A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: chang2n

Mt. Bromo... The Fairest of Them All.

sunny 30 °C
View Forever Summer on chang2n's travel map.

I must save the best for last. So before jumping into Mt. Bromo I'm going to quickly recap my first week in Indonesia.

Within 48 hours of arriving in Jakarta I had lost my camera. Evidently I’m problematic when it comes to dealing with all electronic goods. Once again, I have no one else to blame but myself, I was using it to take map images of my next destination and left it sitting on the internet cafe computer. I didn’t even realize that it was missing until the next morning when I was aboard the 7:00am train. FML.

Jakarta was immense! I’m accustomed to SE Asian standards of not having sidewalks, but this city was truly off-putting for pedestrians. I was actually shooed off the pavement at one point along an empty street and asked to walk on the grass instead. The officer in uniform didn’t speak English and the entire scenario was carried out in mime. I think I may have been “too close” to some sort of government compound. So I didn’t get to see too much and I was anxious to leave because my hostel owner was overly affectionate with me. He asked how I slept and I mentioned something along the lines of neck pains and he initiated to rub my legs and back... uhm, there was no barrier in translation as I had pointed to my neck. Time to pack up & move on.

The train ride to Yogyarkata could be described as entertaining. Once aboard there was not a moment of silence.
- A blind man walked through the aisle shaking a tin cup for donations.
- A legless man crawled through sweeping the floor and asked for donations
- A man selling water, shouting “Agua, y, Agua” passed by 4 times
- A man selling tea, passed by twice, another selling “kopi” (coffee) passed 3 times
- A man squirted an aerosol can of scented spray at each seat and another man followed closely behind asked for donations
- A little boy dropped off a note & an envelope and walked back to collect the items in the hopes that he’d find money in the envelope
- A man selling watches, magic squares, scissors and razor blades would put a random item either in your lap or on the tray table and collect either the goods or money in exchange on his return
- A train attendant offering pillows at a cost

I looked at the time, it’s been 20 minutes to my 8 hour ride. I've also scored myself the aisle seat. At every stop, multiple vendors would hop on, and previous vendors would hop off. Repeat as necessary.

Yogyakarta or Jogya as they called it, was a cute city. Horse buggies and bicycle rickshaws along ornate streets. I finally got around to purchasing a replacement camera.
One of the confusing things about Indonesia was how the street names were signed. It shows you the street you’re traveling into, rather than running parallel to the street itself. Even more confusing was the fact that this wasn’t abided by 100% of the time, especially when it came to smaller streets.

I did an excursion out to the Borobudur Temple which left at 5am to catch the sunrise. Along the way while driving in the dark we passed by a bustling morning market, set up between the hours of 4-6am catering to those who had a long day’s work ahead.
They asked us to all wear sarongs while on the compound.
The misty morning sun was already creeping up over the jungle terrain.
Mount Merapi was a dominating backdrop, an active volcano which last erupted in October of 2010 killing hundreds.
This was about 20km away from the volcano, and our driver told us there used to be a town and a bridge here. The rebuilding efforts were still taking place from the devastation.
The temple comprised of 9 levels each with multiple stupas. This is at the very top.
These are overviews of the temple:
Don’t you love it when people ignore instructions? Dalang Duduk – yeah it’s a foreign language, I get it.
Pictograms can sometimes be the most confusing things ever, like washing instructions have always been tough for me to decipher.
However, I overheard these tourists speaking to their daughter on the phone. They were from Britain and there’s just no excusing them.
This stupa was under restoration so the buddha was visible. A buddha was hidden under every perforated stupa. That was one of the moves the local vendors always made, "I sell very good and authentic. Look! [unveiling and lifting of the stupa] Buddha inside." My mind strays to the Russian Doll vendors and their selling technique.
The surrounding walls, the reliefs were ornate themselves depicting different tales.
But what captured my attention the most was the lush surroundings. This is my view with the Buddha.
The ever present man made steel forest.
On the drive back I noticed a sign outside a hospital. Caste system is prevalent everywhere, but VVIP?

