Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Kiev 1

I'm waiting at the gate to Kiev looking at the Ukrainian couples. Everywhere and all I see are beautiful women, amazing figures, fashionable cloths with high heels, perfect eyebrows, lips, skin, hairstyle, jewelry are next to short, fat men. How do they find each other? Is there really such a problem with men in Ukraine/Russia as I've heard? A lot of men are alcoholics, impotents, only women are sent to cities to study while men work on fields and factories, and it creates such a dis-balance between the sexes that women will jump on the first one who is available? I wonder how I'll feel like walking the streets of Kiev with my sports pants, sneakers and no make up. Betcha it's gonna be fun :)
Arrived at an empty airport, tried to call from some phone, but it didn't work. I went to information service where a young lady was chatting to someone on her phone barely looking at me. I told her that I need to make a phone call. She told me that these phones are only for internal use. Then I need a different phone I tell her. She tells me there is no different phone. Ok, then how can I make a phone call? Finally she tells me that if I go to a different terminal, I could buy a local SIM card in there. Thank god that I had USD $50 with me, as my bank card doesn't seem to be working here. My phone battery is dead, and laptop battery is dead. Dad gave me a wrong number of a person I needed to reach and I had to wake him up in the middle of the night to get the right number. 2.5 hours after arrival, I finally made it to a bus that goes to center. I tell the driver to stop the bus at a square.
- But I can forget
- Can you please not forget?
- If you talk to me the whole way, then I might not forget
- Ok, I'll remind you again in half an hour.
I got a very good impression of customer service since my landing.
Kiev is considered to be a very beautiful city, but all I see is grey streets, broken down roads and buildings that haven't been changed since the communist times. I wish it was summer so that the trees will hide these hideous buildings. (As they sing in the song: be careful what you wish for, cause you just might get it!) Everything is in Ukrainian which I don't understand. I think the government pushes for that. Commercials, signs, radio ... but all people speak Russian. Weird.
All day I've been listening to stories about why Ukraine is dangerous. Don't go here and there, don't walk alone in the dark, don't talk to strangers, walk around men and police, never say that you're from Canada, never use ATMs, always go to the bank. There are a lot of pedafiles, just last summer 3 girls from the neighbourhood died; I won't allow you to go to Donetsk; even to walk to the main street on March 8th (international women's day) is dangerous, there is a lot of police, and if you look at them the way they don't like (or they might come up with a reason why they don't like you), straight into their car, into prison to get beaten up. On and on and on it went ... In the half year that I spent in Ukraine, I haven't felt in danger at any time, well except walking in a complete darkness home cause there are no lights on the street. I think if you're negative, you'll attract negative situations to yourself, or you'll just see everything in a negative light.
It feels weird cause Misha (grandmas bf) and his daughter Ira, are not my family, but they treat me like their family. Feed me till I can't get up or walk anymore, gave me warm cloths, cause all I have is beach wear. Her kids are amazing, smart and sweet. I look and listen to all that, and I feel sad. People don't live here, they survive. You can't be weak, you just not going to live. Her ex husband is a diplomat. So she and her son is well known in the neighbourhood. Her son already told everyone not to touch me. And while she was contemplating whether to go to the main street or not for the festival, he said, what's the big deal, one call will resolve it all. She told me when they got divorced, they had a fight, he came to her apartment with an axe, broke the door and was chasing around her. She called the police, and once they came, he let them know that he's a diplomat and they left without doing anything. Half a year of trouble going from place to place, nobody does anything. He comes to visit every Saturday for half an hour. I asked her why he won't come more often, or take the kids somewhere for the weekend, she told me that she can't demand anything from him, as he said that if she'll demand anything, there she'll find her grave. At home she does everything with tremendous speed, within half an hour, huge lunch of pork ribs, salads, sandwiches, stuffed eggs was served. Dishes were clean, cloths were drying. It's like pictures of handy men with 10 arms, or Hindu gods, here it's Russian women. They don't look and probably don't feel like women anymore. In these moments, you learn to appreciate Canada, where men appreciate women. Where they help around, where they care, where there are fair divorce laws. In the hospital, had to give a doctor a bribe to get in, otherwise it's not allowed, and even that was only for 5 minutes. Money money money. You even need to give a $300 bribe for a kindergarten to get in. I don't know ... I think my character was formed, but I think it's still too weak for Ukraine. Probably in here I'll get steel nerves.
My perspective is changing - I'm looking at Ira: always busy, always tired, always unhappy, always negative ... bad life in Ukraine makes people like that. Then I'm listening to her words, "I don't need any help". "Do you want this or do you want that?", "Go, relax, I'll do everything myself". Her children wear cloths just once before they go into the laundry. Her apartment is always clean, and every weekend she cleans the whole thing herself. One thing I learnt, is "if you think you can do everything yourself, you'll do everything yourself", you have no one but yourself to blame, and if you are always tired, unhappy and sad, all you have to do is look in the mirror. We create our own lives.
She was talking about the seasons - "First it rains, then it's heat, then it snows". You can think of it this way, or you could think: first the flowers will bloom, then we'll do BBQ in the park and go swim in the river, and then we'll go skiing and cuddle near a fireplace. I guess everyone has his own way of thinking of things.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Moni

Beautiful road through mountains with rice fields, waterfalls, sea, black sand, amazing! Apparently it's on the most beautiful roads in whole of Indonesia! We arrived in Moni, a nice little village near the famous Kelimutu volcano. We went to sleep at 8:30, which wasn't too bad, cause we woke up at 4:30 just in case to see if the sky is clear, and yes it was! Lucky us!! Took a bike up the volcano, scary to go in night up a mountain. We arrived at a beautiful volcano with 3 lakes, too bad the 3rd one is on the other side. All 3 lakes are different colors. One is green, one is blue and the other one is black. They change without notice depending on the mineral composition of the water, and not long while ago, the black lake was red or even white. From one side, it's good to read LP to know where to go, on the other side when you get there, your expectations are high and you don't get much excitement. That's exactly what happened in Kelimutu :( I was very tired and fell asleep till the sun came up and lit the lakes (just shows how much excited I was!) LP is both a blessing and a curse.
Went to Jopu traditional village. It's nice to go where tourists don't go, but we didn't feel very comfortable, and nobody spoke any English. Kostya wants to buy ikat which is almost like a woven skirt that most of Flores wears. It's beautiful, woven with traditional designs of animals and flowers prints, it takes very long to make, but it's expensive about $50, which is not too much for natural paint, hand made thing that's done in 1 week minimum, but too much for a backpacker budget, and where would you wear it back home?
One guy found us. He invited us to come to his home, offered us coffee, tea and that's the first time when I tried betel. What a disgusting thing! You chew it, then add something else to it, and then some white powder and it becomes red, and you spit it out all the time like a camel. Apparently it makes teeth strong and healthy. It doesn't seem like that at all to look at red stained teeth of locals, I think they're just addicted. It's like sure a glass of red wine with dinner can be good for your health, but not when you drink bottle after a bottle.
Next day drove 2 hours back to Ende just as an excuse to drive on the beautiful road. We have to buy plane tickets out of Flores, and surprise surprise, foreign visa is not accepted as a method of payment. Thank god that we went to Ende which is a bigger town where we could find a travel agency and pay in cash!! Not only the engine was stopping randomly during the ride, but on the way back to Moni we got a flat tire. People tell us directions to a repair shop, others stop and give me a ride till whenever they can. Then 10 people were around helping us, driving somewhere to get the keys to try and repair the tire themselves. It was almost getting dark and finally we found a repair shop, fixed flat tire for $2, so expensive compared to 50 cents in Java valley :) The most amazing thing is that we were in the middle of nowhere, nobody speaks English, it's getting dark soon, and both of us weren't stressed out at all, not even a little bit :)
Woke up early because of the market that happened right outside our guest house. Beautiful market with colorful people, everyone wears their best cloths, which includes a home made ikat which tells of the status of a person.
Took a car to Maumere. Some driver found us and asked us if we're gonna go later, meanwhile we went to waterfalls and the market. When we got to the car, turned out that everyone was waiting for us for like 3 hours. We had no idea!! Obviously the driver wanted to make more money, so he made everybody wait. Maumere is such an ugly port city, not friendly people, the best restaurant is dirty beyond belief.
Woke up at 5, hopefully the flight will get out (fingers crossed). Security at the airport checked the bags with metal scanner. "What's that?" they asked me when it started beeping. "A laptop" I said, - oh ok... great security!
p.s. weather is Kuta is great! :) yes ... we're back here again! :S 5th time already!
I was supposed to go to Nepal after Indonesia, but grandma had a stroke in Ukraine and now is in coma, and there is nobody to look after her, so I'm flying to Ukraine for a month.
The Singapore airport is probably the largest, the most modern, the best airport I've ever seen. They have showers, free movies, butterfly gardens. Too bad I didn't have any time at all between my connection :( They almost didn't allow me to fly, because I carried a one way ticket. Why is it the airline's problem and not the country's problem? It's ok though, if they didn't let me fly in, I would've found an internet to book a flight out.
Turkish airways is awesome! Big, clean plane with hundreds of movies, tv shows, food menu, and I actually fell asleep, who knew that I only needed an inflatable pillow to fall asleep, and now that I write about it, I realise that I forgot it in a plane :(

