Saturday, January 30, 2010

Day 78 – Indonesia

December 22, 2009 - Cemoro Lawang, Java to Anturan, Bali, Indonesia

It’s a 4:00am wake-up to catch the sunrise from the crater and we wake up to our alarms going off.

And then we go back to bed.

It’s a 5:00am wake-up to catch the sunrise from the crater and we make our way up the village road, past small homes, onion fields and people starting their day.

We walk for about 45 minutes before arriving at a bend in the road, which is a perfect location to see the sun rise over the mountains and the mist rise up from the crater. I cannot seem to take enough photographs to capture the beauty of it all. It’s stunning!

After a bang of a start to our day, we pack ourselves up and prepare for our long trip to Anturan, Bali.

We start with a 2 hour minibus ride back to Probolinggo. From there, we catch a 5 hour bus ride to Ketapang, take a 20 minute taxi ride to the ferry terminal and hop on the 1 hour ferry ride over to Bali, after which we need to catch another bus for the 2 hour ride to Anturan, along Lovina Beach, which is where we’re staying.

Everything is going well, up until we reach the ferry terminal in Bali.

It’s now 7:00pm and the last public bus has just left, so we get in the queue for a minibus. Unfortunately, it’s not so much a queue, as it is just Eric & I waiting by ourselves. The minibus driver tells us he will go once he gets enough people – at least 6 others – which at this point is okay by us because we haven’t eaten much all day and are starving.

We grab a bite to eat and then start waiting for more passengers.

And we wait.

And we wait.

It seems no one else is coming.

The minibus driver offers to take us to Anturan for 8 times the already inflated price, and since we can’t afford it, we decline.

And this is where it gets even more frustrating.

From previous experience, bus terminals are not always the most pleasant places to sleep, so we ask him where the nearest hotel is. He tells us there isn’t one nearby, but he’d be happy to drive us to one an hour away. We ask other people and no one will tell us… the ones they recommend are all far away, and of course they’d be happy to drive us to them, for a price of course.

We find it hard to believe that a town with a ferry terminal, a bus terminal, an army base and other large institutions doesn’t have any hotels, but it’s now 9:00pm and we’re limited on how far we can walk around to explore. So, with no other options, we buckle down to spend the night in the bus terminal.

We decide to sleep in shifts – one of us will get some sleep, while the other stays awake. Eric takes the first watch and pulls out his book, while I do my best to get a nap.

And it’s amazing how quickly the minibus driver is willing to negotiate now that we’ve made it clear where we stand. Eventually another passenger arrives and we’re able to reach a deal. It’s not perfect – but at least we don’t have to sleep on a bench.

We head out and would you believe it? Less than a kilometer away from the bus station we pass three different hotels.

Eric & I are not impressed.

But we carry on our way and manage to get to Anturan by 11:00pm, exhausted and ready for bed.

The owner of our guesthouse – the Bayu Mantra Guesthouse – is a really nice man and he sets us up for the night and we have a great sleep.

Worst Drink Name Ever*

This article is dedicated to Frank.

In the article “Coffee, Tea… Jelly?”, Frank added a comment in which he mentioned the drink “Pocari Sweat.”

“Pocari Sweat” is an isotonic beverage that was developed in Japan.

It’s very similar to Gatorade or Powerade, in that it replenishes all the salts and minerals your body sweats out during exercise, strenuous activity, or in the case of South-East Asia, sitting in the shade doing absolutely nothing.

Well, I’ve found it, I’ve tried it and I agree… it is the WORST DRINK NAME EVER*!!!

But here’s the thing…

It’s really good.

It isn’t carbonated and it’s not too sweet and on a hot day, it really satisfies.

So although I’ve bestowed it with the title “Worst Drink Name Ever”, I’ve also added an asterisk(*) because I really hope that someday we can get it in North America.

Yeah, the name is gross but come on… refusing to use a good product because it has a “silly” name?

Please… I’m far too mature for that.

And besides, I don’t know anyone with the last name “Pocari.”

Day 77 – Indonesia

December 21, 2009 - Cemoro Lawang, Java, Indonesia

Today may be the highlight of our trip so far.


Because today Eric and I stood on the lip of an active volcano!

Just the two of us!

With no other people around!

The sulphur smoke spewing all over and the hole of the volcano was completely visible!

We walked across the desolate landscape of the crater, past the Indonesian army – they were doing exercises at the base of the volcano (what is it with us running into the military?) – and up a long staircase that took you right up to the edge.

It was an absolutely breath-taking experience, like something right out of the “Lord of the Rings” and we couldn’t get enough of it!!

Day 76 – Indonesia

December 20, 2009 - Yogyakarta to Cemoro Lawang, Java, Indonesia

Today is going to be a long travel day.

We start with an 8 hour bus ride to Surabaya. We then take a 2 hour bus ride to Probolinggo. And from there, we have to take 2 hour minibus ride to Cemoro Lawang.

Cemoro Lawang is the mountain village at the base of Mount Bromo, which is the reason we’re going. Mt. Bromo is an active volcano and we are really looking forward to checking it out.

Fortunately, no major incidences occur on the bus rides, unless you count the minibus breaking down on an uphill turn in the pitch black of the evening along the mountain road to Cemoro Lawang.

After all we’ve been through with buses, we don’t.

Instead we arrive safe and sound and enjoy a nice dinner with the other tourists from our minibus – a couple from France on a two-year-plus travel excursion and two Australian girls on school break. After a long day sitting on our butts in a bus, it’s very fun to be sitting on our butts in a restaurant, swapping travel “war stories” over rice and beer.

Days 74 & 75 – Indonesia

December 18 & 19, 2009 - Borobudur to Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia

In the morning, we wake up and have a nice breakfast of fresh fruit, cheese sandwiches and tea, and then catch a bus for the hour and half bus ride to Yogyakarta.

After a bit of searching, we find a great guesthouse to stay at. The room is nice & cozy and the bed seems very comfortable, but the selling point is the small swimming pool right in front of our room.

I mean it – it’s literally 5 steps from our front door and 8 steps from our bed!

The setting is perfect and we are now ready for a good couple of days of exploring and swimming.

We spend the rest of Day 74 wandering the streets of Yogyakarta, checking out the Kraton – the historic “city within the city”, the shopping district and playing hide-and-go-seek with a couple of “tour guides” in the local market.

Once again, I wake up the next day super excited because we are going to visit the Prambanan Temples.

These are dubbed as the most beautiful Hindu temples in the world and yes, they are beautiful!

Unfortunately, in 2006 a massive earthquake caused quite a bit of damage to the temples, but slowly they are being restored. All of the temples could be seen but only two of the six were safe enough to enter, so Eric and I spend a good deal of time walking around the grounds.