I moved on to the town of Cemoro Lawang to visit Mount Bromo. Most Indonesians when asked to make a choice between Bromo & Bali choose the former. Happily, I don't have to choose and will be seeing both. The other travelers that I bused in with were only staying 1 night whereas I was staying 2 nights to really venture around on my own terms. We arrived at 9pm and immediately turned into bed as the wake up call was for 3:15am. The guest house staff knocked on every room to ensure that the 4am jeep departure was not delayed. I balked at the idea of being chauffeured by the jeeps that had strict time lines:

4am departure
4:30am arrival to View Point
6am departure for Mt. Bromo
8am departure back to guest house.

The trek was less than 10km but without the aid of transport I needed to wake up even earlier so that I could also see the sunrise.

My first mistake was not having a proper flashlight. I still haven't upgraded my small red LED light. There was no moon light to guide me, and I have very defined memories of the varying textures and sensations from my footing: sand, pavement, mud, puddles, grass.

I actually covered a decent distance until I stopped dead in my tracks from the growl and loud barks of a territorial dog. Every attempt to continue forward generated even more aggressive outbursts. I didn't move for 20 minutes, paralyzed and full of regret on why I didn't get my rabies vaccination?! Finally a van pulled up, it was the driver who dropped us off the previous night, he recognized me in the dark and knew of my independent plans of trekking solo and offered to picked me up. Perhaps he more than "recognized" me, he was rather "fond" of me as you can tell from this picture.

I allowed him to drive me 2km closer to my destination before continuing on solo. I started to get light from the breaking dawn and heard sounds far above me and knew I was somewhat close to the View Point. A local man approached me with his horse and asked if I wanted to ride up to the view point for a small price. I thanked him but shook my head. He extended both his arms and approached me, to which I extended my hand thinking he wanted to shake hands. But ended up in a wrestling match because he started planting kisses on my neck and face. WTF?! How do I get myself into these situations? With my remaining 8 lives, I walked away unscathed where as the small framed, heavily moustached local man received a hard hit to his neck (my aim wasn't so great). Every local man with a horse from this point forth was cautiously avoided. This one spent some time grooming his horse.

Aside from my rough start, everything about the trek was beautiful and surreal. I stood still, and gazed at the changing colours. The mountain chains peeped through the clouds.
The lush and carefully groomed crop patches. I have never seen so many gradients of green. Mother Nature is truly the finest artist.
Then I came upon the reason why I dragged myself out of bed after only a few hours of sleep. It didn't seem possible. It was other worldly. I felt my breath being taken from me as my body stopped its billions of functions to solely focus on the view before me.
Mount Batok is in the foreground, covered in lush deep green. Mount Semeru is the dominating in the background, puffing out consistent streams of smoke clouds every 20 minutes.
.... And this is Mt. Bromo. It blew its own top off because that's how bad-ass it is.

I lingered until 10am barely able to tear myself away (keep in mind that I started my trek at 3am... it's been a full day) and started my decent towards Mt. Bromo itself. The sharply defined edge of the crater, where the 2 opposite landscapes meet at the 500m drop off.

Things I noticed now in broad daylight: Housing perched in the mountain sides.
Many people working the fields.
A modest home.
Rolling clouds & mists.
I creeped up one of the more luxury homes because of these hilarious tiles caught my eyes.
Nothing says welcome like kitties! (I seriously mean that. Zero sarcasm)

A closer look at the trail I was about to take.

Down in the crater.
The bizarre colours, growths & patches surrounding Mr. Bromo.
At the top of the stairs.
The view into Mt. Bromo's massive spout. Still gurgling and boiling.
It was very, very windy at the top. Most of us stayed near the staircase as here was the widest point on the rim with a small fencing to hold on to.
The rest of the path along the rim was perhaps a meter wide, with the constant strong wind, the sheer drop into the bubbling sulphur I just couldn't gather the guts or find enough strength in my legs to complete the hour long circular trek. Unlike this man, Alexandre from Russia who wanted to a mini practice building up for his Mt. Everest in a few months time. Even looking at the photo makes me knees go weak. Did I mention it was very windy AND narrow? A local man selling flowers at the rim told me that he walked the rim once, and once was plenty enough.
This just means that I'll have to return in the future to finalize my trek, do I have any volunteers to join me?!