https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/Moni

Friday, 1 November 2013

Ruteng & Bajawa

We went to Ruteng. The bus dropped us off right near the hotel. 2nd best hotel in town, it sucks! Expensive, and not good. Staff is fun, though very useless. They ask the same question 10 times, had to wait for breakfast for half an hour, they couldn't book a bus ticket for the whole day. Needless to say I got a bit harsh with them. "Are you angry with me miss Yana?", oh yes I am!
Took a bike to go to beautiful spider rice fields. It rains hard and often, and every time the bike stalls, I always end up ankle deep in some puddle. Every time I'm with Kostya we end up on some roads, if you can call them that. We're already off the tourist track, nope, it seems like Kostya wants to go to the edge of the earth. We stopped and went for a walk, so many kids, all running around us, nobody really knows English, like 30 kids and they all went for a walk with us. In the rice field we yell "go go go!!", they march on the little foot path, 30 kids and me, then traffic jam, "Go, go, go!!", the traffic seems to move, that's until I came across a huge mud bath. No way I'm going there! I stopped and turned back with all the kids jumping through the mud after me :)
bye bye mister Yana!!!
bye bye! :)
sweet kids
Locals are yelling hello to us, give us a hand to shake with a lot of honour, then dragged us to some traditional house where they made a concert for us with drums and some metal plates. Everyone yells, tourists, tourists.. .and all the village runs towards us. Then we played soccer with the boys all the way back to the bike.
In the evening went to a restaurant. Suddenly a huge storm has started, thank god we were inside. The whole palm tree went down near the restaurant and things were flying on the street. We kept ordering tea and more tea to sit through it. There is no electricity, the street is covered with broken branches, and I ended up knee deep in some puddle.
Another terrible bus ride, I was sick most of the way. But the destination was amazing. The interesting, cultural, traditional villages of Indonesia. These people still live the traditional life style, and only a few years ago got electricity. The role of the dead plays a big part in their daily lives, and you can see these examples everywhere. They bury their dead right next to their houses, decorating the graves with bathroom tiles. In some villages you just don't understand, is it a village or a cemetery? Their important ceremonies also happen near rock graves where their ancestors are lying. They sacrifice animals on an almost daily basis. The sacrifice brings relief or respect to what has happened, and also raises the status of the family. Because the more bulls you can sacrifice, the more money you have. And of course everyone can see how many bulls have been sacrificed, because they proudly display horns or jaws hanging right in front of the house. If you need to build a new house or even to replace a roof, you have to sacrifice a buffalo. For every 5 houses in the village, there should be a small female house, which looks like a doll house. It's very strange, as no women are allowed in there. Only men go there during some ceremonies, but usually just once a year. There are also very aggressive figures on the roof of the houses. They are meant to protect the house, but also carry with them a sexual energy which can assault a woman. Therefore all women should be inside the house when the figure is installed. I asked one of the people "why aren't you changing towards a modern way of life?", "No we can't" she replied, "we'll all get sick and die! Now when we get sick, we sacrifice a chicken" ... makes sense! We walked through a bamboo forest, to ancestral grounds through a corn field where the woman picked up corn which she grilled in the house for us. When we went back, a rain has started, and she gave us big leaves to cover from it :) We sat eating corn near a fire with her snotty kids and dogs.
We drove around absorbing the traditional life style and the beautiful volcano views. We stopped at hot springs where boiling hot water merges with cold water. Then I went to the market and bought fresh veggies for a salad. Finally! The locals always seem surprised ... "You're not going to cook it???"
Next day we went for a walk up a volcano. We couldn't find a shared taxi that goes there, but we finally found someone who spoke English, and the whole taxi dropped us off there. We found a "guide" who took us up a volcano for $2, one hour up. On the top there were 2 small lakes, one is burnt orange color, the other one is turquoise. I remember seeing pictures where both of the lakes were orange.
At 5:30am the next day, we caught an 8 hour bus to our final stop. Thank god for the motion sickness pills which made me sleep all through our ride :)

https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/RutengBajawa

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Komodo

Back in Kuta, needed to change Thai Bhat to local currency. I had to walk the whole day with the money looking at different exchange offices, as there were different rates. In one place 200, 10 meters away 330! Did they just make these numbers up??
I went surfing!!! Oh man, the famous Bali beaches. Every time I jumped on the board I was all wrapped up in plastic bags, chips bags and other garbage. Kuta, maybe go there for a party, not a beach.
Speaking of parties, we finally went there!! Kostya doesn't dance, but that didn't stop me getting on the stage and dancing 2 hours non stop. Then I danced all the way on the street till the hotel to the sounds of whistling passerby-ers.
We slept for only 2 hours till our flight. Got to the airport, flight is delayed, then delayed some more, then cancelled. Apparently there aren't enough people on the flight, and they wouldn't get any profit from it. Ok! Good to know for the flight back, book it in advance! They transferred us to a hotel for $45/night in a bad location. Why pay so much? We paid $12 for a bungalow (of course it didn't have TV or AC), but it's set in a huge beautiful garden minutes away from the beach and restaurants.
Kostya and I are continuing to have troubles, and he decides to quit smoking! Oh oh I thought. But it was so strange, he never took a cigarette in his mouth and he barely has any withdrawal symptoms. But actually when he blows up, maybe these are withdrawal syndromes??
We fly to Komodo in a small/big plane, first one in my life! When you see how it works, it's hard to imagine how it flies! :)
We got to a non touristy, extra dirty, mountains of garbage and naked kids town, situated in a beautiful harbor. Too bad they made such a shit hole out of it! Locals are dirty but very friendly. I'm bored, there is nothing to do in this town, and I'm tired of just lying on beaches watching sunsets!
Our tour in the morning got cancelled, so we had no choice but to take a private tour just for the both of us. Surprisingly it didn't cost much more than a tour with 10 other people. off we went to see the dragons. 1 dragon attacked a ranger 3 days ago, so now this area is not safe for visitors. It's closed for a week in hopes that the dragon won't be as aggressive. We only walked for 20 minutes, saw 5 dragons which were lying next to the kitchen. They smell food and blood from 5kms. The staff never feeds then, but they still keep hanging around. There are usually 3 males per 1 female, and there are always mating fights (too bad it's not the season :( ). The female protects the nest only for 3 months out of 7, and when the babies hatch, she can eat them too. That's why babies live on trees until they're 5 years old to escape the predators, and once they turn 5, they lose their ability to climb trees anymore. They only need to eat once a month, and can eat up to 80% of their body weight.
I'm scared of the dragons. Thankfully we've seen only 1 in nature. You can barely see it. They have a really good camouflage. I was always scared to accidentally walk by one. Our safety, a guide with a stick, doesn't look very safe to me! Was also worried about what colors to wear and was hoping that they're colorblind :) But they just lying there peacefully, it's hard to imagine how dangerous they really are.
We slept in the boat. At night I went to the washroom, and I thought i was hallucinating. I took a bucket of water to flush, and the water was luminous green. Then I poured it down the toilet and it was twirling green. Oh man, I completely forgot about the luminous plankton! They're awesome!!! :))
In the morning went snorkeling, and it was one of the best snorkeling areas ever. I saw a turtle, 3 blue spotted sting rays, 2 big groupers and a big orange jelly fish. The list is longer than I usually write in my log after diving.
We then asked to be dropped off on an island where there is only one resort. Kostya for some reason just wants to be alone, and even 1 resort was too much. He just wants to be all alone on an isolated island. Strange to want that ... I wonder what are the reasons.
I swam around the whole island. Saw pretty much nothing, and in some places the visibility was less than a meter. Not good as there were many rocks and big waves. In the evening there was a big storm, and a month ago a big storm destroyed many boats, a pier and half of the coral reef :(
In short, Komodo islands are a waste of time and money, so don't go!

https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/Komodo

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Gili

Next morning we took a fast boat to Gili. It's a set of 3 islands. What a beauty. It's the best combination of beauty, views, sand, water, corals, price, atmosphere that I've ever seen. Bali beaches? Forget Bali beaches. I think Bali beaches are the worst I've ever seen, have you heard of anything else to do in Indonesia other than Bali? Koh Tao in Thailand - world famous scuba diving, with the most scuba diving certificates issued in the world, is the worst diving site for me. Phuket in Thailand, the worst island in Thailand. Thailand, probably the least interesting country in Asia. The point is ... stop listening to advertisements and smart ass marketing people!
Went snorkeling off the beach, something that you dream to see while scuba diving, turtles, are easily seen off the beach here. I've seen 4 in 1 hour. 1 of them was 3 meters from the shore. Others I swam to so close, I could see it's pupils :) I think we'll stay here longer than planned :)
There are 3 Gili islands, all are great. Wide, clean, white sand beach surrounds all the islands with turquoise water. No cars, no bikes, just a few bicycles and some horse carriages. There are hotels and restaurants for all tastes from backpackers to millioners. We walk along the sand streets bare feet with shorts and a bikini top, and pass some couples with beautiful evening dresses with diamond necklaces. Everyone is always smiling and is super friendly. A lot of the restaurants are right on the beach with either tables or puffs in the sand, and when the tide comes in, the waves caress your feet. We sit with a live band playing, candle on the table, eating fresh catch, with the cat sitting on my lap drooling over it :) In the hotel which is a bungalow sitting in a green garden, we eat breakfast served on our balcony of a fluffy tomato/cheese omelet with fresh fruits. Then we snorkel, then we watch a beautiful sunset and I feel like I'm in heaven. Seems like in a lot of places in Indonesia I feel like I'm in heaven.
Went to Gili Meno for a day trip. It's so relaxing, barely any bungalows, barely any people. We decided to stay there. Picked a bungalow 3 meters from the water, with the front wall made out of a bamboo which can be rolled up. First 3 days it was nice, on the 4th day I started going crazy. We did a lot of snorkeling, took too many pictures, relaxed too much, walked around the island a few times collecting shells. While snorkeling I saw turtles, a lobster, a big puffer fish, huge schools of thousand and thousand tiny fish, corals in a valley, then a coral cemetery, of white, broken, destroyed corals. And in the middle of that, I bumped across a lion fish! There is beauty to be found in any ugliness.
We played chess, and with my prolonged thinking it was a good time to waste :) On the 3rd game I even started to show my teeth and to scare him, of course it cost me a few figures, but that's not what matters, right? And between his moves when I was thinking for a few minutes, and he was sorting his pictures on the computer, I even managed to eat his pawn :)

https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/Gili

Monday, 23 September 2013

Munduk

We started seeing some nice scenery and our expectations grew high. We reached Munduk fairly early, considering the lack of directions and the condition of the up/down potholed roads. Found the first guesthouse with a window covering the whole wall, with a beautiful flower filled balcony, right on the edge on a huge valley with 2 mountains on the side. I couldn't stop smiling, which made price negotiations a little bit difficult :) I think every time I looked at the scenery, I was smiling, and I was waking up with a smile. How the nature could be so beautiful, and how do the tourists overlook it, is beyond my comprehension.
In the morning we went for a short waterfall hike, then we met some (probably the only) tourists on the way who had a map, and followed them down down to another waterfall. I was very worried for our hike back up, considering how much down we went and our lack of water, since we thought that we'll only go to 1 waterfall, but luckily the path went out straight to the road and we only had to walk steep 3 kms up it :S Considering my interest in walking uphill, I stopped the first local on a scooter, and asked him to give me a ride to the parking lot, I waved Kostya hello on the back of the bike, and then went back to rescue him :)
No more hikes for today, I'm tired. Instead we drove to botanical gardens which is a branch of botanical gardens in Bogor to which I couldn't get to for 2 day from Jakarta. We stopped at a beautiful view point of two lakes where I had a yummy lunch and looked in amazement at an Indonesian girl having her lunch facing the road and not the valley with the lakes. Botanical gardens were beautiful, big, green, organised, spotless, with no motorbikes allowed, no people, we almost had it all for ourselves. Too bad it's the rainy season and most of the flowers don't bloom.
I went to an important temple which was kinda boring and then it started to rain. I was all wet, I was cold, but I guess I'm used to it. Then as suddenly as it started, it stopped, and we stopped at the 2 lakes viewpoint again to enjoy the view of the angry clouds hovering above them.