Later in the afternoon, we wander around the Kraton, looking for the Taman Sari or “Water Palace”, which was created for the Sultan in the 1700’s. We eventually find it, but we’re a little too late – it’s closed. However, a local directs us to a “secret route” and we’re able to scramble up a small wall and see into some of the pool gardens.

For dinner we go to a not-for-profit restaurant called “Milas”. It’s a vegetarian restaurant with an organic store and local craft shop that’s set up as a project centre for street youths. Within Milas, the kids can learn skills working in the kitchen, the craft shop, the garden and the daycare centre.

The food is delicious and the atmosphere is great. The restaurant is located in a garden with various sitting areas – tables & chairs in little huts, sitting on cushions on a bamboo floor and comfy dining furniture on a patio. It’s a great way for us to end our stay in Yogyakarta.

Day 73 – Indonesia

December 17, 2009 - Borobudur, Java, Indonesia

I wake up very excited because today we are going to visit Borobudur Temple, which is one of the biggest Buddha temples in the world.

It is amazing and Eric and I spend 3 hours walking along the terraces and grounds of the temple in awe!

The craftsmanship and enormity of the structure is mind-blowing, and to know it was constructed over a thousand years ago, around the 9th century, makes it even more impressive. The majority of it was completely intact, though there were a few areas undergoing some conservation work, which from a personal perspective, I found very interesting to see.

We spend the rest of the day wandering the village and surrounding area. We also visit Mendut Temple, which is another small temple nearby. It contains a large stone Buddha which is thought to have initially been built to top Borobudur but ended up to be too big, so it was left where it was.

Mendut Temple is very peaceful, and definitely less crowded than Borobudur, but we’re really more impressed with the massive tree right beside it, than with the actual Temple.

Maybe It’s Me?

The last time I went travelling there was an “incident” with a taxi driver.

Some of you may already be familiar with the story, but for those of you who aren’t, here’s a quick synopsis…

I was in Shanghai, China and I took a taxi from the airport to my hotel downtown.

The taxi driver tried to scam me and was nearly successful.

When I finally realized what he was doing, I got angry and made him give me my money back which should have been the end of the story but unfortunately it wasn’t. Instead, I may have, sort of, more-or-less threatened him so he gave me more money back and I got a free taxi ride and quite possibly a small profit.

Up until recently, I thought this was just a random incident.

I mean, back home in Toronto I don’t use taxis a lot but when I do, I never have any problems. They always get me to where I want to go for a fair price and more often than not, they seem like nice people.

Hell – last winter a cab driver gave me some very useful medical advice.

I had a cold and he told me the best cure is to drink green tea with real lemon and real ginger in it. So I did and it worked.

He also told me to eat lots of mutton, but I just took his word on that one.

However, in Jakarta, Indonesia, I was involved in another incident with a taxi.

And this time, Robyn was along for the ride… uh, sorry – no pun intended.

We’re taking the train east to Yogyakarta and our departure time is 8:00am. The taxi ride to the train station downtown takes 1-1 ½ hours and we want to have plenty of time to get there, so we leave Lynda & Ian’s place around 6:00am.

As with a lot of major cities, taxi drivers in Jakarta are notorious for trying to take advantage of tourists, but there is one company that has a pretty solid reputation…

Bluebird Taxi.

That’s what Lynda & Ian told us, that’s what people we met along the way told us and that’s what various guidebooks told us. We’d already used them a couple of times during our stay and found them to be trustworthy and fair, so we get the concierge to call one for us.

Two minutes later it arrives and we tell him where we need to go – Gambir Train Station.

We say it in both Indonesian and English but just to be sure, we show him our train ticket, which is written in Indonesian, has all of our details and conveniently, has a picture of a train on it.

He smiles, nods and we take off.

We get on the freeway and start cruising along at a good pace. There’s no traffic and we’re happy because it’s 6:15am and we’re now ahead of schedule, so even if we hit rush hour, we’ll still be okay.

Half an hour later, we approach a tollbooth, at which point our taxi driver asks the tollbooth operator for directions.

That’s right. He asks for directions.

And the tollbooth operator points back in the direction from which we just came, meaning we’ve been driving the wrong way for 30 minutes.

It’s now 6:45am, there’s almost 70,000Rp on the meter and we’re farther away than when we started.

Let’s just say, Robyn and I are not happy.

We try to remain calm and chalk it up to a miscommunication. After all, we don’t speak Indonesian and his English is very basic.

Once again we tell him Gambir Train Station, we show him the train ticket, emphasizing the departure time of 8:00am, and then we pull out our guidebook and point it out to him on the map.

And again, he looks like he understands.

Although we’re now a little stressed out, we still have over an hour to get there – it’ll be close, but we can still make it.

Besides, Indonesia isn’t known for following a tight schedule – our 8:00am departure time will probably be closer to 8:30am.

The cab driver turns the car around and we start heading back.

We are now cruising in the right direction and seem to be making good time. There’s still no traffic and our cabbie seems intent on making up for his mistake.

After about 20 minutes, we approach what Robyn and I believe to be our turn-off.

And then, we go right past it.


We don’t know whether to say anything quite yet because Jakarta is a difficult city to get your bearings in and we’re not a 100% sure of where we are. He may know a better route, so we decide to wait a little bit before we interject.

We continue driving and approach the turn-off for a major landmark that we know to be next door to the train station.

Ah, I see… we were mistaken. He knows a shortcut after all!

Shame on us for questioning the judgment of a professional taxi driver!

Yes, I do believe this morning, I will have an order of crow to go with my steamed rice.

And then we drive right past it.

And continue driving right past it to the next turn-off which takes us directly to the ports.

The harbour.

The place where they keep the boats, which is significantly different than the place where they keep the trains.

Our cab driver has no idea where to go!

We frantically point in the opposite direction and say “Gambir Train Station”.

We show him our train ticket.

We show him our guidebook with the city map.

We even make “choo-choo” sounds and try to draw a picture of a train!

And yet, he continues to look at us and point to the freightliners and cargo ships ahead in the distance.

Robyn is ready to hop over the backseat and strangle him, which means for once, I’m the calm and rational one!

I point to a street vendor on the side of the road and we pull over. I show him our ticket and tell him “Gambir Station”. He points back in the direction from which we came – a direction we’re now all too familiar with – and explains to our cab driver where we want to go. A light finally goes off in his head and he sheepishly turns around, acknowledges his error and winces at the daggers Robyn’s staring at him.

It’s now 7:45am, the bill is around 180,000Rp and we’re nowhere close to being where we have to be.