Posted by chang2n 02:24 Archived in Indonesia Comments (2)


My other homeland I never knew...

sunny 35 °C
View Forever Summer on chang2n's travel map.

What a shame that I was simply transiting through Malaysia with no proper intention of discovering it. I have since made a mental note to rectify my error with a return in the future.
I left Krabi to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital, on the most luxurious bus ever, it was a double decker with wide seats which swallowed me whole and actual foot rests that popped up like a Lazy Boy. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if these were Lazy Boy chairs. AND there was only a total of 3 whole seats across. Pure luxury. If you hadn’t already notice, let me bring to light the festive Christmas colour theme.
The overnight bus dropped us off near Chinatown at 5:30am
I enjoyed a veggie breakfast at KFC (weird concept) while searching for possible accommodations on their free wi-fi. I started to roam the streets and came across some very bizarre,… well bazaars.
Some appeared to sell proper packaged goods, but most seem to have just emptied out a box of goods full of random items from the house; like a single shoe or dirty jeans. This stretched on for several blocks and side alleys.
It was very strange as it was a Friday morning and I never saw it again in the other 2 mornings while in KL. (That’s the lingo everyone seems to use for Kuala Lumpur, I never got the memo but now I know).

The accommodation I settled on was called Grocer's Inn which later I found out via a free walking map touring old KL that it was a historic building. Constructed at the turn of the 20th century it had a great European flare and was indeed quite lovely. This was a different kind of surprise, I found it right by the reception welcoming all guests: a decrepit skeleton of a gecko somehow still maintaining its steadfast hold on the wall.
The walking tour map was a wealth of information, but I kept straying from it. Here are some of the highlights I noted:
Dried goods. A very fishy smell, but I grew up loving the scent & taste of fish and strangely find the scent pleasant.
The very ornate Sri Mahamariamman Temple, the oldest Hindu temple in KL.
Here’s a close up
The British occupation left behind beautiful and now historic structures. It’s not very visible but it was raining in the picture. The 3 days I spent here, it rained very hard for no more than an hour and always between 2:00 and 2:30pm.
The chants from the Jamek Mosque were blared over extremely powerful speakers. Its deep bass wails lured me easily from a distance of 1km away. The walking tour map indicated these were the only wild palms left in the city and gave it a very special look.
The ever bustling Petaling Street, the heart of Chinatown.
KL Tower set amidst a large patch of rainforest in the city center. As soon as I stepped foot under the arched entry, I was attacked by mosquitoes. The bite count was up to 5 within my first minute. Waaahhhhh!!
The thickest bamboo trunks I’ve come across, most have been thin, perhaps the girth of a person’s wrist. These were much, much thicker.
The Petrona Twin Towers. They truly were an impressive sight. Here they are by day.
And by night. It was spitting rain and slightly overcast and wisps of clouds swirled about the tall peaks.
A bustling city, it somewhat makes me think of Blade Runner.
I went into one of the many shopping complexes and discovered a National Geographic Store/Café. There were shelves and shelves of all copies of the magazine and I hungrily digested one of their tasty sandwich and many backdated copies.
Sultan Abdul Samad Building. It stretched for 2 large city blocks and the colours changed from blue, green, purple, red, orange and yellow (I know because I have a picture in every colour)

The reason why I refer to Malaysia as my other homeland was because I kept hearing the Taiwanese dialect spoken around me. I had assumed that the dialect was specific to Taiwan (hence why it’s called Taiwanese) but I was wrong. It’s official name is Hokkien and it’s also spoken in Malaysia, along with Tamil, Malay, English, and Mandarin. I had join a tour that would take me to see a firefly breeding ground and my guide explained to me the above, it felt oddly comforting to be speaking with him in a mix of English, Hokkien and Mandarin. I was SO looking forward to seeing the fireflies only to have it end up in disappointment. There wasn’t billions of them as advertised, but definitely hundreds. They were in trees flanking the water bank and flickered like weak Christmas lights bordering on a power outage. And to top it off, I received in exchange 20+ mosquito bites even with the heavy coating of 55% DEET.