https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/Munduk

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Batur & Lavina

We bought fruits on the way, as always Kostya bargains Russian style. LP says that guides could be a nuisance, and that tourists are ripped off. I'm never worried about it when I'm with him, he won't allow himself to be ripped off not for a penny. Arrived at yet another volcano, Botur. What a beautiful viewpoint! The craters are inside a larger crater with a blue lake on the side. We absorbed the setting at a cliff restaurant where even there Kostya took off 50% off the price for tea. Then we watched a local girl pray to a statue while decorating it with flowers, and drove down the crater walls into the heart of the volcano.
For the volcano trek, we took the price down to $30 for 2 people, and met a couple who will pay $45 each! But even $30 for 2 is a lot, so we'll do it in the morning on our own.
We got lost! the directions don't make any sense, there are no roads which exist on the map and nobody to ask for help cause nobody speaks any English. We drove a huge circle around the volcano, and came back. On the way I came face to face again with normal Russian rudeness, and I'm feeling like enough is enough. Why should I be in a bad mood on a volcano?
Stopped at a beach town - Lavina, for a night cap. What a nice little place. It wouldn't be nice to come here specifically, but for a random night cap, it's quite a place. On the way we stopped at a local warung to have rice with veggies and chicken. A huge plate cost $1. The owner was very happy to welcome us, took our picture and shook our hand. It's almost always a pleasant surprise to eat with local people, though you usually can't get anything more than fried rice or fried noodles. Lavina, a backpacker corner in the middle of local north coast. Very lovely guest houses, big, clean, green, swimming pool, cheap, great! And our guest house looked like it was built in a fairytale. Black sand beach, cute restaurants offering fresh sea food to the sound of life acoustic guitar.
I signed up for LP recommended diving site, I thought to skip it because it's expensive, 125 euros, but after a complete lack of interest from my side to his "best" and "only for me" prices, I agreed to go for $60 for 2 dives, and what do you know, they signed me up. There were only the 2 of us with the guide, everyone else was snorkeling. Unlike Koh Tao where you see more divers than fish, here we had a huge never ending wall all to ourselves. It was a feast for the eyes, though we didn't see any big fish, the amount of varied corals on the wall was very impressive, like a coral forest, I didn't know where to look or what to focus my eyes on. Once I decided to count how many different corals I see in say 2 sq mt and I lost count. Our guide didn't bother us with too many questions. Are you ok? How much air you have? Come here! Stay level! Are you ok?? He just asked us when we descended and left us alone. Usually when you're at 50 bar, it means almost out of air, time to come up. When I reached 50, I asked my buddy how much he has, he also said 50, and then put his index finger to his mouth ... shhhh ... we'll come up when we'll come up. When we came up, I was at 25 bar. The next dive wasn't as impressive as the first, but here I decided to explore everything on my own. I would hover around a coral or a fish in the cave, away from my buddy for a minute or so, then see where they are, swim close to them, and start the rediscovery again. Not very advisable to stay away from your buddy on such depth (advisable distance is about 2 meters) in case of panic or malfunctioning equipment, but I don't know ... I don't feel much in danger.
When I got back to town, I was hoping that Kostya would like to stay another night, but he disliked the owners for some reason and we hopped on the scooter for the mountains.

Sorry for too many sunset pictures :)

https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/BaturLavina

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Ubud

And again we rented a bike to do a loop around Bali, mainly to get away from the tourist trap, but not before surrendering our passport for another month visa extension.
There is a lot of police on the way, mainly to stop the poor tourists for road "mistakes" and of course ask for a bribe. I almost convinced Kostya to dress like the Balinese people do: long pants, long sweaters, gloves in the 30 degree weather, just so that the police won't see our skin color... or to do a fake police report for $20 that everything's stolen, including our wallet which contains the international driving license. But unfortunately it was Saturday and this office was closed till Monday, we decided to risk it, rented a bike and off we went to the under-explored, under-visited beautiful Bali, Bali that unfortunately most people skip due to fear, alcoholism, club-ism, shopaholism ... or rather fortunately for people like us that such conditions exist.
The police didn't stop us thank god, but somehow we stopped near the police to look at the map. I quickly flipped to the map of the area and immediately asked them how to get to some temple, to get their mind off the idea of a potential bribe. Then they shook our hands, wished us a great journey, and through clenched teeth I repeated to Kostya quickly "Drive off now, quickly, quickly, start driving!" ... feeeeewf!
Ubud is a cultural town as opposed to the party town of Kuta, and on the arrival we started seeing lots and lots of sculpture, glass, paintings galleries. We stopped at one, but it had so many birds in cages that I felt like I was in a bird prison, I told the owner that I feel uncomfortable being there and we left.
Ubud is beautiful! There are a bunch of temples, gardens, it's super green, galleries, jewelry shops, cheap and amazing cafes with nice decors and unordinary menus. It's so beautiful, so detail oriented, so relaxing, it's amazing.
In the evening we had a smoked salmon salad with rocket, potatoes & capers for $2.50. Then we went to get culturally submerged in a Balinese dance show. It was all fun for 20 minutes, but then I got bored. There were about 70 men sitting in circles chanting and waving their hands, while in the middle some guy chases a beautiful woman with popped out eyes and completely unemotional face in an ever slow motion.
Next morning we went to the monkey forest. I'm officially scared of monkeys! And they're everywhere, alone, in couples, in groups, sleeping, eating, playing ... and who knew that monkeys are excellent divers. They were all chasing each other around a tree, doing back flips into the pool and emerging at another side. It's fun and all, but I'm feeling anxious and all I want to do is get out.
After the park we went for a LP recommended walk around Ubud, into the center of traditional lifestyle. Maybe for a regular traveler it would be interesting, but for us nothing new and nothing special, and way too hot!
A few hours later back in Ubud, I visited 2 museums, but again, left disappointed. Except the view in one, and an old photograph of Bali in another, there was nothing special.
In the evening we bought local wine, chocolate, grapes, nice cheese, sat in our garden porch listening to soft music having the best dinner ever. "Indonesia wouldn't be Indonesia without you" ... both of us say this. So easy when both of us have the same taste in almost everything. Hotels, restaurants, activities, same schedule, same interests, same limits, get off the tourist track desire and get your nose into trouble characteristic :) I think we started fighting less, that's the only problem, sometimes we don't understand each other. Say one thing, mean the other thing and understand something completely different. I think it's the Canada/Russia mentality difference.
We're moving on. We have a long way to go, and unfortunately due to time constraints we only picked half of what we wanted to see. I guess the other side of Bali will have to wait for the next time. Had an easy road to an ancient monument. 10 shrines are carved into rock face, it's ok as a midpoint stop, but nothing too special. A local lady motioned us to "come here" and took us through rice fields to a small waterfall. Lifted her shirt to show her breasts (go swim naked). It was hot, there was no one in site and the nice cool water looked tempting, she moved away a little bit and gave me thumbs up while picking through the bushes to encourage me :)
Next was a temple with holy/magical springs where people get blessed just like in India, and put rice on their foreheads, behind the ears and drink the holy water. It was alright, but the best thing was the ginger coffee that we tried, highly recommended to try at home! And the steep manicured lawn on a hill with a modern house on top which looked cool amid the temple roofs. The holy man was walking and picking through the offering plates, and I see him picking rice, egg, cookies. So good to be a holy man, live a life for free.