I thank the vendor, who smiles apologetically at us. Our driver turns the car around and I make him switch off the meter. We debate about getting out of the cab, but at this point it’s become a “devil you know” situation and we still have a faint hope we can make our train.

Then we hit the traffic.

And we’re not talking wimpy, car meets streetcar “Toronto traffic”.

We’re talking full-blown, car meets truck meets bus meets motor-scooter meets motor-scooter meets motor-scooter meets motor-scooter meets bicycle packed with 20 massive bundles of recycled cardboard “Jakarta traffic”.

A tense quiet replaces the smog that fills the air, as we finally realize we’re not going to make our train. We continue driving because now we just want to get there and figure out a Plan B.

About 25 minutes later – around 8:15am – the driver just randomly turns the meter back on, without even acknowledging us. We’re too shocked and angry to even argue. Robyn just glares at him while I look up how to say “I’m going to open a can of whoop-ass on you” in Indonesian.

At 8:30am, with the new meter being at 18,000Rp, we finally arrive. We grab our bags, I give the guy 20,000Rp and as far as we’re concerned, our time with him is over.

We run to the front gate and find out that in Indonesia, the trains are actually the only thing that run on time. The front gate officer apologizes and directs us to Customer Service. We thank him and as we head to the office, who should we run into but the cab driver, who’s now insisting we pay him the other 180,000Rp.

We ignore him and keep walking, and he follows us.

He tries to get a police officer involved, but the police officer ignores him too, which makes us smile.

The Customer Service Manager is a really nice man, who thankfully speaks some English. As well, there’s another customer there – Liza – who also speaks English very well and she offers to translate. Phrasebooks or not, our Indonesian is so limited we wouldn’t be able to get our situation across otherwise.

We tell him what happened and he’s very sympathetic. He explains that unfortunately for us, they don’t issue refunds on train tickets. However, he can give us a free ride to the city of Semarang on a train that leaves at 10am. From there it’s a 3 hour bus ride south to Yogyakarta. The only catch is that the train is officially sold out, so we’ll have to sit in the dining car for 8 hours.

It’s not perfect, but it’ll do.

We thank him for his help, take a deep breath and turn around to deal with our cabbie, who’s been sitting behind us the whole time.

Many phrases are going through our brains, with “BUGGER OFF” being at the top of the list.*

*NOTE: Replace the word “BUGGER” with a four-letter word that begins with an “F” and ends with an “UCK”.

However, Liza, who had been great in dealing with the train company, is now talking to the cab driver, trying to negotiate a deal. It’s not exactly what we want to do but seeing as how we probably wouldn’t have gotten the free ride without her, we agree to let her.

Besides, how often in life do you get to negotiate your own bad luck?

We try explaining how he’s already cost us 440,000Rp in train tickets and that we still have to pay another 100,000Rp to catch a bus to Yogyakarta, but he doesn’t see what the big deal is. As far as he’s concerned, he got us to the train station and we’re about to get on a train, so in his mind he’s fulfilled his part of the deal.

And that’s when we realize something…

He’s an idiot.


He’s just a very big idiot and even without the language barrier, he probably wouldn’t have comprehended what we were saying.

I mean, what self-respecting taxi driver doesn't know where the train station is?

Eventually, we agree to give him another 80,000Rp.

It sucks but at this point we’re so tired of fighting, we just want the whole situation to be over. He still has to pay 100,000Rp or so in meter fares out of his own pocket, so I’m pretty sure we ruined his day too!

We thank Liza and make our way up to the train.

The rest of the adventure is great… we meet some nice, helpful people on the train who tell us where to catch the bus down to Yogyakarta and spend the next 8 hours enjoying the beautiful Java countryside.

So if you’re ever in Jakarta and you need to take a taxi, I suggest you bring a map.

Day 72 – Indonesia

December 16, 2009 - Jakarta to Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia

Refer to blog entry “Maybe It’s Me?”.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Sweetest Thing

So recently I’ve come to the realization that Robyn is a much sweeter person than I am.

Now I’m sure most of you are actually thinking “Uh yeah – we know! You’re just figuring this out now?”

And I completely agree… Robyn is a much nicer person than I am.

Children love her. And so do old people.

And for that matter, so do cops.

In fact this was made very clear to me the other day.

We were walking down the street and we passed a number of police officers. One of them yelled out “hello”, so not wanting to piss off “the Law”, I naturally responded back with “hello” as well!

To which the police officer said, and I quote, “Yeah, hello. But not you – for your girl.”

Okay then. Fair enough. Who am I to argue with the law?

But here’s the thing, when I say Robyn is a sweeter person, I mean it physically.

As in she tastes MUCH better than I do.

And I say this because the critters over here LOVE HER!!!

She gets bombarded by mosquitoes, a gecko jumped on her head and when we were hiking in Borneo, she was the only one to find a leech on her leg.

Hell, when we were at the Singapore Zoo, we had to spend twenty minutes in the butterfly observatory because they would not leave her alone.

But the piece de la resistance occurred in the city of Sibu in Sarawak, Borneo-Malaysia.

We were crossing a busy road and in the middle of it was a grassy median, about two feet wide. We were standing in it for no more than 10 seconds and Robyn still managed to find and step in a nest of fire ants.

Oh the sight she was!!!

We already stand out over here just by being white… and here she is, dancing and flailing around the center of a busy, four-lane street, much to the entertainment of every passing car and motorscooter.

Now at first, I have to admit my feelings were a little bit hurt because I rarely get bitten.

I mean, what’s wrong with me?

Do I taste that bad? Do I smell? Is it a vibe I give off?

What is it?

But then I started counting my blessings.

After all, the bugs may find me disgusting, but at least I have fewer welts.

Day 71 – Indonesia

December 15, 2009 - Jakarta, Java, Indonesia

Eric, Lynda and I have breakfast together. Ian has one of these “jobs” we hear so much about, so he misses out. Lynda goes off to teach English at the school Ian works at, and Eric and I head to the city centre to purchase our train ticket to Yogyakarta and then do some sightseeing.

I cannot get over the size and traffic of Jakarta – it is absolutely huge. Its population is larger than the population of Canada and by public transport it takes us 2 hours to get to the city centre.

Our train ticket is purchased without a glitch, so we wander over to the National monument and look around. We walk around the museum at the base of the tower and then take a ride up to view the skyline of Jakarta. The skyline goes forever!

To thank Lynda and Ian for their hospitality we take them for a nice dinner at one of their favourite local restaurants. It’s a great end to a great visit.

Tomorrow we leave for Yogyakarta bright and early!

Days 69 & 70 – Indonesia

December 13 & 14, 2009 - Jakarta to Labuan, Java, Indonesia

Eric and I wake up in a dilemma. Part of us wants to stay in Jakarta visiting with Lynda & Ian, but part of us also wants to visit the famous volcano Krakatau.