Earlier on in the day the tour brought us to old palace grounds where it was swarming with monkeys.
They were on the roads, on the cars, in the trees, on the fences. Eating, bickering, swinging, they outnumbered the tourists by probably 10 fold.
I moved on to Melaka, a UNESCO heritage city.
The vibe of this city was calm, relaxed and friendly. Here the café which belonged to Traveler’s Lodge, where I stayed 2 nights.
The old part of town consisted of beautiful buildings, a blend of part Chinese and part Dutch. Full of colour and flavour.

They had these bicycle rickshaws heavily garnished with fake flowers, some had lights that flashed at night and others suped up with speakers and blared music.

This is St. Paul’s Church in the city centre.
I headed for Bukit Cina which was supposed to be the most elevated area in the old city. Climbing up the stairs I encountered no one. I heard the rustling before I saw these. I thought they were beastly ants, but I can’t say for sure.
They had thick bodies, an even thicker head and if possible the thickest set of mandibles. I had to be very precise with my footing but still had trouble keeping my camera still as I felt very prickly and itchy attempting to take these close ups. They are all slightly out of focus because I kept pulling away too soon. Ugh!

I walked to the pier to purchase a ferry ticket into Indonesia and found myself caught underneath the edge of a heavy brewing storm. The sun shone brightly on one side, and the other heavy dark storm clouds waiting to spill its guts.

I found out that the ferry was going to set me back $40 US but only cross a measly 100km. I researched some flights and to my delight found that via Tiger Airways, I’d be able to fly a distance of 1000km to Jakarta for $45 US. There is only one phrase to describe my sentiment.

Posted by chang2n 09:55 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Railay, West Railay.

sunny 32 °C
View Forever Summer on chang2n's travel map.

Jenn & I spent our final week together just lounging on the beautiful beaches of Southern Thailand, specifically in Railay, West Railay. It is so small that google maps shows it as a blotch of land, which I guess it essentially is. As with most things in life, you've got your pro's & con's. Railay's con's:

  • Overpriced
  • No locals living in the area other than the ones who were stuck working on the island, and the majority of them were not overly happy
  • too many tourists

It required some will power to accept the situation, but whether or not I accepted it, you simply can't deny the lure of the clear aqua coloured waters and protruding cliffs. A feast for the eyes.
This is a view of West Railay beach
It had a total of perhaps 8-10 resorts, including ours “Sand Sea Resort”. Service was dismal, every morning we dreaded our breakfast buffet as all we encountered were pouting staff that did everything to ignore you.
We were on a thin peninsula and it took less than 10 minutes to cross to the other side. And yet the view of the East side was completely different, it had very little beach front and was a mangrove forest. This is East Railay beach at low tide.
When the tide comes in it got a bit better in appearance.
Some of the resorts were very nice on this end I guess the only way to attract people to stay on the less pleasant side. Here are two pictures detailing the extravagant and its polar opposite, separated only by a fence.
We participated in a total of 2 boat tours that took us sightseeing the surrounding islands and gave us opportunities to snorkel. Just our luck that I was ill and nauseous for the 1st trip and Jenn, the same sad state for the 2nd trip. I wish we could say that we were sea sick, but neither of us were prone to it, and it took some heavy backtracking to decipher the possible cause. “Oh yes... there was that one meal at the elephant resort buffet where I found a maggot in my veggie stir-fry...” Here are some pictures from the 1st trip:
The Prima Donna every tour was heavily selling, was the beach where “The Beach” was filmed. There were so many tourists it was difficult to enjoy the actual beach, and the beautiful water front was tough to appreciate as it was heavily laden with anchored tour boats.
The 1st trip had approximately 45 tourists crammed into a decent sized boat. The 2nd trip was much more pleasant as the boat was twice as large with a top deck, a total of 8 and overall a much better tour operator.
The waters were perfect for snorkeling, the view from above gives only a 5% spectrum of what you saw underneath. Glorious clear waters and surrounded by schools of fish of all sizes and colours.
Chicken Island, this was the only name that I retained of all the islands we went to.
The start of a beautiful sunset
We anchored at this paradise island for dinner.
I still can’t get over the colours and how it varied from one view to the other.
Looking at the sunset.
Looking away from the sun. Jenn & I kept gawking at one another, marveling at the colours. It couldn't have been painted any prettier.
We said goodnight to the sun and hello to the huge flying bats. They were loud, massive and flying overhead very quickly. They kept streaming and streaming along in huge numbers for their nightly feeding.
I swear in person hey covered the sky. In this pic they speckled the sky.
A badly zoomed bat. The locals called them flying foxes and flying dogs because they’re that huge.
We ended this tour being caught in stormy waters.
Thankfully it calmed and I was able to experience my first phosphorescent plankton swim that evening. I can only describe it as magical. The plankton emitted a green light with the disturbance of movement. It felt like I was shooting green sparks out from the tips of my fingers. For a span of 10 minutes, I was Harry Potter and I was able to create magic.

