave ikat. Every stage of the process is there for us to see. The indigo for the black dye comes from a plant source which thrives in the rain forest. The orange which compliments it is not available locally and they need to buy it in from outside. One loom shows how they design the motif, masking the orange threads before dipping in indigo. Others are more advanced with some of the weaving complete. Some of these ikat take months of diligent work to complete and provide a much needed source of income to the village. Of course we had to buy some to add to our collection!

As we drive higher we pass through the cloud base and are enveloped by swirling tendrils of mist. Darkness is falling, adding to the surreal atmosphere, but finally we drive out the other side and into another world.

The village of Moni is perched on the side of Kelimutu and this is our last stop for the day. We stop for dinner at a local ‘reggae bar’ where we try the local specialities of Moni cakes and arak, a local spirit distilled from palm fruit and sweetened with local honey.

We are staying at the EcoLodge which, as you would expect, is environmentally oriented. It is part of a group of lodges found in some of the more popular parks in Indonesia which use solar power for their lights, recycle waste water, recycle their organic waste to feed the pigs and support the local community with employment. The lodge is not luxurious but it is certainly comfortable. It is set in a beautiful rainforest garden and the rooms are based on a traditional design which we found out more about the following day when we visited a traditional Lio village.

Kelimutu EcoLodge-1The town goes to sleep early because we all need to rise for the trip to the crater the following day, by 9pm the only sound is the crickets outside the windows.

We get up at 3.45 the next morning and drive most of the way up the side of the volcano as we slowly wake up. There is a short trek on a paved path which takes us up to the peak and although it is still dark it is not difficult. We can see the shadows of the lakes in the darkness as we move up to the viewpoint and wait for the sun to rise. It seems the volcano spirits are pleased with us as we are treated to a spectacular sunrise with the clouds flaming in the sky.Kelimutu-3

This view from the top of the world is truly magnificent! As the sky brightens we can see the turquoise colour of Nuwamuri Ko’o fai lake below us. Kelimutu means ‘Boiling Lake’ and the water looks alive with iridescent patches blooming from the bottom and spreading on the surface. You can see the minerals at work and you realise why those that have been known to fall in the lakes have not come out alive.

Sunrise-1

As the sun rises we notice the second lake, right behind the first, sharing a razor-thin crater wall. This one is called Atapolo and is a similar turquoise colour to the first although this has not always been the case. One of the wonders of these lakes is the evolution of colours on record. When they were ‘discovered’ by Dutch geologists in 1914 they were red, blue and white. In more recent times they were: black, turquoise and brown in 2009; various shades of green in 2010; black-brown, green, and the last one was in the process of changing from green to red in 2013.

Simon-1

The local Lio hill tribes revere the mountain of Kelimutu and the crater lakes. Although most of the people are officially Catholic their animist traditions mix uncomfortably. They believe that the lakes are the spiritual resting place of their ancestors. Tiwu (‘lake’) Nuwamuri Ko’o fai is the ‘lake of the young men and maidens’, so those that died young. Tiwu Atapolo is the ‘bewitched lake’ so is for the spirits of bad people and Tiwu Atambupu is the ‘lake of the old people’. The Lio people believe that the colour changes of the lakes are a result of neglected ancestral souls. Geologists believe the cause is the oxidation-reduction status dependent on the balance of volcanic gas input and rainfall rate which is mediated by the groundwater system in the volcano itself. Today the third lake is brown.

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We visited the traditional village of Saga and met the head shaman who incongruously is called Pak Maxi! He showed us around the village and emphasised the importance of the lakes to his ancestors and explained that the traditional tall roofs are so that there is space for their gods above them and the bad people are filtered out as they ascend in to the roof space. There is also space under the houses where the corporeal remains of the ancestors are buried.

Saga-1

Later he invited us back to his house to enjoy coffee from his own plantation on the mountainside and to show us videos on his laptop whilst elaborating on many of the animistic rituals.

In Saga Village each important stage of the farming process is preceded by a ceremony and the ritualistic sacrifice of a small animal, usually a chicken. More important ceremonies such as funerals are marked by the sacrifice of a pig and his father’s funeral three years before (he was head of the village) led to the demise of seven pigs on consecutive days. Of course all of this is interspersed with prayers to a Christian god.

Village AltarThe time spent with Maxi in his Saga Village was for us a highlight of the whole trip, he is passionate about his people’s life and beliefs adding a whole new dimension to the trip. The day became a spiritual as well as panoramic experience and this was by far the side of the trip we reflected most on as we made our way back to Bali later that afternoon. As a leaving present he gave us some local Macadamia nuts to enjoy later at home and we added this to our bag of souvenirs and memories which we will continue to enjoy along with our photos.Souvenirs of Kelimutu

 

South Kalimantan Junket

Tanjung Puting is a small peninsula that extends in to the Java Sea from South Borneo. It is a beautiful but in some ways rather sad area of 3000 square km where wildlife gathers in a National Park  constantly under threat from the encroachment of palm oil plantations.