https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/Ubud#

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Kuta & Nusa Lambongan

We went to the first guest house which comprised of cottages situated in a nice green garden full of palm trees and singing birds seeming to be miles away from the crazy Kuta alley traffic. In the evening went for a super nice restaurant in the most posh part of Kuta - the beachwalk, awesome food, awesome service, decor, location, price. People, start travelling and get the value for your money!
In the morning I decided to do some shopping, spent the whole day and bought nothing. Regular items are low quality, and good items are the same price as in Canada, so might as well buy them there when I'll get a job. I went to a very expensive massage, 75 mins, $30. It was recommended in lp that it got international awards, it's all male stuff and the name is translated to "dancing fingers". It was the best massage ever! So sensual, so good, I never got a massage like that before, the masseuse really understood the body, and definitely knows what women want :) Unfortunately not a lot of men do, and most rub women as though they're rubber dolls. All I know is if he was my type of man, I'd probably jump on him :) The massage was followed by the best shower, with gel, shampoo and conditioner that I wanted to eat!!! Too bad I'm on a budget and can't have that massage every day :(
After having breakfast on our veranda, we rented a scooter and went to better beaches. The beach in Kuta, the most touristic center of Bali, sucks! It's dirty, the sand and water is brown, and there are no views. We drove to a little cute beach, with crystal clear water, small cliff, but there were many people, and it rains all the time, so all the garbage is washed ashore. While driving, it seems that Bali is nothing but temples. There are temples every 50 meters, houses have temples inside, gates are built like temples, there are humongous statues everywhere, and people make offerings every morning. There are plates with flowers on motorbikes, cars, on sidewalks, on everything that's important to you, you put a plate on :) Then we drove to an important temple, the temple itself was alright, but its location is beautiful, right on a high cliff with waves pounding on it. I couldn't stop taking pictures, but I'm sure if mom was there, she wouldn't have been too happy, not that Kostya was happy either :) The temple as any other important temple is full of monkeys, these god damned adorable creatures. Since volunteering with them, they hold a high score on my list of respected animals. I tried to avoid them, while Kostya laughed why I'm so scared of them. That's until one of the alpha monkeys finally jumped on my head and stole my sunglasses. He bit them, angrily grrrr-ed at anybody who tried to take them away. Finally the monkey tamer stole my sun glassed in exchange for a banana and a few bank notes. Now my sunglasses are the most valuable item in my suitcase, with monster bites on them :)
On the way back it started raining. It always rains when we drive a scooter. Maybe if we won't drive a scooter it won't rain?
We don't like Kuta, it's too touristic, too much hussle, and we took a boat to a nearby island of Nusa Lembongan. We thought it would be a sparsely populated island, but when the boat was approaching we were welcomed by bungalow hills instead of tree hills. There isn't a dock for the boat, and they just stopped it near some stone walkway, used a wooden board between the boat and the walkway, and told people to get off in quiet times, when they didn't see the wave coming. Wow, what an exit. There were people on hills with a bunch of suitcases, I got my camera ready for the chance to be in America's funniest home videos show ... but no luck :(
Except the first disappointment, we rented a scooter, found ourselves on an isolated beach with a good restaurant and not another soul nearby. Kostya wanted to stay there, but I told him that I'll kill him out of boredom and we moved to another bungalow which I was eyeing right from our arrival. It's so beautiful, with a flowery garden, our room is on the 2nd floor with a balcony overlooking the garden and the crystal blue water. It's not a beach for swimming, but I feel in heaven. We drove around the island, it's much much bigger than we initially thought. I thought we'll be driving for 10-15 minutes, and we ended up driving for over an hour. That's it, beach time! We ended up on a dream beach. Oh man!! It is dreamy. It's a small, crescent white sand beach, with blue sea and double decker infinity pool. My heart was singing with joy! We finished with a dinner on a 2nd floor restauranat looking at a sunset. The sunsets last very long time in here, about half an hour! And on the rating list of the most beautiful sunsets, Indonesia wins hands down. On the drive back, on every intersection, without us asking, everyone who saw us, stopped and gave us directions. We fell asleep to the sound of geckos, crushing waves and the gentle breathe coming from the ocean.
We rented a kayak and went on our own to the mangrove forest. I took a peddle from Kostya and started to maneuver the kayak through it. Kostya didn't feel relaxed at all. He told me that it's the first time in his life where a woman is doing something physical while he's relaxing. I told him, that if I'll give him to do everything, how will I learn anything? And asked to leave his chauvinistic ideas back in Russia :)
We then went snorkeling to one of the best snorkeling sites on the island. We asked where it is and where pointed straight about 200 meters from the shore ... well that's kind of far. Kostya took the mask, swam about 50 meters, came back and said that there is nothing to see but grass. I took the mask and started kicking. Grass, more grass, seaweed farm, oh, a few star fishes started to pop up. I'm kinda far away from the shore :S Then white dead coral, nothing and more of nothing, suddenly a huge reef appears with colorful corals and too many fish to count even by type. Amazing! Too bad Kostya didn't make it ...

https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/Kuta
https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/NusaLambongan

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Bromo & Ijen

We booked a 3 day tour to 2 volcanoes. It's much cheaper than going on our own, and much less headache, no need to change 5 buses and taking twice as long to get there. We got picked up by a big minivan with 12 spaces, and there were only the 2 of us. We put the seats down to sleeping position, we slept, watched pictures, listened to music, I even managed to exercise in there. 11 hours went unnoticeably. When we arrived at an agency, we met 4 more people who came also by a big minivan from the same place as us. Why couldn't they unite? It seems like such a waste of effort, money and gas. Up on the mountain it's so cold, in the evening it was +15, in the morning it would be +5. Went to sleep at 12:30, wake up at 2:50. Too bad, cause it was the most comfortable bed ever with a very high quality of sheets.
Arrived at a lower view point at 4:30, it's dark, it's freezing, and I was dancing to warm up. Our driver suggested the lower view point, and we were only about 20 people, where as on top there were about 1000. The view was beautiful, Bromo volcano is located inside a much larger crater, it's shape and clouds floating around it gives it a magical feeling. We then went to the cater itself, but there were too many tourists, and I wasn't that impressed.
7 more hours in a jeep till the next volcano. In these 7 hours we passed through volcanic landscape, sea, rain forest, jungle, pine forest, views, I can sit in this jeep forever. Arrived at a sweet little village in the middle of a coffee plantation, went to a waterfall and hot springs in the evening. People are so friendly everywhere, in fact I think Indonesia is one of the most interesting countries with the friendliest people, everyone's smiling, laughing, talking to us, and I feel like my soul is flying.
We relaxed in a jacuzzi under a heavy rain. There was another couple in it with a child who kept on playing, mainly diving in and out of water, while they constantly telling him to stop otherwise he'll go sit in the room. Despite many attempts from our side to convince them that he doesn't bother us, he ended up in the room. I don't get it. What's the point of being a child then? I've noticed many parents give unreasonable reasons for their children to behave in public, and I'm not talking when they're lying on the floor, kicking their legs and screaming their lungs out. A child is only a child once, let them be.
Today we actually get to sleep in, the wake up knock on the door came at 3:40! We had breakfast, and drove to the volcano. 1.5 hours up the hill is a good dawn exercise. The views were beautiful again, nearby are 2 active volcanoes blowing smoke into the sky, and to the left is a vast valley ending in an ocean. The crater was very beautiful as well, with a green lake at the bottom, some sort of smoke coming out and hundreds of miners picking yellow sulfur stones, the place looks like an ant farm. They take about 60+ kilos of stones up the crater and down the whole path, making 5 cents/kilo. (60kgs = $3). They work through the night, young and old, breaking their backs, indeed their backs and necks are in weird positions, with probing bones. But they're all smiling and saying hello, I wish I brought cookies to give them. We went down to the lake, and walked around the sulfur fumes. The "all correct" German couple stayed at the top because they've decided that they don't have enough time. ???! Going to the lake and walking along the fumes with all the workers was the best part of all!! Down there, thank god the wind blew in the right direction. The fumes would blow up, and you could literary stand right beside it and breath fresh air in. Half way up, the wind has changed and all the smoke started blowing everywhere. It's an almost vertical 40 minute ascend and we were running up. 3/4 way up, the smoke was all around us, my lungs started to burn and my eyes started to tear up. Lets say it wasn't pleasant. Somebody gave me his hat so that I could breath through it. I have no idea how they work in these conditions. On the way down the path, it got cloudy and all the views have disappeared. Good thing that I took pictures on my way up!
Long way to Bali. Sat at a local bus with no leg space and smashed to the person next to you, people are smoking, there are no windows and I feel like I'm doing a hot yoga class with no benefits. we crossed the waters to Bali on a ferry, and on the other side half of the tourists got off the bus to take a taxi, whole 100kms! That's how hot it was! But when it started moving, it was actually bearable. We got a surprise... the bus stopped 30 kms from the town, although it said the town name on the front! And then it left with my luggage in it cause we didn't know what's going on. It was funny as both of us were looking at the leaving bus and none of us got stressed out. Well ... what can we do now? We found security who contacted the security at the exit gate who stopped the bus. My luggage is safe, and I'm happy that Kostya is not a stressed out maniac. In fact we never, not even once got stressed due to any circumstances. Always thought things through, reacted appropriately and reached a solution calmly.

