Friday, April 29, 2011

353 Days to Paradise

  Wow, here it is...  Paradise.  We found it amongst the islands of Indonesia; beaches that stretch to infinity, great surf forever, cheap wine, and an ocean the likes of which you only see in post cards.  Its true, this place does exist, Nima and I as well as Lena and Mark spent about a week there.  The Islands we visited were Gili Trawagan and Gili Meno.  When I say Islands that go on forever its really because we are on an Island where one of the first days we rented bikes and road all the way around it, and there wasn't an unscenic spot.  We had snorkel gear with us and where ever we saw fit we jumped in and took a look at what the sea had to offer, it never let us down.  We attended an awesome full moon party where we drank with the locals and danced till we were to drunk to, who ever says danced till they dropped were just colorfully editing the facts.  Whilst Nima and I caught up on chillin, Mark and Lena took diving lessons, and had a great time; saw seven foot veggie sharks, giant sea turtles, you name it.  There aquatic adventures got us a free ride to the next island.
  Population 350, Gili Meno is really a travelers dream come true.  The place is empty.  While looking for a place to stay I had a bathroom emergency, I am good at these by now so I already had a map of where to go in my head.  The winner was a little shack on a sandy road by the coast, where it looked like there only stock were a couple of packs of Marlboros, and a bear or two.  They let me use the facilities and I in turn bough a beer. The reason I told you this tale of triumph is only because we happened to stay near this diamond in the ruff, and happened to dine there for one of the best dinners on our trip.  Amazing white snapper while we lounged on a pillow laden hut, gazing on the surf.  On this island we used horse drawn carriages to get around, and they took us to our ocean side hut.  Anywhere you snorkeled was like sticking your head in some rich guys aquarium, without the whole awkward  meeting and asking if you can do it.  There is land for sale on this pearl, and if you can part with 30,000, you might be able to land yourself 6 acres beachside.  We spent our days here sifting through shells on the beach, chillin with Nemo, and oh the best part, sippin the local vino.  For three bucks you can score yourself a refilled 1500 ml water bottle of Palm wine, or for six you got the same amount of rice wine.  The palm smells like a fart, but other than that its all good, I am actually partaking in some now.  The rice wine is like some of the best saki ever, either way you win.  Leaving this place was like removing a nasty hang nail, you really don't want to, but you know that if you don't you'll end up in some Indonesian prison somewhere, you know how it is.
  Anyway we had to get back to Bali for our fights out.  We bid our farewells to our traveling companions and bailed to Sanour.  Nima and I spent three excellent air conditioned days awaiting her flight home and my flight to the land of Oz.  They flew by, to say the least, and now you as the readers are stuck with me.  We had such a great time on our travels together.  353 days traveling this world to the best of our abilities and now its time for Nima to get home.  I love ya babe, great time.  The world is your oyster, so make sure its a big one with a pearl.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hotel Balifornia