We eventually decide to pack a small overnight bag, leave our big bags at Chateau Lynda, and try to make our way to Carita, a small beach community on the west coast of Java. From there we are supposed to be able to catch a boat to view Krakatau.

We leave around noon, take a taxi to a local bus station and then take a local bus from Jakarta to Cilegon. From Cilegon we transfer to an opelet, which takes us to another bus station, where we then take another opelet to Carita.

The transfers from taxi to bus to opelet are quick and everyone is very helpful.

However, Carita does not appear to be how it’s described in the various books and websites we checked out, so when Eric and I get off the opelet, nothing looks familiar and we have no clue as to where we are.

This is actually a typical situation for us – getting dropped off in a town and not having a map – and we typically have no problems navigating to a place of recognition or finding a hostel. However, this time we are at a loss and there is no one around to ask. So we decide to hop on another opelet and go a little further along the road.

Eric gives the name of a hotel to the young driver and he says he knows where it is. He tells us the price and agrees to take us there. We hop in and he starts driving.

But after about 15 minutes, we realize we are now in a new town – Labuan – which is way past where we are supposed to be. We thought we were clueless before, but now we’re even more so.

We tell the driver to stop and we get out.

The worst part is that besides the driver not really knowing where he was taking us, he then tries to overcharge us for the ride by not giving us back the correct change.

If you’ve ever heard Eric’s “Taxi Ride in China” story, you’ll know what I mean when I say I saw a mild case of that. Eric makes it very clear the opelet driver isn’t going anywhere without giving us our money back and the young punk very quickly smartens up and complies.

After a frustrating day, we decide to stay in Labuan for the night and sort out the boat tomorrow. The hotel owner is a very sweet man, and when we check in he brings us each a cup of tea… I think he knew we could use one. We have a delicious meal of bakso at a local food stall, enjoy a nice conversation with a few of the other customers and then go for a quiet walk before turning in for the night.

The next day we head back to Carita and investigate hiring a boat to take us to Krakatau.

Through our hunt we find out the cost of the boat is way out of our price range. It’s the equivalent of about two days budget and then some. And since, there’s no one around to share the cost with, we decide to head back to Jakarta to the sanctuary known as Lynda and Ian’s apartment.

To their surprise we arrive back around dinner time and end the day over a lovely meal of spaghetti bolognese, fresh bread and caramelized bananas.

Day 68 – Indonesia

December 12, 2009 - Jakarta, Java, Indonesia

We spend the day hanging out with Lynda and Ian. They’re a lovely couple and we can tell within minutes that they’re home is going to be a special sanctuary for us.

They live in Lebak Bulus, which is a suburb of Jakarta, and we spend the day relaxing, chatting & laughing.

Lynda & Ian take us out for a beautiful Italian dinner and we have REAL thin-crust pizza, which is amazing. For dessert, I take Lynda’s recommendation and have a cappuccino sprinkled with fresh-ground pepper.

It’s heavenly.

Day 67 – Indonesia

December 11, 2009 - Bukittinggi to Padang, Sumatra to Jakarta, Java, Indonesia

Today we are bound for Jakarta to visit Eric’s relatives, so we start things off with a nice breakfast – fruit salad, eggs, toast, fried tomatoes and hashbrowns.

The plan is to take a bus from Bukittinggi to Padang and then from Padang, catch a flight to Jakarta.

About a month before we arrived, Padang was hit by number of earthquakes. Indonesia is located on a pretty volatile piece of land – there’s lots of volcanic activity, so although tremors and earthquakes are quite common, the recent quakes in Sumatra were particularly devastating.

As we drive through Padang, we go through some of the areas that were hit and it’s amazing to see how the buildings were affected. Two buildings standing side by side that appear to be of the same construction and one will be left standing, maybe with a few cracks, while the other has been totally destroyed.

However, the spectacular thing for us to see is how resilient the communities are. Despite the destruction, they’re all up and running, carrying on as best they can – some people are living in half ruined houses, but you can tell they’re working on rebuilding as best as they can. There is evidence of outside forces helping to reestablish the communities, but it seems they do not plan on waiting – they’re going to get back to normal as fast as possible, which we think is awesome.

We arrive at the Padang airport and unfortunately, our flight is delayed. As compensation, the airline gives all of the passengers a drinking box of iced tea and a pack of Oreos. It may not seem like much, but we thought it was hilarious to look around a waiting room filled with adults, all sucking on drinking boxes and eating cookies.

After a two hour wait, we take off and say good-bye to Sumatra. When we land in Java, we get our luggage, find a reputable taxi and finally arrive at Eric’s cousins, Lynda and her husband Ian’s place.

Eric and Lynda have never actually met, so the plan on arrival had been to relax and catch up. But seeing as it’s midnight and we’re exhausted, we do our basic introductions and then go straight to bed.

I See White People

This is a little note to all of the travelers out there.

Ahem… cough cough


You are NOT invisible.

So when we walk by you on the street and we smile & nod at you, quit acting like you are.

Don’t look the other way.

Don’t try and ignore us.

Smile and nod back.

I know “the Lonely Planet” and “the Rough Guide” and the “Let’s Go” and all the other guidebooks out there tell you that to be a “true traveler” you have to blend in with the culture you’re visiting, but there’s only so much you can do.

When you’re six-foot-four, blond & white and almost everyone around you is five-foot-nine & Asian, it doesn’t matter how hard you try, YOU’RE GOING TO STAND OUT!!!

Do you think we’re going to blow your cover?

Do you think you’re so incognito that if you smile & nod back at us, then people are going to realize you’re not actually from there?

Do you think they’re going to say “Hey - look at those two foreigners nodding at our fellow countrymen. Wait a second! They’re not our countrymen – they’re travelers too!!!”

Because the thing is, when we smile and nod at the locals, they smile & nod back.

It’s called being friendly.

Day 64-66 – Indonesia

December 8-10, 2009 - Bukittinggi, Sumatra, Indonesia

After our previous bus experience, we decide that today – Day 64 – the first thing we will do is book an airplane ticket from Padang to Jakarta and skip another 20+ hour bus ride. We did what the locals do and now it’s time to do as tourists do… got to cover our bases.

We succeed and spend the rest of the day walking around Bukittinggi and visiting the Sianok Canyon, which runs along the perimeter of the city. During WWII, the Japanese military used Indonesian slave labour to construct a labyrinth of combat tunnels along the side of the canyon and Eric and I are really interested in visiting these caves.

Unfortunately a mini-avalanche closed the entry to the tunnels and we can’t get in.