https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/BromoIjen

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

North of Java

Kostya and I hired a bike to drive to the unreachable areas of North Java, unreachable both by transport and by tourists. On the way we stopped at the largest Buddhist building in the world, the Barabudur temple. Indonesia would've been so much beautiful if not for the rain season. There were supposed to be mountains and volcanoes all around it, but mostly we saw black clouds and faded mountains in the distance. Nevertheless it was very beautiful with hundreds of Buddhas sitting on all its levels and hiding in bell shaped shades, and the rain never touched us, even though it was raining all around us. That's the problem of the rainy season, we have to budget extra hours for the "rain hiding" time. Sometimes we can't finish everything, at other times we just get soaking wet due to no other options. It's so good that random people sell gas on every corner in here because Kostya's phrase "The more I drive, the more gas I have" gave me some doubts. Apparently some idiot designed a gas meter with full tank sign on the bottom and empty tank sign on the top and it's exactly the kind of scooter Kostya rode before.
We entered the destination on google maps to find a route, and it gave us a straight route. Well that's a lot of zig zags I thought to myself. We ended up hell knows where, bad roads, no roads, people told us to go all the way around. Most of them looking at us like it's the first time they see a white person in their lives, though everyone is very friendly and respectful. A lot of the times I walked while Kostya was struggling on these vertical, rocky roads. Breaks barely work, sometimes it doesn't start, it makes funny noises, it started to rain, it got dark and I'm scared! I was so stressed out that I almost started crying. I told Kostya that I don't care about the route, I want to go down to some passable road. So all these hours going apparently up the volcano went in vein. Yes, now I know better to look at the map and avoid the zig zag roads, and absorbed 2 new lessons in life. 1. The straightest path is not the fastest. 2. If using maps, when a road goes near the volcano, go in the opposite direction!!!
When I couldn't take it anymore, when it got dark and stormy, when it was dangerous to drive and we still had no idea where we are, we decided it was a good idea to look for a hotel. We stopped near a large house that looked like a hotel. It was just a regular house :( But the owner knew perfect English, said that the hotel is 28kms away (1 hour drive), but we can stay in his house for a bit and relax. We happily took his offer, and were even happier to take most of our wet cloths off for a slight chance to dry while we sipped on sugar water with a strong coffee flavour :) The owner barely looked in my direction, but he found a lot of common language with Kostya. I was just happy to relax. Then to our surprise his wife came in and told us to go to the kitchen and have dinner which we had alone(!), and finally they offered us to stay the night, though sleep in separate bedrooms :) I slept with 2 of his girls in 1 bed. It's so strange that the house is very big, they have lots of money, but inside it's so broken down and dirty, it's unbelievable. Must be the social status thing again. It's only supposed to look good on the outside.
Apparently I overslept when Kostya came to wake me up at 6am. Everyone here is Muslim and wakes up at 4am! The girls' school is far far away, and they have to leave 2 hours before it starts anyway. We had breakfast, then couldn't thank them enough and drove on to the Diego plateau. I think the bike from yesterday is really breaking down. It barely works, especially the breaks ... not a very good thing in mountains. We fix them, but they don't take any money from us. Then our front tire got flat, again, they didn't take any money. When we reached the plateau it got flat again. At some repair shop they took the whole tire off, checked for punctures, them put some rubber on it and something hot on top to melt it. Gave us coffee, Kostya got some local weed. The whole thing took half an hour, and they only charged us 50 cents! Life in Indonesia is cheap when you're not a tourist.
Kostya became my husband #2! There is only 1 hotel in town and LP says that they might not take non married couples ... he took my last name, what a gentleman :) We went for a walk, it's so beautiful, terraced fields with vegetables and everybody works on them. It's a volcanic land and you can have 3 harvests in one year! All kids are as always yelling hello, are playing near us, where we go, they go. Boys are loud, yelling, playing, posing, screaming all the English words that they know yes/no/yes/no/cappuccino, you turn your camera on girls and they scream and run away :) Girls are so polite, will approach you with a smile, extend their hand: "It's so nice to meet you miss, where are you from?" People in Indonesia in very remote locations actually speak English, maybe not good English, but still, better than anywhere else so far. Local people are so friendly, as always, the further from city you go, the friendlier the people become. Everything is covered in clouds and it might rain any second, we run away from a place, and it stops raining half a minute later, it's so unpredictable. You can see very heavy rain right in front of you, or all around you, and somehow it will never reach you.
In this town, mosques are everywhere, and every hour if not more often, prayers sound from them all over the town. Imagine you put a note on a fridge saying "be strong"/"today is a good day"/"never give up", and it enters your subconsciousness. What if you hear these prayers all day every day broadcasted around the whole town?
Woke up, had fried rice for breakfast and took the scooter for a ride around town. We missed yet another steaming sulfur crater and took a road that looked the most scenic without any maps or any directions. It rains all the time, and it alters our plans and schedules on an almost hourly basis. We stop at street food stalls, and thank god there are many of those. Who knows how many thousands we already spent on all the tea we buy to warm up and to wait for the rain to stop. We got into heavy traffic coming into town. As always 1 lane turns into 3, and it's ok when bikes/cars/tracks take over from all directions, and it's always a problem when you see a huge pothole and you can't just go around it, you always have to check both mirrors and make a quick decision, but that's ok, what's worse it's when the cars take over from the opposite direction and push you to the side, and the sides of the road are always full of potholes.
I was protecting the most valuable stuff: LP, camera and Kostya's tablet under my waterproof jacket and under a poncho. I felt that the water began to get in from the top and wanted to rearrange the stuff. Suddenly I didn't feel something. I was trying to feel for it here and there and nothing ... oh oh!!! Kostya's tablet is missing!!! :((( I don't know how, but it somehow fell. It was lying nearby right in the middle of the ankle deep flooded road, and with the traffic of course someone managed to go right on it :( No more directions, no more phone, no more videos or contacts, no more nothing :( Kostya I don't know how didn't yell at me, or raised his voice, or said nothing. Instead while I was in a shock with tears on my eyes, he gave me a hug and told me not to worry about it. Needless to say, I felt bad for days! The good thing that came out of it is that we headed on main roads following signs instead of GPS directions which lead us to volcanoes. And we talked to more locals on the way to ask for directions.
Driving the whole day again, even though it's only about 100 kms, feels like forever. Maybe the weather, maybe the roads, maybe the crazy traffic ... probably everything together. Thank god that both of us can drive in this mad house and we take turns to relax, but of course I can never relax when someone else is driving. Arrived at night to our next destination. Some locals helped us find a cheap hotel. It took us a while to ask for the price, and the mighty Lonely Planet came to the rescue again when I flipped to the dictionary and common phrases sections and tried to compose something that would make sense. It also took a while because it was so cheap we couldn't believe it so we tried to make sure that the price is per room and not per person. Everything is cheap when it's not touristic!
5:30 am the alarm clock went on. We couldn't get up no matter how hard we tried. 6:30 we somehow crawled off the bed. We open the door and everyone is already up watching TV. Oh these Muslims!!! They all wake up at 4 in the morning to pray.
Of course when we got to our next site we were an hour too late. We only got a few moderate pictures until the clouds covered all the beautiful views. When we got to the parking lot it started raining heavy. Rain, rain, rain non stop! We gave up on the idea of covering 80 kms that day and stopped midway at Borobudur again. I'm all wet, cold, rather frozen, all bag is wet, my waterproof cloths are not waterproof, but at least we went to the recommended LP guest house which Kostya saw and declared that he's not moving anywhere else. The room is beautiful and huge and it has a balcony overlooking the rice fields. It wasn't too beautiful too long, as it was all covered with our drying cloths.
The guest house was located near a mosque and after evening prayer a question came to my mind which I asked a guy who was working there: I've never heard women saying the prayers over the microphone, why is that? The answer which I got was: "Because it's written in the Koran that men are leaders. It's so funny to me to hear that some women want to be equal to men in other countries, I just don't understand it." I told him that if you were to say that to your wife in Canada it will guarantee you an instant divorce!!
I can't wake up. We know that the weather is only nice in the mornings, but I kept on sleeping till 12 with the "Alah Acbar" howl interrupting my sleep. It's so relaxing on the balcony, we're listening to soft music, drinking tasty tea and enjoying the rice fields and a volcano view ... why go anywhere else?
Somehow checkout out at 1. Went to a pottery village and made a ceramic oil lamp, too bad it takes 2 days for it to dry. Went to the washroom while I was there. OMG! It's so sad that actually now that I've traveled quite a lot I can say that the majority of people live right on the ground with walking food right in their house with no furniture, no proper kitchen, no privacy. The washroom was outside, and the wall which separated the toilet and the outside world was barely higher than my waste with no door to close behind you. Weird ... !
Then we went to a house which produces tofu using traditional methods. We tried it straight out of the boiling oil. It was goooood :)
Again riding the scooter in the rain. But it started pouring like from a bucket right the second when Kostya pulled in for a yet another tea break.
Our guest house was full, and everyone was trying to help us find a hotel with a free room. Then we went for a dinner in a Western restaurant and I must have looked at the menu for half an hour, I want everything!! I ended up having a tomato juice and a pesto pasta. I know that I eat fried noodles everyday, but the sauce makes that much difference! We finished our evening at our favourite doughnut place, hmmmmmmm-ing with every bite :)

https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/NorthOfJava

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Yogjakarta

The 3 of us continued on to Yogjakarta - Gogja for short. The train left at 8am, and it was my idea to just show up at the train station. No more seats for 8am ... oooops!! Oh well, but at least I had time to catch up on my sleep till the next 4pm train. Not a very good idea to spend pointless days on a 1 month visa. The ride was 9 hours long. Thank god I had an Indonesian woman sitting next to me feeding me everything even though she didn't speak a word of English and for some reason didn't accept anything I offered her. And thank god for the deck of cards that we had with us, and we played a long long game consisting of 32 separate games, where at the end I won!! :)) Well, kind of... it was my turn to deal the last game, and I dealt wrong, even though I realized it before everyone picked up their cards, and according to the rules of the game, you're punished for every little misstep, which I think is wrong! The train staff and service were amazing. They constantly went with a menu, drinks, garbage bags, cleaning halls, cleaning toilets. It would've been a beautiful scenery as well, except that it was raining like crazy.
Arrived at 1am. Went to a big hostel built like a university campus, it fits over 300 people and is fully booked every day. Next day we hired a scooter for a 2 day trip to a temple and a volcano. The agency brought one brand new scooter with 16kms on it, and the other one completely broken down with and a missing right mirror - "No problem" they tell me, "the cops won't mind"!. Maybe the cops don't mind, but I certainly do! We went hell knows where and spent hell knows how much time to find another scooter, and left only at 1pm.
The road there was beautiful, as in the rest of Indonesia. Endless green with palm trees and rice fields. Forget about the rice fields of Thailand/Laos/Cambodia/Vietnam. If you want to see them properly, come to Indonesia! The same could be said about Volcanoes/diving/scenery/culture/oceans ... Indonesia has the best of the best collection of everything!
The entrance to the temple was $4 for locals, $18 for foreigners. Kostya didn't go. Me and Julia fully dressed against the rain waited for it to stop first, tied a sarong around us, took a guide and off went to explore the temple. The temple was beautiful, Indian ... man I missed Indian temples, here India wins hands down, but hey, they have Indian temples in Indonesia as well :) The guide was fun and extravagant. Pretty much he told us about the stories which are engraved in the temple walls. There was also some sort of an elaborate ceremony within the temple grounds with added to the mystical atmosphere. Hundred people all dressed in white with a bunch of bells and whistles chanting and spraying water on themselves and the usual sacrifice of cooked chickens to the gods. I have no idea what they were doing.
On we drove to the volcano.
3:30am wake up for the hike. It's raining outside, and everyone took it as an excuse to continue sleeping. That's until half an hour later when Kostya got up and went to check things out. We ended up jumping from the bed and running to the breakfast room to eat and have our briefing. This rain goes on every morning and usually stops when it's time to go for a hike. Mirapi volcano is 12 years in a row the world's most dangerous volcano. And since our guide is the expert and a member of some volcano society, we'll get to go to a restricted red zone which requires a special permit! We have to climb up rocks holding the tree roots and our grins are up to our ears :)
We watched a sun rise and saw the volcano towering nearby with the smoke circulating around it. The volcano erupted 5 times in the last 13 years causing massive destruction. There are 7 stations monitoring it and 4 levels of signals and evacuation procedures. The last time, the army came in to evacuate people who didn't want to leave their houses. People didn't listen, and army was rough and aggressive, people hid in their houses, the army destroyed the houses and shoved the people in the trucks. Simply said, it wasn't a peaceful procedure. The problem was that beforehand, the lava went only 6 kms from the volcano, but this time the lava went 20 kms from the volcano. Around 300 people died. Our guide was in the town, but far away from the volcano. His wife was in the other city watching the news. With broken communication lines she was worried so much that she ended up in the hospital for 5 days in the intensive care unit. Here you go, what can happen due to stress alone.
By 8am the clouds rolled in ... no more volcano. All the people who came for a day trip from Gogja missed it all.
Throughout all the trip Kostya is being pretty rude to Julia. He doesn't like that she's in some sort of a life changing cult. He lost a friend in it who pretended to be some sort of a Reed product to kill ants and doing an ant eliminating dance .... it didn't work too well ... and now he can't tolerate anyone who went through it. As far as I've heard from Julia, the classes seem like fun, informative that make you learn, understand things, understand yourself better. But Kostya thinks it's more of a brainwashing alteration. I don't know ... seems like all religions are brainwashing, and everybody should do what suits them best. Julia told me about one exercise: after you spend a few days with your group, you have to go through each person and say their name without prior warning to remember their names. If you don't remember their names, you look them in the eyes and say "I don't care enough about you to remember your name"! Kind of tough, many tears, a lot of guilt, but she said that after that she didn't forget not one name after any introduction. The classes teach you to better work in a group, to think of others as well as yourself, open up, become stronger and make some tough life altering decisions. As a side effect, it seems that everyone who goes through the course ends up breaking up with their partners. Google says that over 400,000 people attended that training, there were 30 lawsuits, including death. The participants' memories are changed, they say one thing, but in subconscious mind another thing remains. It's bad for people who are weak are broken down since their mental stability is usually damaged. The point is ... there are many angles to the truth.