The weather was like clockwork, sunny throughout the day, cloudy with thunder & lightning at night. Watching the lighting show every evening was a highlight. I didn’t capture any lighting as I was too slow with my camera but here are 2 with how it lit up the night sky.

This was another nightly ritual some tourists would participate in. Lighting floating lanterns.

While Jenn did everything to work on finessing her tan, I did everything to avoid it. I explored the island’s jungle terrain in the shade.
I kept seeing people disappearing towards the North end of the beach so I decided to take a stroll, and by stroll I ended up in a sweat inducing climb.
I ended up in Tonsai beach, where the rock climbers stayed.
Here are a couple in the midst of their climb.

This was Pranang beach at the Southern tip and it had its own special cave for exploration.
But before venturing through the water to the cave I came across this:
a colourful giant shrine full of penises.
There was a sign telling a legend of a lovely damsel who was being ravaged by a creep and how another came to her rescue and then everyone got turned into an island by a magical being. And now it’s a shrine for luck & fertility. Could I have muddled that explanation even more?! I skimmed through the information because I was so fascinated with all the random penises. I continued on.

I convinced Jenn to explore “The Diamond Cave” with me. We did not see any diamonds. The path was covered in guana, bat droppings and we only encountered people on our way out. The rest of the time we scurried through the screeching bats, praying they weren’t the size of dogs or foxes and their droppings.

There were signs indicating paths to a View Point & a Lagoon, and I certainly wasn’t one to say no to beautiful and free! They shared the same initial grueling climb, 5-6 stretches of steep vertical climbs.
Then came a fork and I choose to head towards the lagoon while all the others before me picked the view point. The path started to descend
then steep drops,
followed by death drops.
Two factors that didn’t help: the nightly thunder & lighting was often just that, rumbles and flashes, and often not accompanied by rain, the fact that I choose to do this after a monsoonal rain the previous evening made everything muddy and slippery. And the fact that I had on cheap thong sandals. Bad combination.
I had caught up to a Norwegian man who was pondering his next move to descend. We scoured the terrain for indications of how to safely go down and finally found a crevice where a rope guided you down. He was much larger than me and had to remove his backpack to fit through the hole. Here’s a photo of the crevice, even now it’s barely visible, I’m surprised we even saw it.
Destination reached. The Norwegian and I shared a laugh because both of us had the mental image of the bluest lagoon, like the movie. This was certainly not it. But it was still breathtaking in its own way.
The lagoon was almost entirely enclosed by a 360 degree sheer cliff drop, with the exception of where we trekked through. It must have been just as impressive to see it at the top of the 50+ meter rim. We were the only 2 people around. Some bird calls filtered through, but everything else was muted by the enclosure.
We stood & pondered in silence and then agreed to leave together since if one of us injured ourselves the other can at least continue on for help. The way back was perhaps 10% easier since I know I’ve accomplished it, but the last lag towards the lagoon was easily 10/10 in difficulty due to the slippery terrain.
Me, exhausted, dirty, drenched in sweat but alive and back on solid ground!
I must be masochistic but I was very curious about the other fork in the road, the Viewpoint. The next day with a sore body from using muscles that I don’t often use I tackled once again the same vertical climb. I took the other fork and reached the Viewpoint within 3 minutes, unlike the 30 minute descend to the lagoon. I was highly rewarded. The view is Northwest in direction, and this is East Railay with its blotches of mangroove trees and short stumpy sand line. Like I said, it’s far from ugly.
This is West Railay, and the beach in view is Tonsai.