While on one of our many walks around the city, we meet a group of guys playing takrau. “Takrau” is a combination of volleyball and soccer and is extremely popular in Southeast Asia. There is a net between 2 sides of 4 people, who hit a woven rattan ball back and forth with their heads and feet. Eric was invited to play and put in a good effort, though I don’t think he’ll be invited to try out for the Indonesian National Team any time soon. He does however buy a takrau ball and will be looking to start a league when we get back home.

On Day 65, after I call my Mom to wish her a “Happy Birthday”, Eric and I hike across the Sianok Canyon, to the nearby village of Koto Gadung. It’s a very small town famous for two things – its silversmiths and its Dutch-colonial houses. It’s a beautiful town and we really enjoy checking out all the silver workshops.

On our last day in Bukittinggi, we decide to take a local bus for a day trip to Danau Maninjau, a crater lake in the heart of Sumatra. It’s about 2 hours away and the mountain road to get there is quite spectacular, with all its hairpin turns overlooking lush valleys and rice paddies.

However on our way there, another bus coming in the opposite direction on one of the hairpin turns, gets a little too close and hits us with its side mirror, shattering one of our windows. The window explodes and covers all of us with pieces of glass.

Before I go any further, let me reassure you Eric & I are perfectly okay.

Maybe it’s from years of watching “ER” and “Grey’s Anatomy”, but immediately Eric grabs our first aid kit and he & I go into “triage mode”. Most of the people seem all right – a little shaken up and confused as they try to figure out what happened.

But the woman who was closest to the broken window has her face buried in her hands and is bent over in her husband’s lap, screaming. We have the gauze pads and our bottle of water ready, bracing ourselves for the worst as she lifts her head, but thankfully she’s all right – a small scratch above her eye and one on her hand. Her reaction is more out of fright than trauma, and we breathe a sigh of relief.

As Eric helps calm her down and cleans her up, I deal with the bus driver who’s trying to order everyone back on the bus – he seems to be more concerned about staying on schedule, than making sure his passengers are okay.

I inform him, politely of course, that we’re not going anywhere until I say so and he’s smart enough to listen.

After another 44 hairpin turns – each turn has a number at the side of the road – we are at the lake. We spend the day wandering around, have a nice quiet lunch on a dockside restaurant and then hesitantly hop on a bus back to Bukittinggi.

The ride back is uneventful, although I do find myself ducking every time we approach another oncoming vehicle.

Days 61-63 – Indonesia

December 5-7, 2009 - Bukit Lawang to Medan to Bukittinggi, Sumatra, Indonesia

On Day 61, Eric and I pack up and walk over to the local bus station.

Since it’s a small town, there’s only one of them which is easy-peazy. We have to catch a local bus from Bukit Lawang to Medan, and then from Medan we hope to catch a private bus to Bukittinggi. Ideally, we’ll be able to get one for the same day because we’re hoping to spend as little time in Medan as possible.

We catch the bus from Bukit Lawang with no problems. The route back seems a bit different than the route on the way there as it takes double the time, but no worries – the bus we hope to catch isn’t until the evening. When we arrive in Medan, we head to a nearby mall to pick up some supplies before making our way to the south/east bus station.

And this is where our adventure really begins.

We show up at the bus station to find out that the bus company recommended to us no longer operates from it. Eric and I entertain other bus companies but as the other buses do not seem to be leaving when we want, the descriptions of the bus quality and style are continually changing throughout the discussions, it’s just begun pissing rain and it’s now pushing 7:30pm, we opt to wait until tomorrow to sort out the next leg of our journey.

We hop in an opelet to go to a guesthouse and on the way Eric spots the office/bus station of the company we planned to ride with. We holler at the driver, he slams on the brakes and we make a premature stop and head inside. We have high hopes that we may still make the last bus tonight to Bukittinggi and we’re partially lucky – we find out one of us can go as there is only one spot on the last bus. I contemplate leaving without Eric, but then who would I bug for the bus ride?

So we pass on that and purchase two tickets for the VIP bus the next day.

There are typically three classes of bus tickets available. Economy which has no a/c, no toilet and no reclining chairs; Executive which has a/c, but no toilet and reclining, non-cushy chairs; and VIP which has a/c, a toilet, reclining, cushy chairs and leg room that fits our size.

And since it’s a 20+ hour bus ride from Medan to Bukittinggi, we figure we should get the best quality bus possible.

Yes – you've read this correctly.

From Medan to Bukittinggi, it’s a 20+ hour bus ride.

We’ve discovered that one of the best ways to see the real side of a country is through the local bus system. You meet interesting people, stop for breaks in small towns you’d never visit any other way and the view is often spectacular. And since bus travel is the way most Indonesians get around, we wanted to do as the locals do. And if that means a 20 hour bus ride, well then so be it – the experience will make it worth it.

We finally arrive at the “Angel Hostel” which is the same place we stayed our first night in Medan. Tired and ready for bed, we spend the rest of the evening playing Skip-Bo and mentally prepping for the long bus ride.

Our bus does not leave until late afternoon so we spend the majority of the next day reading, wandering, eating and waiting. At 2pm it’s finally time to catch our bus – off we go to the bus office by opelet! And yes I get my bag caught getting in AGAIN. Will I ever learn?

As we wait for the bus to arrive, we are called over by one of the employees selling tickets. She informs us that the VIP bus we were booked on cannot go to Bukittinggi, so she has booked us on another bus, which is a lower class, somewhere between VIP and Executive. We’re not quite sure what she means, but seeing as our new bus is leaving now, she returns some of our money and then hurries us to catch it. Eric and I don’t really have a chance to respond – the bus still has a toilet, a/c and reasonable leg room, and at this point we just want to get on the road, so we figure how bad can it really be?

Well let me tell you…

Eric’s seat is permanently broken in a reclined position. As he puts it, it’s like spending 20+ hours in a dentist’s chair.

The snack consists of a small cup of water and two little pastries.

The bus breaks down 4 times, so the ride of 20 hours turns into 26 hours.

The air-conditioning works so well that at night I have to sleep under 3 blankets to keep warm.

And we see some of the most beautiful mountain scenery I can imagine!

Needless to say we survive the trip and are happy to arrive in the mountain city of Bukittinggi.

Days 59 & 60 – Indonesia

December 3 & 4, 2009 - Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia

We spend Day 59 and 60 in the jungles of Sumatra.

We wake up bright and early for a breakfast of fresh fruit, scrambled eggs & toast before meeting up with our guide Bubba and the rest of our trekking group. Except there’s no Bubba to be found. As it turns out he had to pass us on to another guide because not enough people signed up to make two full tour groups. Eric and I are disappointed but we make the best of the situation. Another Canadian couple is on the trek with us so we have a good time shooting the shit about all things Canadian, eh.