https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/Gogja

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Jakarta & Bandung

Arrived at 2 am at the hostel. The taxi to the center from the airport took me half an hour at night, the next day people told me that it takes hours due to traffic. In the 3 days in Jakarta I was lucky enough to experience the famous Jakarta traffic where the taxi didn't move an inch in 10 minutes.
The room is cool, the beds are like in cells, I think I've seen a similar sleeping accomodations in China or Japan. I don't have lonely planet, and without it I'm deeply lost. I went to a backpacker area, if you can call it that, Jakarta is not touristic, and for a few tourists who are here, one has to wonder what are they doing here. The city is ugly, and there is absolutely nothing to see. The staff arranged a trip to a pool, but I'm too sleepy and I need to get the lonely planet. On the way there I got a bit lost cause I didn't have a proper map, I asked some security guard how to get to that street, he pointed me, asked me as always where I'm from, and then when I couldn't cross the street because no cars would stop for you, he got out with his whistle and stopped all the cars for me to cross. So sweet :) I wasn't feeling quite comfortable to walk around the streets, in SE Asia I felt very safe, actually, I didn't feel anything, but in here I do ... something reminds me of India, mostly men are outside and everyone's looking at you ... though not staring, which is calming.
In the backpacker area I met some guy in a restaurant, I thought we would just talk during the lunch, but he got attached to me like a leech, and although he was entertaining, he was a huge weirdo of whom I tried to get rid of very hard. I already said that I have to go, and he told me more and more stories, at the end I just waited till the story was finished said goodbye turned around and walked very fast. The guy was white, married to a local young girl. He said her family is living in the village. I started asking him a bunch of questions. Pretty much he didn't learn any Indonesian, & he's not working in the fields. He's fat, wears dirty cloths, and kinda stupid ... I'm feeling bad for the people in here, and generally in Asia they will marry anyone who's white. I found lonely planet(!!!), but it's an older edition, a few pages missing, and it cost $15, not like $4 in Cambodia :( It's all cool though, cause now I have it :) It started to rain, apparently it's the rainy season in Indonesia, I got a tuk-tuk back to the hostel and watched some documentary about whales, and Tomb Raider to see the footage about Angkor Wat! It's actually not too too bad. I sat near some guy to watch a movie. Sensing that he's Russian I kept talking to him in English, but still after a while, he asked me where I'm from. I said I was born in Ukraine. He asked me in Russian "then why are we suffering , I told him that he's the one who's suffering, I'm not! Pretty rude, I know ... I just really dislike Russians. Who knew at the time that we'll travel around Indonesia for 2 months together? :)
In the evening 20 or so of us went out to a bar. It's the best bar in Jakarta according to all the awards they won. It's a nice sports bar, very clean, modern, playing American music, with efficient service, but with skyrocket prices, about $10/drink, which is not very strong. People got so drunk, those types of people who prefer to spend their backpacking budget on drinks rather than on sights. If you ask them what they did in a city, they could mention a few names of bars, and that's about it. Next day Kostya (the Russian guy), a random girl and me went out to town. The owner of the hostel warned us not go get our expectations high. We went to the city's most famous landmark, an obelisk, a national museum, pretty much the only place recommended in LP to do in Jakarta, and both of them did not impress me much. I was bored and wanted to get out of there quickly. The only attraction in the museum were a bunch of school kids all taking pictures of us with their cellphones. Here we go, India #2!!! The girl stayed behind in the museum ... didn't she see other museums in her life? Or maybe it was just an excuse to get rid of us :) It took us an hour to catch a bus, cause we decided to experience the local transport. It's not very intuitive, the name on the front says that it's the bus that we need to take, but everyone stops us and tells us it's not the correct bus, but as always, everyone was helping us out, so it took a while, but at least we got there :) We walked in the old town but didn't find anything interesting, the main square, but I didn't even take a picture. We had some good local food, I'm so happy that it doesn't remind anything of Thai food, finally something different! :) The menus are all in Indonesian, and unlike other countries, there is no English translation near it, or pictures. So it was blind guesses. We got 2 soups and veggies mixed with peanut sauce, all very good :) We then went to the best recreational park, but that sucked too! Very dirty, not a lot of greenery, some bland attractions which all cost extra, a bunch of people though. We left disappointed and we couldn't find a taxi which would turn the meter on, and instead of 60 cents, wanted to charge us $5. Finally we found one that would turn the meter on. We stopped at a mall, I couldn't find any shoes, and I can't leave Jakarta without buying shoes because I need to walk a lot now, flip flops are not very comfy and sneakers are too hot. No shoes, but we found very very tasty doughnuts. Kostya bought 6 of them! I don't eat donuts, and I remember the last time I bought one in Bangkok, I felt almost sick after finishing it, but these 6, I couldn't get enough. I swear those were the best doughnuts I've ever tried in my life. I hope it's a chain, and I hope I'll see it all over Indonesia, and then I'll get all nice and heat insulated for the mountains of Nepal :)
I decided to stay an extra day to go to the world class botanical gardens. In the morning I went to buy sports sandals, but Indonesia didn't hear of that invention yet. I looked everywhere to no avail. Finally I found some Reebok which looked crocks like and a bit weird, I'm not used at all to that kind of design, but I needed something like that asap, and with no other choice I bought them. I can never find cloths that I like in the markets, it looks like they're all made for barbies, too much stuff drawn on them, which usually doesn't make any sense, and with a bunch of bling. When I got into the malls, I loved everything, but then it had Canadian prices. But luckily sale was everywhere, and I bought the Reebok's for $20 and Converse t-shirt for $5. I then took a train to the botanical gardens which were an hour away. Midway the electricity went out, all trains stopped, and 2 hours later when they started again it was already too late to go. I took the train back, asking 2 people if it goes where I need to go. I ended up far far away from the hostel, but right near the mall with the doughnuts! :) I saw it from the train station, but when I started walking, it got lost behind the buildings ... I'll be freezing in Nepal! :) When I walked out the train station, I walked into the slum. People point finger, "go there", I look into a dark, dirty, full of naked kids, chickens, ducks, all in ruins alley, "there????", "yes, yes, there!". Ok, here I go! Jakarta is a very strange capital. The minute it rains, everything gets flooded, traffic is crazy, there is no center, tall buildings seem to be built anywhere. On our street which is just a very regular street there is pizza hut, KFC and Mac Donald's, which are usually built only in the center of cities, or with high tourist traffic. I took a taxi back to the hostel, but it was a rush hour and at times the taxi stood for 10 minutes without moving an inch. 1.5 hours later I finally reached the hostel, which took 10 minutes the day before. Luckily the taxis are cheap, and it only cost $7. What a crazy day. I was going nowhere for 6 hours! I could've been a third through the island in that time.
In the morning, I thought to give botanical gardens one more chance. Wake up early, go there, and catch an evening train to next city. I woke up and it's raining ... GRRRRR !!! When it stopped, again, it was too late to go.
The slogan of Jakarta should be: Get in and get the hell out ... too bad it took me whole 3 days to figure it out!
Arrived at 2:30 at Bondung. Asked the reception what's there to do, and off I went to some cave. The guy marked on the map where to take the first minibus, and were to switch, I thought it would be at some terminal, but of course I had no idea where I was, nobody speaks English, and off I went in circles, until someone boarded who speaks English, and told the driver where to stop. Then I took a motorcycle to the top, I don't know how I would've walked that. The cave turned out to be not a cave, but a huge 10 kms long park with waterfalls, hot springs and 2 caves. It was already getting late, so I took a guide with me who also had a motorcycle, so I'd finish seeing everything before the park closes. It's actually not caves but 2 big buildings build underground and used as a defense system of Dutch. They stored their weapons in there and later it was used as a prison. But overall nothing too interesting, I wished I had the whole day to explore that park.
Later in the evening, Kostya met me with a huge smile. I was taken by surprise, we only knew each other 1.5 days. He met another Russian girl Julia, and the 3 of us went to a volcano together. Man I love volcanoes! It might have been the reason why I loved Indonesia so much. We went in a shared taxi to the sound of jumping in and out guys playing and singing the guitar. When we arrived at the volcano it was rainy, windy, cold, shoes are wet in a second, very cloudy, but at least we took a few good pictures. It felt like a scene from lord of the rings, dark, gloomy, twirling trees and a mystical atmosphere. The view was beautiful though. We wore our ponchos, tied plastic bags around our shoes and went off for a short hike around the crater. The smell of sulfur was very strong, and some of the paths were closed because of too much poisonous gases. When we came back, the clouds took over the scene and a bunch of tourists replaced it. There you go, in the morning, there were no tourists with a view, a bit later a bunch of tourists with no view. We couldn't go to another place where the mud is bubbling due to too much rain and too much mud on the path. Damn rain season! You have to learn in Indonesia to do things very early in the morning before the clouds roll in. It's the lesson that we'll learn time and time again.
Then went to hot springs, we thought they would be natural, but it was a huge amusement park with many swimming pools a natural river and a bunch of Muslims... meaning no walking around in a bikini. The only tourist girl who was there came out in a bikini and it was quite a show. I didn't want to put such a show on, and we found a pool just for ourselves.
On the news there is nothing but flooded Jakarta, people and cars are getting cozy swimming together on the streets, not in Bandung, it's rainy but steamy :)