Here’s another interesting aspect of nature that I loved. Crab Art. These crabs varied in size from a penny coin to the extreme miniscule, most were tiny like this guy, the size of a baby’s nail.
They filtered the nutrients from the sand once the tide receded, and in the process rolled these lovely spherical sand balls, creating an array of work that I found stunning.
Space ship
City grid Roundabout
Super Electric Guitar
Last of the Mohicans
Then allow your imagination to go from the smallest of details
To an entire beach front covered in crab art. Whaaaatttt?! Isn’t nature spectacular? It broke my heart to see them being trampled, even though I was also a culprit, but it’s nice to know that the very next day another beautiful array of work would be created by these little crabs.

I said my goodbyes to Jenn and watched her aboard the airport bus, back to cold Canada. I stayed in Krabi for a couple of days and discovered these oddities along the water banks. I don’t know what they are, but I’ll call them tadpole fish.
They were slender and long, but no larger than the length of a hand. They used their fins to maneuver and scurry overland, often battling one another for possibly territory. You can tell they were about to battle when their dorsal fin stood fanned out.
I saw them swimming in the waters, but yet across this clearing of perhaps 1.5 meters,
they all skipped over the waters.
Strange non?

Posted by chang2n 00:15 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Les Éléphants

The gentlest of giants

sunny 25 °C
View Forever Summer on chang2n's travel map.

We spent our final 2 days in Lao at an elephant sanctuary before our flight to Krabi, Thailand. Once again I can’t rave enough about the gorgeous scenery and setting.
A relaxing shaded hut that demanded you to stop everything you’re doing and take in the view.
Just when you think you can’t stand the beauty anymore, the elephants come strolling through. It felt like Shangri-la.
Thinking back the actual time we spent with the elephants wasn’t very long, perhaps only 4 hours. There was a total of 11 female elephants catering to the numerous tourists. Each elephant has its own mahout; it’s caretaker. This was our first experience, learning to climb up and riding the elephants. I was supposed to grab the very top of the ear with my right hand, and place my right foot on her raised leg and then swing myself over the 8’ high animal. It was feasible but very awkward. Shamefully I’ve already forgotten the name of my elephant & mahout.
At the sanctuary’s information center it provided the history behind each elephant and their mahout, a very interesting read that we would test ourselves with at each meal. It also explained via large signs what commands to use with the elephants. And very importantly, how to act & behave & around these massive animals so that you don’t hurt yourself or aggravate them and put yourself in danger. I believe here I’m carrying out “DON’T #5: Do not touch the elephants trunk”.
Now pulling a double negative, the previous 'Don't touch the trunk' and disobeying “ALWAYS #1: Approach the elephant from its right side”.
I only posed for these photos at the urging of our English-speaking guide and the mahout, even though it conflicted with what the information center provided. I’m left thinking, what else is total bullshit then?
Giving my elephant a mid-day cool down.
As I mentioned since we didn’t have a whole lot of interaction with the elephants we ended up just hanging around and observing the locals around us. Here are some young men attempting to spear fish in the water. Their interaction sounded much more light-hearted and fun rather than work or finding their next meal.
This was another group in the water.
And another, they were slapping the sticks on the water making very loud sounds. I highly doubt it attracted the fish, but I’m sure for some reason or another it must have helped.
This is our 2nd encounter with the elephants, this time riding in baskets seats strapped to the elephants. We had a moment of freak out as our elephant strolled down this ridiculously narrow and steep path, all the while, not walking straight but swaying from side to side snatching little branches & leaves to snack on.
And in the water we go.
The view from the water.
A local home & hut.
These 3 local boys that were fully clothes seconds before and stripped down bare to enjoy the waters.
This man fed the elephants the chopped trunks of a banana tree.
She was very pleased with her treat. Elephants eat 10% of their body weight daily. That’s a solid 250 kg, no wonder they were constantly picking at plantations along our walks.
A man with his musket.
Local home.
I would have liked to join this group huddle. I think they were eating.
A herd of water buffaloes submerged.
Avert your eyes if you don’t care for shit. But hey! We all do it.
She obediently laid down by the water.
We rode our elephants to their rest spot into the jungle early in the afternoon and our guide took us out to discover our surroundings.
He took us ziplining, for an extra fee of course. Our climb to the 1st zipline platform involved us squeezing through a crevice.
This was my first time ziplining, but I was told this place differed from others because rather than starting & going from the same platform, they dropped you down a free fall of 10-15m to another platform below before continuing.
It took a lot more to build up the courage to do this drop than the actual zipline. Although this photo doesn’t show it, by the end, I was attempting to coast upside down & no hands. LG!
Our final interaction with the elephants involved us picking them up from the jungle drop off.
I'm still in awe how these massive animals could move with such ease & grace.
Jenn got lucky and was the only one who got to ride her elephant alone without the assistance of the mahout sitting from behind.
Bath time!
We were handed stiff brushes to scrub down our elephants. With such thick skin, even scrubbing with heavy effort I kind of doubted my elephant felt anything more than a gentle caress. Our mahouts spent their time splashing the tourists. I tried to focus on my task at hand rather than the fact that there was a lot of elephant dung floating by. Poo water.
Goodbye elephants! Goodbye Lao! You and I were great together.