  Bali bound baby.  After a night in the airport, and a quick visa overstaying fine, we were off like a turd of hurdles to the land of beaches waves and beers.  A couple of puddle jumps we were out of the rain and into the sweltering equator heat of our touristic destination.  Into Kuta we ventured, expecting the worst, but hey, we've been to India.  This has become our travel mantra so to speak, and other travelers agree its a good one. 'Hey, we've heard Vietnam is a little tough, people ripping you off, and its dirty.' Someone might say, to which we respond, 'Really, didn't notice, we've been to India.'  To which they might add, ' Ok thats good to know.'  Any way, Kuta is what any tourist center of a country that survives on tourism might be like.  We found a place with a pool and hunkered down for a few days till my pops arrived.
  Man it was great to see my dad, I got to hold the sign and everything when he got off the plane, and I waved it in front of everyone, just in case he had some kind of identity change while I've been gone, but there he was.  We had a great few days of catching up in Kuta, but steered clear of the ocean there.  A storm had washed in some trash, but it was nice to chill and wait out my dads mellow to non existent jet lag to wear off.  Dad had an exciting helmet-less ride through the crowded streets to be shown a rental car, and rented it to escape from the ride back, so now we were mobile.  We headed south first and explored the beaches of Nusa Dua where we got our beer on the beach and watched the surf.  We also got to check out the locals farming some sea weed, an interesting concept.  After a mellow day at the beaches, Nimas high school friend Lena showed up with her boyfriend Mark, so now were were a party of five.  It was great to be surrounded with smiling familiar faces and we drank weak beer and laughed till the wee hours of the morning, it was about 11 or 12 at least.
  Time to go north in our left sided manual trail blazer packed to the brim, with dad at the helm, and me as navigator, through the tinny twisted signless streets of Bali.  Dad made a great pilot, saw a bit of papa shine through for sure as we made our way this beautiful place.  On the way we stopped at a temple, and had more fun than a barrel of monkeys, because instead of a barrel there was like a thousand of them.  They were jumping and swinging on trees and people and if you even let on that you were thinking about getting some bananas to give to them they were on you quick.  We had a good time until one of the daddy monkeys with two inch fangs decided that he wanted our bug spray, so Nima tossed it to me and at a certain point you just don't care about bug spray that much, you know.  One of the workers at the park charged it though and it ran off.  That day we made it all the way to the north coast, where we chilled at a beach side resort with a pool.  Pretty plush stuff, needless to say I slept like a baby in our AC room.  Up north we visited a killer waterfall, yet undiscovered by the hordes of travelers.  It was nice to see an amazing waterfall again.  While we were there we hung with a local organic farmer who offered us his home grown vanilla beans, anise, saffron, we ate one of his cacao fruits, and we delighted in his home made poo coffee, and before you start, I just don't know what to call it, you know the coffee from The Bucket List thats digested by a sivit, then you turn it into coffee, yea that stuff, it was an awesome place.  They even gave us jungle umbrellas to ford the monsoon that hit us on the way out. One night we hung with some locals at their bar, jammed a bit, and listened to their version of Hotel Balifornia, they really rocked. We finished our northern excursion with some of the best snorkeling I have ever seen on an Island off the west coast of Bali.  We floated above a 30 meter droop off at the end of a reef, I didn't know tropical fish could get that big.
  Next on the agenda was Sanur, a beach paradise on the east coast of the Island.  This was a sleepy little hang out, just our speed, with a reef break like a mile from the shore.  We spent more days kickin it, and really relaxing for the first time in a long time, and hey I know what your thinkin, 'Matt what's so hard, you don't even work, you just travel and have a blast all the time,'  but let me tell you, I've been to India, so step off yo.  We had a great time with my pops, and I'm sure he had a great time too, the two weeks flew by way to fast, but there's always next time, and that next time will be in New Zealand.  We said our steamy eyed good byes at the air port, but that was only because we had saw dust in our eyes, we are men ya know,  and Nima and I headed into Legian to regroup for a couple of days.  Love ya pops, thanks so much.
  In Legian about all we did was eat street soup, that was awesome by the way and all the locals were eating it, and I tried surfing, and failed, should have stuck with the old forgot my wax story, but it was cool to get my ass kicked by waves again.  Next it was a boat ride to the Gili Islands, a string of little paradise Islands off the coast of the island Lombok.  Its here where we met up with Lena and Mark again, since Sanur, and our foursome got bicycles (there's no motorized traffic on this island, or Police, just horse pulled carriages) and snorkels and have been swimming with sea turtles ever since.  This little Island, that you can bike around in an hour, is going to be tough to leave.  Summer camp is the only way to describe the mentality of this place.  Summer camp with shrooms and muslims that is.  I'll leave you with some advice I read on a sign here.  Do you like being touched by strangers?  Neither do the Turtles, respect ALL the locals.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Puddle Hopping in Paradise

Through out our trip in the south of Thailand and it's beautiful Islands the phrase "gotta go though hell before you get to heaven" rattled around in our brains.

We began our journey from Bangkok again, taking an over night bus to Chumphon and from there catching a boat to a tropical Island paradise. This whole trip was a huge cluster, and to top it all off Matt had some awful tummy bug which sent him into painful  stomach spasms roughly every 1/2 hour. We began by chasing a man who had taken our tickets from us and then walked off briskly down the bustling alleys of Bangkok. It took us a moment or two to respond by which point the man was nearly gone; so off we went bounding frantically down the street with our packs (currently weighing about 17 kilos each.) With a little luck we found him and our bus and began the first leg of the trip.

The Bus it self was quite comfortable, we watched a movie and it seemed that Matt had almost recovered from his tummy aches... But four o'clock in the morning came and we were woken up and chucked off the bus, bags and all on the side of the road in the rain (once again for those who follow the blog.) The panic of it all sent Matt's poor tummy into a violent fit of anger which in turn sent him, clutching his bum and running for the toilet frantically. He then found himself pleading with the toilet guard, who wanted 5 bath ($0.15) which he didn't have, explaining that it was an emergency. A new pair of pants and a 1/2 hour wait later we were off again, spirits dampened but non the less on our way.