The plan is to spend a good part of the first day hiking around the jungle looking for orangutans and as luck would have it, we find one very quickly, just hanging out in a tree, approximately 60 feet in the air.

Seeing orangutans at the feeding center in Borneo was great.

Seeing wild orangutans in the jungles of Sumatra is ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!!!

Later on while hiking the trail we turn a corner and there, less than a meter away, is another orangutan feasting on some fruit. We spend nearly an hour just watching him. We constantly have to change our positions to leave enough room between us and the orangutan and at one point I get a little nervous because he is moving quickly in my direction… but don’t worry – there were no more “monkey” incidents. Or “ape” incidents for that matter.

We end our day of trekking watching a mother and baby playing through the trees. Again we can almost reach out and touch them.

The evening is spent under a tarp near a river and waterfall, just playing cards with our guides and our fellow Canadians. As there isn’t a whole lot to do in the jungle at night, we find ourselves going to bed relatively early.

The next morning I wake up to a macaque peering into our tarp tent, which is not something I expected to see! Across the river from us are two monitor lizards and more macaques looking to steal our breakfast, but thankfully they didn’t succeed because we were all very hungry.

The walk back to the village involves crossing a set of rapids and to both Eric and my delight, we do so on a chair rigged up on cables that are manually operated. The guides do all the work pulling us across, so we just get to sit back and enjoy the spectacular view. The pulley chair was a highlight for the day. Further along the river we go for a swim in the current and watch even more orangutans.

I’ll never get sick of them – they’re just too awesome!

When we return to the village, we check into the Ecolodge for the night, unpack our trekking gear and then head back to the children’s café for some tea and Internet. And of course, we spend our last meal with Rita because tomorrow we begin our long journey to Bukittinggi.

The Skip-Bo World Tour-Nament of Champions – Update #1

Well, after almost 3 months on the tour, here are the new standings:

Eric – 44 wins
Robyn – 42 wins

The end of 2009 has been pretty intense.

After being down 4 games, Robyn made an amazing comeback and held on to a 5 game lead.

But not to be outdone, Eric rallied back from his deficit and now maintains a 2 game lead.

How will 2010 play out?

Will the roller-coaster ride continue?

Will Robyn fight her way back to the top?

Or will Eric continue to dominate the series?

Stay tuned Skip-Bo fans... it’s gonna be intense!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Day 58 – Indonesia

December 2, 2009 - Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia

We spend Day 58 wandering the village of Bukit Lawang and its surrounding area.

Along our way we receive “hellos” from everyone and everywhere, especially children, which never ceases to make us smile.

For lunch we visit Rita. Again, we ignore the menu and she just makes us something. This time it’s a thick pancake topped with a vegetable curry and it is delicious. We leave satisfied and I for one am ready for a nap.

I head “home” and Eric takes off to explore the perimeter of the National Park and search out a couple of bat caves. He doesn’t find the caves, but he does find a very special café.

In 2003, a flash flood wiped out a huge chunk of Bukit Lawang and as a result a number of local children were orphaned.

A Dutch & Indonesian couple established a school and homestay project for these children and the café is a source of revenue for them. We stop by to have a drink and a snack, and end up purchasing a couple novels at their used bookstore.

Afterwards, we head back to our hotel and end our day packing a small bag for our trek tomorrow morning.

Day 57 – Indonesia

December 1, 2009 - Medan to Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia

Since we arrived in Medan late in the evening, we didn’t really get a chance to look around. So Eric and I decide to do a little exploring before we head north to Bukit Lawang.

There’s an old saying “if you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.” It also applies to cities, which is why my write up on Medan is so short.

After breakfast, we pack up our bags and head to the bus station.

Sumatra has an interesting bus system… one that takes us a bit to figure out. It can be a little confusing at first, but once you get the hang of it, it makes perfect sense. Let me try and explain it.

In larger cities, like Medan, there are multiple stations depending on where you are heading. If you want to take a public bus south, there is usually a specific station located on the southern outskirts of the city. If you want to take a public bus north, then there is another station located on the northern outskirts of the city. If you want to go east or west, they are usually paired off with either the northern or southern bus stations. Unless they’re not, in which case they each have their own specific bus station.

A quick point on the term “bus station”. Sometimes a bus station is actually a large building or parking lot meant for buses. Other times it’s just a specific intersection where all the buses leave. And sometimes it’s both – a bus will leave the actual bus station and then drive down the road to a corner and wait for more people to get on. As well, when it comes to public buses there are specific drop-off and pick-up points along the way. But you can also flag any bus down and get on it and then tell the driver exactly where you want to get off.

If you want to take a private bus, they each have their own offices where you pick up the bus. But they also have offices at the public bus stations and you can pick them up from there as well. They too have specific drop-off and pick-up points along the way, but you can also flag any private bus down and get on it and then tell the driver exactly where you want to get off.

To get around the various towns and cities, you can take taxis which are more expensive and rarely use the meter, so you have to negotiate the price ahead of time. The other option is to use the local transport system, which consist of opelets. An “opelet” is essentially a cargo van, but shorter, with bench seats that line the sides of the vehicle. These have semi-specific routes which start and finish at the various bus stations. When you see the one you want, you flag it down and hop on. When you see your stop, you let the driver know and he’ll let you off. Of course, you never have to worry about looking for an opelet – they go up and down their route, honking their horns non-stop to get your attention. If you want one, turn around. If not, you better learn how to tune them out or you’ll go insane from the varieties of “honks”, “beeps”, “jingles” and “bells”. The fare is typically a standard rate, though it’s good to clarify it ahead of time… you’ll see why later on. The big problem with opelets is that they are not designed for people carrying big backpacks and I often get myself caught on the door when trying to get in. So you can imagine the muffled laughs I receive while entering.

So there you have it – Indonesia’s bus system in a nutshell. Any questions?

Eric and I easily catch the correct opelet to get ourselves to the north/west bus station, which is where we need to be to catch a public/local bus to Bukit Lawang… today’s first goal.

We are learning that travelling with step-by-step goals is a less stressful way to deal with unknowns and changing variables.

We get ourselves settled on the bus and wait.

I forgot to mention that when it comes to departure times with public buses, there are none. The bus will leave when the ticket collector feels there are enough people to justify the start of the journey. This also applies somewhat to private buses, though not as bad.

We wait for about 45 minutes before we take off, which actually isn’t too bad.