Posted by chang2n 07:54 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Jungle Treks

The kind that requires a machete!

sunny 27 °C
View Forever Summer on chang2n's travel map.

Jenn & I were eager to make the most of our 5 days in Lao so we immediately booked a 2nd tour, a jungle trek with Jewel Travels the same company for the motorbike trek, and we joked at the idea that Ton would show up at our hotel the next day. It's a small town and we were right in our assumption. We were joined by Stephan from Germany who decided that he did not want to join his girlfriend in the cooking course she was taking that day. Along the drive we made a quick stop at a food stall to purchase our lunch for the trek, needless to say, we made a request to Ton: No eggs please! At least not 15.
We got to our destination after a 45 minute drive and picked up a local guide who knew his way in the jungle. I don’t recall him introducing himself due to the language barrier, but he happily shook our hands. Before starting off, he spent a good 5 minutes sharpening his... machete! He wet the rock between his feet and passed the blade back & forth. The rock itself was smooth and slightly concave from the repeated motion.
Off we went. I kept pausing and straggling behind because I just had to take in the view. The sun, the water, the foreign landscape and savouring the relief brought on by the wind.
We were heading towards the main peak just off to the right.
The only person we encountered, it was probably just 5 minutes into our trek.
Crossing the river.
Ton showed me how to spot the ant mounds that he brought to my attention the day before and I started spotting them everywhere.
Here's the picture again: IMG_3272.jpg
Cow dung was everywhere along this path, yet I don’t recall spotting any cows at all.
Less than an hour into our trek, and thus far an easy walk along the dirt path. It was noticeably cooler in Luang Prabang but the sun was really beating down on us and it was barely 10am.
I lied, we saw one other person. We took a break at this hut in the middle of nowhere and sat with its owner. At this point, Jenn mentioned that she had hoped for a more vigorous trek and the fact that we were already taking a break after an easy hour of walking wasn’t exactly what she had in mind. Looking back, that was the turning point. She got what she asked for... x 1000.
We immediately started going on a steep incline for a solid 20 minutes. Every 3 steps I took I slid back down the equivalent of 1 on the loose red soil. My heart rate escalated much, much higher than the elevation we were tackling. I was carrying a total 3 bottles of water. At this point I already downed one, we were 1.5 hours into our 7 hour trek.
The machete finally came into use. He was hacking away & making our paths, and also marking dents into trees. I kept telling Jenn to not tag so closely behind our jungle guide, incase her body parts came too close to the arcing motion of the machete.
This make-shift bridge was the only evidence so far that people have walked the same trek before us.
After 4 hours we had tackled climbs & descents that had us eating our words on the trek being too easy. Now we were complaining about how the tour should have been clearer about the fitness & exertion level this trek truly required. It was denoted as being difficulty level 3-4. Which was fine, except it wasn’t based on a scale of 10, but rather on a scale of 3-4. But then we shut up. This was what we were seeking, I didn’t really read the itinerary of where we were going on the jungle trek, I was under the impression it was a waterfall we were going to but I was blown away by what it ended up being. The waterfall fell into a huge deep cave. This picture is an overview which doesn’t really allow you to appreciate the aspect and how truly huge it was.
This is a better comparison but it only reflects about ¼ of the mouth of the cave.
There was a heavy mist from the splashing waters, the drop was at least 100+m (damn 2D pictures and its lack of depth!) and we gingerly crept towards the edge. My stomach sank, as it was mossy & slippery and I kept imagining the worst. I trembled holding the camera over the edge to take this picture.