The next leg of the trip was the 3 hour boat journey to Koh Tao, a little Island in the Gulf of Thailand. Island hopping, sounds nice huh? I was bit worried even before we got on, my mothers incessant warning of the ocean may have fallen of deaf ears but, some thing of it always lingers in the back of my head; and only adding to that i find that most of my boat excursions are spent leaning off the back vomiting violently. We left the safety of the harbor with a boat full of giggling children and smiling happy faces and arrived in Koh Tao with tear streaked faces, vomit covered clothes, adorned in life jackets and soaked to the bone. It was one of the scariest experiences of my life. We got out in the ocean in our 50' boat to find 5 meter swells       (as high as our boat) and torrential rain. I spent the ride hanging on to the deck while the ocean tried to gobble me up and puking my guts out along with a good 20 other people. I never went back inside but Matt tells me that the down stairs seating area looked like a scene from a disaster movie. Windows that normally looked out on the horizon were fully submerged in the seething oceans and people were completely terrified, all in life jackets and clutching each other. This weather is actually unheard of in Thailand in this season, but there you go. We made it alive, both of us! We got off on a rickety Island dock that was practically tearing apart in the storm. At that time I wasn't sure if I was going to make it home, or ever even off that little Island, getting on a boat in 3 days was absolutely on the bottom of my list.

Enough horror stories, the trip from hell was over, we found a nice little room and the sun came out to grace us with it's presence the next morning. We rented a scoot with massive dirt bike wheels, without them it would have been impossible to go anywhere the roads were so bad. We spent two days scooting around the Island, we found some beautiful beaches and did a bit of snorkeling which is always lovely. Koh Tao had a lot to offer, considering it's slow Island pace. The nights were filled with fire dancers and parties, and our days were spent swimming and watching the tide roll across the shore while drinking a fresh coconuts. Living the True Island fantasy.

The gods looked kindly on us for our next little hop; we had a beautiful day and smooth ride to Ko Lanta which is a big Island in the Krabby region of Andaman Coast. This area of Thailand was interesting, predominantly muslim and not heavily touristed in comparison to other Thai Islands. Matt and me found a beautiful bungalow for 300 bath ($10) which was ideal... however we found out later that we were sharing it with some strange cross breed of a bird and a wasp. Giagantic-flying-black-stinging-beasts that had actually bitten holes into through the bamboo and built hives inside (I couldn't even bite a hole through bamboo?) We lived together quite happily once we had gotten the territories sorted. It rained and rained and rained while we were there (4 days.) We managed to get out and see a little bit of the island regardless. We went to a beautiful little ancient village which was once used by the chinese as a port, the houses were around 200rd years old and stood on stilts over the sea. Other than that, more coconuts, more beaches, but the rain really put a damper on the beach life so we moved along hoping to out run the weather.

Ko Phi Phi next, an little Island with absolute breath taking beauty. But like anything in that category, wined and dined, used and abused, and left out to dry but the hordes  euro flash packers that comb over south Thailand's beaches.  Ko Phi Phi is actually the Island from the movie 'the beach' for those of you who have seen it (I haven't.) We only spent 2 nights here due to the astronomical price of the place. The day we arrived we hiked one of the mountains that forms Ko Phi Phi and down the other side to a far off beachy cove. A great walk but we found our selves tromping through the Island Jungle in a torrential down pour on the way back. The next day we decided to take a long-tail boat ride over to Phi Phi little sister of a island 'Phi Phi Ley.' And by some miracle the storm lifted right before we left and the sun painted the ocean electric blue again. Phi Phi Ley is a national park so the island and coral's true nature and beauty is being preserved. We snorkel over there, which was unbelievable, a myriad of rainbow fishes swimming right past you, perhaps even brushing your leg with their fin as they went. There were also these giant polka doted red and blue fishes that were eating the coral, or so it appeared, you could hear then chomping down and crunching away. I never knew the ocean could be so beautiful but there it was, and the sun was out for the first time in over a day, it was heavenly. After snorkeling our boatman took us to Maya Bay which IS a screen saver. We spent and hour or two strolling to silky smooth golden sands and then the storm  began to roll back across the sea. You could see it coming, so we embarked on the journey back and though the rain was liking our heels we made it back relatively unscathed. We are so happy to have had that 3 hour gap of good weather to really take in the stunning beauty of this place.

This was the last Island stop in Thailand for us and we made our way to Phuket airport where we actually spend an surprising bearable night sleeping on a abandoned stairwell.  I am writing you now from Bali where we have more stories to tell, thanks for reading.
xox ~Nima