On the bus ride, we meet a guy named “Bubba”, who is from Bukit Lawang. He’s very friendly and speaks English impressively well. We later discover he is a local guide for the jungle treks and recruits guests to stay at a particular hotel in the area. Since it turns out the hotel he recruits for is one of the places we are considering staying at, we follow him to the Ecolodge. It’s a beautiful place, set on the edge of Taman Nasional Gunung Leuser (Gunung Leuser National Park) and overlooking a river with a small set of rapids.

Taman Nasional Gunung Leuser is the reason Eric and I have decided to come here. We want to hike in a Sumatran rainforest and look for wild orangutans. In order to do so, the national park dictates that anyone wanting to hike in the jungle must do so with a guide. So we check into the Ecolodge and then head out to look for a guide and then find some dinner.

We end up hiring Bubba because he’s knowledgeable, friendly and a great marketer – he proudly shows off a book filled with notes and recommendations from other clients. Eric and I are now even more excited to leave on our trek, so to celebrate we go in search of dinner.

We find a little place, just off the main road, called “Warung Yusri”. “Warung” is the Indonesian word for “café” or “little restaurant”. The owner, Rita, is super-friendly and when Eric and I aren’t sure what to order, she tells us not to worry and prepares us a feast of local dishes – grilled chicken, gado gado, tempeh, mixed vegetables, perkadells (I’ve spelt it phonetically… I don’t know how it is really spelt) and rice.

The food is AMAZING and Rita is a great host – she cooks for us, lets us enjoy our meal and then sits down to chat with us and teaches us names of new vegetables, dishes, etc.

Needless to say you will see a pattern to our eating habits while in Bukit Lawang.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Coffee, Tea… Racism?

So in a previous entry entitled “Coffee, Tea… Jelly?”, I praised the drink “Kickapoo Joy Juice” as having the greatest drink name ever.

However recently I’ve done a bit of research into the history of the product and unfortunately, I’ve learned a few things.

“Kickapoo Joy Juice” was created as a result of the popularity of the “L’il Abner” comic series, which took place in the American south in a fictitious hillbilly community. One of the characters often made “Kickapoo Joy Juice” which – like “Mountain Dew” – is another word for moonshine.

But here’s the thing… “Kickapoo” is actually the name of a Native American tribe, whom are very alive and active today.

And the name “Kickapoo Joy Juice” came about when settlers started trading with the different tribes, and one product that was in strong demand was, unfortunately, moonshine.

Now we all know the horrible effect alcohol has had within the Native communities of North America. And back in the 1950’s when the drink was first released, it may not have seemed like a big deal, but given the shit-sandwiches the Aboriginal peoples continue to be served today by our government, etc., continuing to sell a drink named after a significant social problem, doesn’t seem quite right, does it?

In fact, it seems pretty insensitive to me.

I mean, you wouldn’t buy a laundry detergent called “Apar-Tide” would you?

“Apar-Tide… keeping your whites white and your colours, separate.”

So I hereby retract the title of “Best Drink Name Ever”, because frankly, I think in this day and age, it just ain’t cool.

I mean, if you like your carbonated beverages with a hint of racism, then drink up!

But if you’re like me, and you prefer soda pop without aspartame, hatred and bigotry, then stick with Coca-Cola.

At least its history only involves cocaine… and where’s the harm in that?

Days 54-56 – Singapore to Indonesia

November 28-30, 2009 - Singapore to Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia

Our last time in Singapore we stumbled upon the opening of a new hostel called “the Drop Inn” and were officially the first customers… Eric bought a juice.

So of course where else would we want to stay when we return but at the “Drop Inn”.

It’s close to the MRT, it’s clean & quiet and it has a casual front lounge area with free WiFi, so it’s a perfect place to stay.

Since it’s our last time in Singapore we make a point to have “Macau Pork Buns” and soursop juice. The pork buns were amazing, but unfortunately we have to settle for second best soursop juice because our usual “soursop lady” has moved her shop and we can’t find her.

We look at it as a sign that it’s time for us to move on.

We spend our last full day in Singapore visiting the Singapore Zoo and Night Safari.

Based on our recent experience with animals visiting the zoo could have been a bad idea. However, according to a couple of websites we checked out, the Singapore Zoo is ranked the number one zoo in the world (“the Toronto Zoo” is ranked number two) so we decide to take a chance.

We have an amazing time and are happy to report there were no major incidences… other than being swarmed by butterflies and being chased by a lemur while attempting to take its photo (I guess he was a little camera shy)!

The animal areas are quite well thought out and the pathways between provide an easy and enjoyable walk, though we will say, we still the think “the Toronto Zoo” is better… and we’re not being biased.

The best part of the Singapore Zoo is the Night Safari!

Basically, it’s another section of the zoo that’s only open in the evenings, so you get to see a new set of animals at night. The highlight has to be watching the flying squirrels fly! We actually stand within their enclosure and watch them swoop around… one even nearly swoops into Eric’s head!!

On our last morning in Singapore, the owner of the Drop Inn Hostel, Ruo, takes Eric and I out for lunch at a nearby hawker centre.

Ruo does the ordering for us and boy, does she order – there’s only three of us, but we have enough food to feed six!

She orders two types of dumplings, carrot cake (kind of like turnip cake), wrapped noodles with red meat, an oyster omelette, yellow noodles with sweet pork & wonton, fried wontons and popiah.

It’s a great way for us to spend our remaining time in Singapore, but needless to say we are full and ready for our evening flight to Medan, Indonesia.

Day 53 – Malaysia to Singapore

November 27, 2009 - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Singapore

We are officially malled out, so it’s back to Singapore we go!!

Singapore is a good place to fly in and out of, so we’re heading there to get ourselves sorted and ready for the next country… Indonesia!!!

Map? What map?

For this story I am stepping out of the role of stenographer as it seems only fitting. Read and you will see…

It’s Day 51 and Eric & I have finished climbing and are getting ready to head back to KL’s city centre. We are hungry and tired from about 4 hours of climbing, so we double check our directions with David, who works at “Camp 5” and begin our journey “home”. Today Eric is in charge of directions since it’s his friend we are meeting in the “burbs”.

Together we sort out where to stand to pick-up the bus. It’s about 9:00pm and we haven’t had dinner yet. The only options nearby are “mall food”, so we decide to wait until we get back to our hostel because there are better choices available.

Eric has the map … the bus pulls up … he reads the sign … clarifies the end point with the driver … and decides this is the bus to get on.

“Oh and it’s perfect” he says “because this bus will take us right downtown without having to make any transfers.”

Our end destination is Puduraya Bus Station.

We hop on the bus and settle in for the ride.

After about half an hour in, I read a sign for the International Airport. And I think to myself “hmmm… that doesn’t seem right.”

Then I see a sign for Putra Jaya, which is a suburb near the airport, on the opposite side of town from where we want to be.