https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/JakartaBandung 

Monday, 17 June 2013

Koh Tao

Koh Tao

Kho tao is so cute, I felt relaxed the moment I stepped off the boat. It's small, green and cute. Small restaurants are on every step overlooking the ocean, the near by island and the hundreds of diving boats. Kho Tao is the place in Thailand to dive, and it's very apparent by the endless number of dive shops offering huge discounts, free accommodation, and every one is trying to stand out in some kind of way. We went to were Penny lives with her friend Chris, up on the mountain, a pain in the ass road to get there, but so beautiful once you're there :) I met Chili who's the cutest flyings quirrel I've ever seen. It climbed on my hand a bit, but then seemed to get tired and to almost fall asleep. Penny said it's very unusual behaviour, especially when he fell asleep with mango in his mouth :S
Next day I woke up feeling very weak with a slight headache. It didn't help that Penny forgot the direction of the supermarket and we walked half way around the island just to find that it's not there. We went up, and the 4 of us, Chris, Penny, Shon and me started cooking Christmas pasta. Shon passed me a plate that was sitting next to the burner, he got the cold side, and I took the hot side, without any space to put it down, I got quite a burn on my finger, and no more cooking for me :( I was standing there with my hand stuck in the freezer, defreezing everything inside it. I then took frozen meat and was holding that for 3 hours with a pack of dogs anxiously waiting beside me :) The meat defroze and the only cold thing was the alcohol that we were drinking. Whenever anyone took it, I counted from 5 to 1 cause then it started to hurt and I started to whine :) I think I took a good care of myself cause 3 hours later of various cold objects, it didn't hurt anymore, and no signs of a burn were visible in the morning. Christmas began bad, Chili died :( We had to bury him, but didn't know if he was a Buddhist or not, so should we bury or burn him? We decided to bury him, but in a half Buddhist way, we planted his favourite food - the mango, and a small coconut, in hopes that it will give new life to something else. I'm on the other hand feeling worse and worse, can barely move, don't have appetite, after 12 hours of sleep at night, I crashed for 3 more hours, went to my place downstairs and couldn't wait to lie down. I have a headache, my first headache ever. My shoulder hurts and back hurts, I hope it's not some sort of a parasite. I'm ordering food, but can't finish even a quarter of it. I decided to get an oil massage to help relax my back. The massage was soooo good, but when she applied a bit pressure, I was almost crying. I hope I'll be better tomorrow!
I'm a bit better tomorrow, but still no energy. I haven't walked for more than 10 minutes a day, and all I do is lie somewhere, every other position hurts. My schedule is something like that. Wake up at 12, go to have breakfast with wifi hotspot, go back to room at 3, relax till 7, go to dinner that shows a movie. Breakfast and dinner are very lose terms, as I can only barely finish maybe a fifth of what I order ... if I'm lucky. I googled my symptoms, headache, hurts to move my eyes, muscle pain, joint pain, fever, fatigue ... looks like a dengue fever :S  Google says, there is no cure, just wait it out for about a week or two. I got tired of it and went to the doctor. Doctors charge here more than in Canada, thank god for travel insurance, though it's the first time during my travels that I used it. They did a blood test, it's not the dengue fever, but they don't know what it is except that it's a virus. He told me to relax and drink plenty of water ... grrrr !!! I'm done relaxing, I'm bored and need to do stuff! That day I got a red rush all over my body, also a Dengue fever symptom, hm ... Today was the first day that I walked along the beach, 10 minutes there, 10 minutes back ... man I'm gonna sleep well tonight! :) At least I lost 4 kgs in 4 days so that's not too bad :)
And again I went to a massage, I'm so stiff and need to be treated like a dough. I went to the same masseuse, she's so good! I'm getting massages about once or twice a week while in Asia, and they use the same moves, now I finally understood what these moves are supposed to do. A lot of the masseuses are not professional, which is still ok for the price, most of them do a decent job, but most of them don't know what some special moves supposed to do, they just do them without any effect.
I start to move a bit and do little exercises. Today I'm finally feeling ok. I woke up at 12 went for breakfast, came back at 2 and fell asleep for 3 hours ... hm ... maybe not as well as I thought I was :S I woke up just in time to do some snorkeling. It was great, although instead of corals there are mostly plants. One guy said that the sea temperature rose dramatically in the last few years and most of the corals have died :( There are plenty of fish though, and even though it's very shallow and it's very close to the shore, there is plenty to see. Of the coolest things I've seen was a huge needle fish and a school of 200 or so smallish fishies attacking the plants and a slightly bigger fish trying to chase them all away. I guess they've invaded its property.
Good news! I've ordered dinner, and I actually finished it all! :)) It was also the first time that I went out on the island. It was ok, the bars in Kho Phangan on the beach were much better, more engaging I guess, and you could dance on the tables :)
One evening I was eating at a restaurant rice with seafood and watching a movie Apocalipto. There was a scene when they took the prisoners up the pyramid, laid them on some rock, cut through the chest and took their heart out. Then cut their head and let it roll down the pyramid towards a demonically hypnotised crowd of people. At that moment I took a fork to my mouth on which there was an octopus leg with the suction cups. I looked at the screen, and at the leg, and I felt not good at all. How are we not barbaric with the way our culture built today? We also take precious life forms from the world, kill it, chop it up (sometimes without killing it), and throw the remains to the dogs. I never considered to be a vegetarian ... but maybe I could cut it down somehow, or do a research about intelligence of different animals that we consume.
I went up to see Penny, she got sick. She has a bad ear infection and just spent 36 hours going to Malaysia and back to renew her Thailand visa, only to find out that the embassy is closed for the holidays. In the morning she woke up to feel much better, I'm happy that my good energy works on her :)
Next day it was December 31st and it's been raining the whole day. We got soaked again and again from walking to the restaurant, from the restaurant, to the massage place, to her place. I've been wet all day long, and I didn't like the massage, but my masseuse was unfortunately busy. It sucks to pay the same amount of money and to receive such a different quality of service. The rain stopped, I crashed for an hour of power nap and was all ready for the big night out. A few of the resorts had free dinner with live music as opposed to Kho Phangan when the resorts had all of their guests pay $100 for a mandatory New Year dinner, I bet that's gonna be enjoyable!
The music, fire shows, fireworks were at every bar on the beach and I danced all night long. We met a DJ who was going to play at one of the bars, and when he asked us if we're gonna get shit faced today, that's when I lost him. It was the moment as they say on the t-shirts "you lost me at hello". On New Years I got separated from Penny, but that's ok, I still felt great. One random guy wanted to kiss me, at first I didn't, but then I thought, what the hell, I never kissed a random guy in my life, I had to try it once right? Then 1 turned into 4, but they kinda stuck around, can't you just kiss and move on, why are you following me to the washroom? Isn't it an international sign of "I'm gonna go now?". I didn't get the point of it though, I'm attracted to character, behaviour, sense of humor, intelligence, when I don't even the know the name of a guy all I feel is a tongue, a hand, lips, that doesn't feel nice. I wonder what guys like about it?
We met one guy who ordered us a shot, so you take the salt, rub it on your hands, then hold your hands together, pour a shot in and drink it all, I instead spilled it all, man that was disgusting. What a terrible waste of alcohol :) Overall, very fun night, went home at 5, barely woke up at 2 but on the 1st I was feeling down, don't know why. Didn't want to talk to anyone, didn't want to see anyone, instead I went snorkeling. This time I saw a huge school of some yellow fish, followed by grey fish, some big parrot fishes, and surrounding them a group of 30 or so needle fish. What is it, a great migration or something? As always, the small black fish was chasing everyone away :) At dinner, before the movie they were showing video clips, and I started crying at Aerosmith - don't want to miss a thing. Maybe that's why I was so down today, I don't want any random guys, I want one guy who wouldn't want to fall asleep cause he wouldn't want to miss a thing.
During the day we hung out on the beach and then did yoga to warm up for the traapppeeeeeeze class! :) I was waiting for it for so long, but couldn't do it because I was sick. Man, everything's scary in it, climbing the shaking ladder without safety, then standing on the platform without safety until it gets hooked to you, then reaching over to grab the bar with the guy "holding" you from behind. Ready! (bend your legs), aaaand hop
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!
Legs up, let go of arms, now now, ok, wait, Now!
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA !!!!!!
ok, now!
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!
Ok, now legs forward, backward, forward, let go and flip!
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAa!!!!!
3 tries later I finally let go of the bar on time :) Every time it felt like I'm gonna fly out of this thing, it doesn't look like it from below, but the momentum is huge! I did 3 tries, then 2 more tries of a birds nest trick and then 2 actual catches when I caught the catcher both times! :) Every time it was scary, it didn't get better at all, but every time I got out with a huge smile on my face :) And I had this smile for many hours later :) I couldn't even go to sleep. Reeeady, hop! I'm flying and flying and flying :))))
Woke up at 7, my muscles hurt, throat starts to hurt, I don't want to get up, but me and Penny are meeting up to rent a kayak and go with it to an island. Turns out that the prices are ridiculous and we took a taxi boat to the island instead. The island is beautiful, it's actually 3 islands connected by a narrow stretch of sand. Too many tourists though. I went snorkeling twice, saw a big jellyfish. On one side there was more fish and very calm, on the other side the corals were better, but no fish and pretty wavy. Then we went to an amazing view point where the picture's worth 1000 words, so I'm not going to describe it :)
I signed up for advanced scuba diving! Lets see what tomorrow brings!
In the morning the 7 of us were starting to learn theory. The instructor Yens pretty much said, ok, fill in these forms, now, for deep dive I'll show you at the bottom the change of colors and will give you a simple test of adding four to the number that I'll show you in case you'll have nitrogen narcosis. If you do, don't worry and just enjoy it. On the navigation dive, navigate in a square and then you're off to navigate around the site on your own with your buddy. There you go, theory is done! In Mozambique when I did my advanced course, I had to study about 50 pages and then write a test.
We had to set up our own equipment, and of course everybody did their open water course hell knows when back, and nobody has any idea how to set it up. Penny's explaining it to one girl and everyone copies whatever she does. That makes me a bit nervous, malfunctioning equipment on a deep dive, not a good idea. We did the buddy check, everything seems to work ... fingers crossed!