Proboscis Monkey climbing

In this oasis of remaining natural habitat, we charter a small riverboat for a few days with the aim of encountering as much of the local fauna as possible along the way. We travel by day between each attraction along the riverside. We develop a routine of watching the trees slide by interspersed with jungle hikes, our eyes constantly on the look out for wildlife.

riverboat (1 of 1)

The residents of Tanjung Puting include all manner of jungle creatures. There are many reptile species including snakes and crocodiles, prolific bird life and several species of mammal, most of them understandably shy and hard to spot.

Monkeys and apes are often among the easiest to observe and we have a particularly memorable encounter with the disturbingly human-like Proboscis Monkey. The troop uses our passing boat as an indicator that the crocodiles are in hiding and so make their daily river crossing. For a Proboscis Monkey this means finding a tall tree close to the river’s edge and launching itself towards the opposite bank. The adults take the lead then sit in the bushes, calling to their youngsters to follow suit. Some make it and some do not, falling with howls of dismay in to the water from which they quickly scramble sopping wet, chattering and complaining loudly all the while.

 

Proboscis Monkey Jumping

Of course the real attraction of this area, and the reason for our journey, are the Orangutans.

Orang and baby

Rather hairy and very entertaining there are many hundreds here and most of the population have been moved to the area and rehabilitated through the work of Orangutan Conservancy. They now enjoy a life of relative safety from humans, although many will never be truly wild again. This old male sits patiently outside the banana store.

Camp Leakey

The feeding of “wild” animals can be a difficult issue, often debated by those interested in animal welfare. Here some of the animals clearly depend upon the feeding stations set up throughout the park for most of their food but the intention is that this should be a helping hand towards independence.

Feeding station 3

As well as supporting the Orangutans in their efforts to reintegrate into the wild, feeding allows the human apes to get close enough to enjoy the full character of their beautiful cousins, providing the area with much needed eco-tourism.

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At the appointed time both species appear close to the feeding areas, gazing at each other on the path through the jungle so that one often wonders exactly who is more interested in whom. The Orangutans, in ones and twos, slide down trees or simply walk to the raised platforms and take their fill of bananas, rambutan and other fruit on offer before disappearing quietly.

Of course the Great Apes are not the only ones to take advantage of the free food and the Long Tail Macaques and even a Baboon sneak off with bananas whilst hairy, orange backs are turned.

Banana Baboon

Later, as we prepare for another night sleeping on the deck of our river boat there is time to discuss the bitter sweet experiences of the day. Reflecting on the marvelous opportunity we have had to interact with the animals of Kalimantan while cash driven humans continue to slash and burn the natural environment they all depend upon.

sunset over the river (1 of 1)

It is sad to note that, even though this area has been a game reserve since 1935, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 1977 and a national park since 1982, the palm oil plantations continue to nibble away at the fringes. Corruption and greed leading those in power to turn a blind eye to illegal slash and burn and murder of the forest creatures.

This constant pressure is ever reducing the available space for Orangutans in the reserves of Kalimantan and Sumatra. When an average male orangutan needs up to 15 square km for its territory such reserves will ultimately never provide the space for the species to thrive.

Following our visit to this area we were determined to eliminate Palm Oil and its derivative products from our lives. We would encourage you to find out more about the subject. Making informed choices in your spending can positively impact the lives of species such as the Orangutan.

Union of Concerned Scientists

Rainforest Rescue

The Orangutan Project

Palm Oil Action

 

 

 

 

Makoros on the Delta

The Okavango Delta is the terminus of the fourth largest river system in southern Africa.It is fed by the Okavango River’s run off from the Angolan highlands and covers a huge inland area of Botswana, an oasis in an otherwise arid country. Considered to be one of the seven natural wonders of Africa and a UNESCO World Heritage Site the abundant wildlife depends greatly on the vast grasslands and waters available for much of the year.

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The traditional way of navigating the often shallow and overgrown channels is by dugout canoe, locally called Makoro. These were historically made from ebony although in the attempt to preserve these majestic trees modern Makoro are increasingly made from fiberglass. Our guide is from the local tribe and knows these waters like the back of his hand. We are also blessed that he has eyes like a hawk. At one point we stop and even though he is over six feet tall, he effortlessly bends from his precarious position and scoops out a large terrapin.

Terrapin

The sense of peace and tranquility is almost overwhelming. Gliding silently through the still waters by canoe brings us so close to our environment; every sound is magnified and every sight is vivid to our opening senses. The waterways are shallow and the overhanging grasses bring smaller African species right to our eyes. A tiny  Angolan Tree Frog relies on its camouflage to hide from its predators, and passing tourists, spotted only by a sharp-eyed guide.

Reed Frog

The whispering of the wind in the grass is punctuated by bird call and we strain our eyes to see the endemic Kingfishers in the distance. Wading through the shallows an African Glossy Ibis surveys us as it hunts for its afternoon meal.

Glossy Ibis

Silently we pole through the water and the wildlife comes to us. The dragonfly that lands gently on the hull of the boat poses for a photo. We can even hear the hum of its wings beating.