So I’m sitting here thinking “how am I going to bring this up?” knowing how much time Eric spent researching the directions online and asking several people for clarification. Because we were not staying on the usual tourist path, Eric wanted to make sure we knew exactly what we were doing to avoid any problems…

Like this.

So as I take a deep breath and prepare to bring up the subject, another large print sign for Putra Jaya goes by. And at that moment Eric perks up and begins to look for something in his bag.

The map.

And then I see the light go off in his head.

He looks at me… he looks at the map… he looks outside… he looks at me.

He clears his throat and says, “Ummm… I think we may be going to the wrong place. I think we’re going to Putra Jaya. We are supposed to be going to Puduraya.”

“Puduraya” is very different than “Putra Jaya”.

It’s like starting in Hamilton and wanting to go to Union Station but ending up in Unionville.

I smile.

I am hungry and tired and remembering the morning he left our breakfast of rambutans (sp?), banana bread and honey loaf in a taxi cab in Borneo-Malaysia.

It’s not hard for us to get back to where we need to be. It just means we have to travel for an hour and half longer than needed.

We get off the bus and head up to the train platform and we notice a guy chasing us up the stairs. He approaches us with a big grin and says “you’re not supposed to be here”.

It’s David from “Camp 5.”

The same David we clarified directions with earlier.

It’s awkward but we laugh, clarify directions once again and thank him for his concern.

Eric and I get on the train laughing, but are assured we are heading in the right direction.

At midnight, we finally make it back to our hostel. We enjoy some pearl noodles and are in bed, exhausted, by 2am.

Maybe tomorrow I should carry the map?

Days 47-52 – Malaysia

November 21-26, 2009 - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Eric and I spend the week really exploring the heart of KL by taking a lot of walks through the city.

We go through Chinatown, Little India, the CBD, etc. but it seems no matter which area we’re in, there are always shopping malls to be found.

Malaysians love to shop - or at least hang out in shopping malls because of the free AC (which is a good way to stay out of the heat) – and the quantity and diversity of the malls is mind-blowing!

“Time Square” in central KL is 9 levels of shopping and is probably about 5-6 times larger than the Eaton Centre. It has an amusement park on the 5th level with a full-fledged rollercoaster – complete with loopdy-loops and a corkscrew – that whips around above the heads of all the shoppers.

“Sunway Pyramid” has a gold clad sphinx and pyramid at the entrance and it makes you feel like a true pharaoh upon entry. This mall is also probably just as big as “Times Square” and it has an ice rink inside!! Yes, an ICE RINK!! Eric and I enjoy watching people of all skill levels skating in shorts and sun dresses wearing little stripped gloves.

Besides mall-gazing we do some cultural sightseeing. I’m excited to visit the Petronas Towers and go up to the sky bridge, which is about half-way up the towers.

We also visit the Batu Caves on the outskirts of the city, which house a massive Hindu temple.

We have to walk up 272 steps to reach the top of the temple, but the area is surrounded by monkeys, so we find ourselves “on guard” the entire time... grrr – monkeys.

On one of our last nights in KL, we meet up with Eric’s friend Chris out in the “burbs” and go to an amazing climbing gym called “Camp 5”.

This gym has everything! Natural-style walls, routes over 40 feet high and a huge bouldering area – Eric and I are in heaven!!! We spend a good 4 hours climbing and we meet some cool people and get some great tips for visiting Indonesia.

See blog entry, “Map? What Map?” for further insight to our travelling to and from KL’s “burbs”.

We also have some great meals while in KL.

My favourite is from a little restaurant located just below our hostel, the “Monkee Inn”. The restaurant specializes in claypot pearl noodles, which remind us a lot of beef stroganoff. It has become our default meal when we can’t figure out what else to eat.

Day 46 – Singapore to Malaysia

November 20, 2009 - Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Since our first visit to Kuala Lumpur (KL) lasted only 12 hours, we decide to revisit the city and give it another chance.

Eric also has a couple friends in KL, so we spend Day 46 travelling on a bus from Singapore to KL, crossing yet another border.

We are really starting to rack up the passport stamps.

Travel Tip # 2:


And by TP, I’m not talking a type of tent… I’m talking toilet paper!!!

NOTE: Robyn insisted I use this joke. So if you’re going to groan, please direct it at her.

Lots of countries have their own preferred way of disposing of the previous night’s digested dinner.

In Canada, we have the toilet, which can be found everywhere except Barrie, where they have the outhouse.

In France, they have the bidet.

And throughout Asia, they have the squat toilet.

“What’s a squat toilet” you ask?

Well, basically it’s a hole in the ground that you squat over. It’s a perfect example of “truth-in-advertising.”

I know the name sounds crude, but sometimes they’re quite elegant with beautiful tiles, chrome fixtures and a stylized trough.

And other times, they are quite literally a HOLE IN THE GROUND.

But either way, their role in your daily routine is pretty straightforward.

At first, they can be quite intimidating… “which way do I face?”, “how do I keep my balance?”, “how am I supposed to read?”

But eventually, you get used to them. In fact, sometimes the position your body is forced to be in actually helps with “the process.”

The big problem most tourists face with squat toilets is how you clean up when you’re finished.

You see, when you’re dealing with “squats”, toilet paper is not a common item.

Sometimes, there’s a hose.

Other times, there’s just a bucket of water and a scoop.

And in either case, there are never instructions.

Yeah sure – eventually you’ll figure it out. But trial & error often means a lot of awkward wet spots.

That’s why you bring your own toilet paper.

No fuss. No muss. Do what you’ve got to do and then kindly throw it in the wastebasket provided.

That’s right – put it in a wastebasket. Did I mention how reliable the septic systems are?


Well, there’s a reason.

Days 43-45 – Borneo-Malaysia to Singapore

November 17-19, 2009 - Singapore

Eric and I arrive in Singapore to regroup before heading off on our next adventure. We’re getting quite familiar with Singapore and are enjoying exploring “old” and “new” areas.

On this visit, the newly explored areas include:

- Orchard Road – the shopping metropolis of Singapore which has everything from corner stores & street stalls to Prada & Gucci

- Clark Quay - the entertainment district with tons of restaurants, clubs and bars

- Bugis Junction – the overview of everything Singapore has to offer, including the National Library, cinemas, a large street market and “Macau Pork Buns”, which are delicious.

Singapore is dressed for Christmas with plenty of glitter, Santa Claus’ and streets lined with reindeer. It feels a bit odd to be walking down the street in shorts and a T-shirt, looking at palm trees decorated with Christmas balls.

Eric’s discovered a climbing gym right around the corner from our hostel, so of course we partake in some climbing.