Off we go for a deep dive, Yens gives no instructions, such as wait for me at the end of the line, 2 people take off right away, the other girl lost her buddy and has troubles breathing, Penny is trying to get every one together and call Yens for help. I see the group going down and I follow it, then out of nowhere I see with my peripheral vision something big, a school of barracudas? What is it? I turn, and this thing is right in front of me, maybe 2 meters away, I'm taken by surprise, I try to understand what it is, a shark? A bunch of small fish are attached to it, then I see the spots on its body, OMG! A whale shark!!!! It was so cool! It was only a baby though, maybe 4 meters long, and it looked very cute and clumsy :) Funny how baby fish can look clumsy as well :) I went after it wanting to pet it, but they showed me not to :( Of course we didn't do any skills, no nitrogen narcosis test, all the group got all over the place again, it's bad visibility, 1 girl who had troubles breathing went up to the surface, someone else followed her. The current was pretty bad, we all got out of air pretty quickly. This was the most disorganized dive I've ever been on, and except the whale shark, there wouldn't be anything else special to see.
Second dive - navigation. This time we all go to the bottom together, but now another guy has problems equalizing. Yens shows a sign to 2 couples to do the square navigation, I guess they forgot the instructions and were just standing there looking at him. I did the square perfectly, yeeei ! :) Although I was so concentrated on the compass that I forgot absolutely everything around me and went about 5 meters vertically up. Then we were shown where we are on the site map that we redrew and were let go to explore on our own. I did well, except that I ended up at the exit way too early and just did a few circles around the same rock a few times until it was the time to come up. Well that's an interesting fish I thought and swam towards it, oh no! this is a trigger fish! A look of panic in my eyes and I'm swimming away as quickly as possible. This is a fish that protects it's cone shaped territory, and if you're in it, it will attack you and start biting you. So you should swim away horizontally, because vertically you'll still be in the cone, swim backwards with fins closer to the fish, so if it will want to bite you, hopefully it will go for the fins! Today was not my lucky day as it seemed at peace and left me alone :) We went back to mainland for dinner and got back on the boat for a night dive. We were given a few instructions on how to use the flash light and how to give signals with flashlight in your hands. The dive was cool. It's so dark, it was like exploring a cave. A bit scary cause you couldn't see anything beyond where the flash light shone and (hopefully) your group in front of you. We went through a small tunnel which was a bit spooky. I couldn't see anything in front of me because the person in front of me raised all the sand up, we were not supposed to move our arms at all so we won't get scratched by the coral or the sea urchins, my tank was bumping up against the ceiling, but it was cool nevertheless :) We all then turned off our flash lights and were waving our hands around to see the phosphorus plankton that's shining when it's disturbed :) Then near my flash light was a cute shrimp that kept following my flashlight, swim to the right, to the left, to the right :) I really liked the fish around us, it looks all black, but when you shine the flashlight randomly at your sides, you see the fish swimming around you. We also saw a sting ray and that's it, there was no turtle, no sleeping trigger fish which sleeps with its mouth up and open, so you can shine your flash light right in it and see it's teeth and no barracuda attacks :( But it was still very cool! :) Going to sleep early to prepare for our early morning class!
7:30am and we're ready on the equipment deck. Nobody talks, we're only sleep walking. 1st dive is a wreck dive which is also a deep dive. We go down to 30 meters, I put my hand down to the floor and get a maximum depth of 30.5m :) Visibility is shit, less than 2 meters and this wreck looks like a ghost ship. Yens pulls out a tomatoe to show us how colors get absorbed at depth, and this red tomatoe is purely orange. Red is the first colors that gets absorbed, then it goes by the colors of the rainbow. He smashes a tomatoe and gets out an egg, breaks it apart, and the yolk remains intact under 4 bars of pressure and we play with it like a balloon. Then he does a nitrogen narcosis test, he shows a number with his fingers and we're supposed to add 4 to it. He shows it to a guy next to me, and the answer is 7, then he shows me 2 fingers and I don't know what he's doing, what I'm supposed to do, so I copy the answer and show him 7 as well. He goes "what"? Oh, I'm supposed to add 4, right, ok, here you go a 6. We then swim around the wreck, see some cannons, but every time I look at something, I'm afraid that I'll lose my team. I have no idea where I am, I don't have a map of the site, if I'll lose them, I'll have to swim up and the rest of the team will not be too happy with me. So I keep following them without too much exploration. We arrive at a reef, Yens splits us into buddy groups, shows us to swim around and at 45 minutes to go up. Me and Penny are buddies :) We swim, and she shows me something and then an explosion motion. I'm looking and thinking, is this an exploded tomatoe? no ... is this an exploded plastic bag? no ... what is it then? Oh, it's a puffer fish! I might have had a nitrogen narcosis, or could be lack of sleep, or a motion sickness pill, or all together, but at least I didn't get my regulator out of my mouth and started talking to a fish :)
Last dive was buoyancy with navigation. We swam through an underwater obstacle course of swimming through hoops, turns, going down -> forward, up -> forward, down -> forward and up again without any use of hands and without touching the ground, all with the use of proper breathing. If you breath in, your lungs fill up with air and you naturally will start to ascend, the same as you breath out you descend. The problem though is not to get lung over expansion you should breath constantly to allow the air to escape. If you hold your breath and go up, the air inside expends, has nowhere to escape and you might get collapsed lungs. Then me and my buddy swam to the reef, and were allowed to stay down until low on air. It was cool and very relaxing, we successfully navigated from one site to another. It's so cool when you barely know where you are, cause everything looks the same underwater, then navigate with no visibility and suddenly find yourself an another site ... coooool ! There was plenty of fish, but nothing special. She then saw a different fish, I showed her a symbol for a trigger fish (which is like a gun), she didn't remember that symbol and started swimming towards it. Ok I thought, I'll enjoy the show ... but the fish didn't mind her so much :) It was too bad because I still had 90 bar when she was already low on air. I could've stayed down for 20 minutes more, but we're buddies and have to do everything together, so we went up.
Next day I did the trapeze again! Still every time I was nervous when I stood on the platform. I learned one move pretty quickly and got it right straight away, but the next move, 4 times and still can't get it :( It didn't help at all when there was this circus chick in the class who got all the moves from the 1st time! Also since it was just the 2 of us we did a lot of practice swings, you come down, you go up again, gets pretty tiring after a while. But nevertheless it's too much fun, and I'll definitely do it one more time, and will try to find something similar to this in Toronto. Next day nothing hurts except my lower back ... I forgot to warm up before the class :S  What I like about the class is that the teacher goes with your pace, it's not like in Toronto when I went to different classes, I learn the move right away, and then wait another hour for everyone else to catch up. I guess that's why I don't keep going to classes further than the 1st level, cause I get bored. I remember pole dancing class. The teacher at the end of 5 classes showed us the moves that we'll learn on level 2, and I did them all right away after she was done with the demonstrations. What's the point of taking 5 classes when I learned it all in 1 minute?
Next day Penny and me went to a resort with a pool which we were recommended to go to. It was so cool, overlooking the whole ocean, such a beautiful place, and food was only 1.5 times more expensive than usual, we spent the whole day hanging around, reading books, envying couples and enjoying a beautiful sunset.
Took a bike around the island, such a small island, so many beaches. I had only 1 day, so I picked the beaches in one geographical area. I know now why so many people walk with bandages on their knees and elbows, the roads are absolutely horrible, all I know is that my mom would be screaming. They're almost vertically up and down, turning 180 degrees, and sometimes there are no roads, just mud tracks, or even worse sand roads. Some beaches are beautiful, but most of them look alike, I took some pictures and continued to next beaches where there is snorkeling. Again, the visibility is not that great, there are barely any corals, but a lot of fish, although the fish is the same anywhere you go, it just depends on how lucky you're gonna get. In one place 20 meters from the shore there was a trigger fish! Once the visibility was so bad, 2 meters or so, while I was snorkeling, I was always mindful of a chance of bumping into a jelly fish, and so I did. They're beautiful, but the tentacles are long and are almost invisible. It's so much nicer to see a jellyfish in the water elegantly swimming, than to see it washed ashore. I remember in Israel there is a season where the whole beach is covered in jellyfish instead of sand... so sad :(
In the evening went to my final trapeze lesson. It was the first time when I wasn't nervous standing up on the platform. I learned 2 new tricks, but couldn't properly do them, it always took me an extra swing to get it right, and with extra swing I won't be able to do a catch. Out of 5 times, I only got it once right, but wasn't able to do a catch :( Afterwards as always I couldn't move, could barely walk, and it was very hard to take a shower as to hold anything takes an immense effort, since the hands are burning like in hell. After trapeze I was debating what's more important a massage or dinner. I decided that it's my last night in Thailand and I can find noodles anywhere in the world :) 5am wake up. It's so good that I got prepared in the evening by buying snacks for breakfast, as we only stopped at 2pm for lunch! We stopped at a travel agency to filter people according to their destination, they told me that the bus will stop for me at the airport, for some reason I was doubting it and was watching the signs closely. Airport sign was to the right, and the bus went straight, I talked to the driver, and by the time they stopped the bus in a place where I can get a taxi from, I was already 15kms away. I waited an hour for the bus which never came and finally took a taxi. The driver pointed to some people and said "they're from Sweden", I said "I'm from Canada", he said "close, yes?" ... hm ... well, I guess, relatively speaking. It just took me 12 hours to get from Koh Tao to Phuket a distance of about 400 kms, it will probably take less than 12 hours to fly from Canada to Sweden.
Who knew that "best before date" means the date until which you can enter Thailand ... I didn't. Apparently my visa expired 8 days before, and I had to pay $133 fine for overstay :( I already changed all my money into US dollars, now I had to change them back to Thai Baht, I don't even want to know how much I lost on that. I just paid a fine equal to a 5 day travel budget and surprisingly I'm not upset at all. I learned not to get upset over things that I can't change.

p.s. don't forget to watch the flying trapeze movie at the end of the album
p.s.s. Huge thanks for everyone who contributed to the "donate money for adventure" campaign :) I used the money to do the advanced scuba diving course!! :))

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