As my nerves eased, I sat down and even let my feet rest near the edge.
Here’s a view of the mouth of the cave from below. It was maybe 50m across.
We sat down for lunch. The food was poured out onto giant leaves and we sat at the edge of the drop, listening to the sound of falling water and grabbing handfuls of food. The 2 communal spoons were used to drink the cold bamboo soup out of the bag and to scoop up the veggies into your hands. I had trouble making small bite size balls of sticky rice, the 2 guides made them smaller than ping-pong balls. Mine... the size of tennis balls. Whatever, it was all ending up in my stomach anyway. For the next 30 minutes it was a wonderful feeling to be the only 5 people in the world. What brings a smile to my face thinking back on this moment, was that I actually thought they had teared off these giant leaves for us to seat on. I'm still caught up on the idea of clean & comfort.
The guides cleaned up after us, bundling up the food and plastic bags back into their bags and left the area exactly as we found it, prestine. The jungle guide told us that we’d be taking another way back.
We were climbing up & down giant crevices.
The trail was sharply downhill for quite some time, which forced me to always spot a tree or a vine that I would purposely run into to stop my downhill stumble. The worst was either getting your foot tangled in ground vines that threatened to topple you mid-step or grabbing a handful of spiny vines such as these.
After what felt like 2 hours we were hitting our exhaustion point and our water supply was all used up. “How much longer?” we whined.
“Another 2 hours.”
But you kind of lose your confidence in that reply when you keep seeing your guide scratching his head, and looking confused... that’s not a good sign. The guide often left us a bit to stalk out the area to see if any of it was familiar.
Finally, another sign of life and a possible landmark to bring us back on route.
We demanded for another rest.
At one point both Ton & the jungle guide started to stray off more and more. They had decided that they wanted to collect wild banana flowers to cook for dinner and needed about 7-8 of them to make a decent dish. Supposedly the wild bananas were not edible for humans, and once flowered, the tree dies and falls. These 2 started to either climb or chop down banana trees. Ton cut one up for me to taste, it was very bitter.
This tree that they hacked at, fell in the wrong direction: straight into Stephan & Jenn who narrowly moved out of the way. We were tired, hot, thirsty and had already avoided death one too many times on this journey and called an immediate stop for them gathering banana flowers and focus on bringing us tired tourists back home.
We finally reached flatter ground and off the deep slopes. Trekking along a constant slant was the worse, your ankles carried your weight extremely awkwardly; actually by the end of that day everything was just plain difficult. Our footing, heavy & laboured. Our bodies bruised and hands splintered. Did I already mention that we ran out of water? Cause I kept unconsciously reaching for my empty bottles, just hoping to shake out any remants. Ton went and filled ½ his bottle from a stream and I took a swig even though I was given cautioned looks by Jenn & Stephen.
Alas, we exited the jungle into the open field. We were too exhausted to even celebrate.
Stephan had an app on his phone which showed him the trek we tackled via GPS tracking. He showed the map to Jenn & I on his phone and I died of laughter. After our lunch we nearly accomplished 30km of the most convoluted path ever. It resembled the sketch of an eager child who has never handled a crayon before. Here’s me sketching it from memory, and seriously, with zero sarcasm, our true trek was far more convoluted then what I drew here.
I recall the this day very very fondly. In fact, since the pain endured was only temporary I now only have memories that are 100% perfect and priceless.

Posted by chang2n 01:48 Archived in Laos Comments (2)

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