Dragonfly (1 of 1)

Older elephants often come to the waters edge to feed on the soft roots of the reeds and grasses. Their teeth are no longer strong enough to chew the harder food stuff of younger animals. This old bull is so still we almost don’t see him behind the towering grass. Its only his twitching ears that give him away.

Elephant (1 of 1)

The waterway opens and we find ourselves in a lagoon. There are lily pads all around. It must be getting late in the day because the flowers are blooming and the white petals show starkly in the reflections.

lily (1 of 1)

In the distance a family of Hippopotamus enjoys a late bask in the sun. We keep our distance from these, the most dangerous of African animals.

Hippos

We look up the see the full moon rising above the trees and pull our Makoro onto the sand bank to enjoy a better view.

Makoros in moonlight (1 of 1)

Makoro guide (1 of 1)

At the end of a great day we head silently back into the African sunset accompanied by the chorus of crickets marveling that so much water could simply disappear in to the earth mere miles from the Kalahari desert.

Mokoro sunset

View the short video of our Mokoro experience

West Bali Junket- Buffalo races

West Bali is an area of the island that is largely ignored by the tourist masses and locals alike. Many thousands of people pass through every week on their way to or from Java, traveling the perilous ‘main’ road linking Denpasar in the south to the port of Gili Manuk at the north western tip, but few (other than the get-away-from-it-all surf crowd) stop to experience its’ sights.

We hazarded the journey with a couple of friends who were intent on seeing ‘Buffalo Racing’ in the distant town of Negara.

This is certainly not an event put on for the entertainment of tourists. In fact it is little publicised and a true piece of Bali country life. It is a series of highly competitive races held over a few dry season months. The contest originates on the Javanese island of Madura and was brought to Bali many years ago by migrant workers. It is now fully embraced by the local Balinese population and many hundreds were present cheer their teams on.

Buffalo racing-7.jpg

So it was that by little more than luck and a good grasp of the Indonesian language we found ourselves in a hot, dusty field packed with colourful wagons hitched to pairs of buffalo. Most striking were the highly valued albino buffalo dressed in full racing livery.

Buffalo racing-4.jpg

Each race is held as time challenge around a dirt track with two or three participants battling it out. The team achieving the lowest total time for all the races wins great prestige for their village and takes the prize, although no-one could actually tell us what that prize was!

buffalo racing albino.jpg

Buffalo are not known for their swiftness so you can imagine the physical punishment involved to get them moving. The charioteers are not shy in their use of the studded batons with which the animals are “encouraged” to stampede around the course.

This is no day trip for for the faint hearted. The scene was ‘gritty’ in all senses of the word; the dirt, the blood, the sweat, the shouting, the pounding of hooves inches from your face while you take photos. The absence of any ‘health and safety’ in the presence of charging buffalo is something you can witness in the slow motion video.

Away from the melee it was a relief to find some shade, drink a juice and buy some peanuts from a passing vendor.

Buffalo racing-5

Suddenly it was all over. We followed many of the prized animals, hot, foamed with sweat, dirty and blooded to the beach where they were bathed by their attendants in the surf.

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So ended one of our more interesting Sunday mornings on the Island of the Gods.

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Myanmar

2015 marked us as well overdue for a new trip so when a friend mentioned Myanmar we did some research which quickly became a 10 day trip to experience this magical country.

It wasn’t just the people or the culture, neither was it the architecture nor the pagodas dripping with gold leaf. it was quite simply all of it! Myanmar is an amazing place to visit for an all around cultural and historical experience. Still some 20 years or more behind most of the rest of the surrounding countries Myanmar is poised to become a popular tourist destination because it has so much to offer and we were lucky enough to go before the crowds.

This was a very different type of trip for us. Our backpacks firmly hung up and gathering dust we used a professional tour and travel company with the auspicious sounding name of “Myanmar Golden Glorious Travel“. We had a private tour with an excellent guide who took very good care of us. Zaw (pronounced Zo) is a photographer himself as well as a trained geologist and hugely knowledgeable on his specialist subject which was the pagodas of Bagan. His father-in-law is responsible for the archaeology of the Bagan area and Zaw himself has guided several renowned foreign university professors picking up an extensive knowledge of the history of the area as well as the rest of his country. We were in very good hands!

We entered the county at Mandalay and traveled via Mingun, Bagan and Inle Lake to arrive in Yangon before flying back out via Thailand. Along the way we traveled by plane, car, minibus, boat, train and even horse & cart…

Welcome!

Welcome to our world!

We came by a WordPress account more by luck than judgement, there was no pressing need to express ourselves on the www, we were just helping a friend out. Then we got to thinking that as we enjoy taking photographs both underwater and on land, and love traveling to new and different places in order to do so, we should make use of this medium to share a little of what we have done and what we have seen. Maybe to educate, entertain, inspire or maybe just because spending all this time (and not a little money) just to post the results on social media seemed like such a waste! Who knows how much we will actually post, its possible we will find ourselves lacking the time or inclination to add much content or perhaps we will join our blogging friends regularly out there in the aether…

So here it is, our chance to share a little of our world with friends, family and maybe even  complete stranger or two!

We hope you enjoy.

S&A