Birthday Celebration, Bunaken & A Bloody Market

So there we were…walking through the most intense and bloody meat market we have seen on our entire trip.

After our short trip in the national reserve, we traveled to the town Tomohon, a city at the base of one of the many active volcanos in the area.  Jason’s birthday request was to climb a volcano so that is what we set out to do.  Arriving the first night we went out to dinner at a small restaurant down the road from our hostel and got to talking with a local man who went to university in the US.  He and his family own several businesses throughout the Tomohon area and after a short conversation he generously paid for our dinner and offered to drive us around, show us the town and introduce us to some of his other family who also studied in the US.  Always up for an adventure, we jumped in his car and went to his brother’s house.  Long story short, one of his brothers offered for us to stay at a hillside resort that he owns for free the following night (which was Jason’s birthday) and Ferdinand (our new friend) offered to come pick us up at our hostel and drive us around the city the next day before dropping us at our new hotel for the night.  Another example of Indonesian hospitality at its best, we of course accepted and made plans the following day to meet after we finished our hike.

The next morning, which was Jason’s 29th birthday, we got up early and started our hiked up Lokon volcano.  The base of the volcano was right behind our hotel so it was easy to get to started.  The hike brought us up a dried lava bed all the way to the rim of the crater lake.  You can continue onto the peak, but because we had no guide and we heard it is tough to find the way, we ended the trek at the lake.  You could hear the lava bubbling and the sulfur steam was pouring out.  We made sure to not breath in much of the sulfur air and did our best to stay clear of the steam as it can make you very sick.  It was not a difficult hike, but we enjoyed the views of the city and the opportunity to look down into the active volcano cone. 

After finishing our hike Ferdinand picked us up at our hostel and drove us to check into the hotel.  The property sits up on a big hill overlooking the city and is surrounded by green, lush jungle.  The room was spectacular with a modern, simple design.  It was by far the nicest place we had stayed on the entire trip…and for free!   As we were heading out to see the city, we mentioned that we had friends staying nearby (some other travellers we had met along the way) and Ferdinand offered to go pick them up as well and take them with us for the day.  He brought us all out to a beautiful sulfur lake that was a few different shades of blue/green and treated us all to beers at a cafe right on the lake shore (which his family also owned!).

After enjoying our time at the lake, we wanted to celebrate Jason’s birthday so we invited everyone back to our hotel, which had a wonderful living room, to have dinner and drink some beers.  After getting some take out food and a few beers from the grocery store, we all made our way back to the hotel for some fun with our new friends.  We had a wonderful evening together and Ferdinand and his family made our stay in Tomohon a very memorable one. 

The next morning before heading out-of-town, we paid a visit to the local market.  The Minahasan (North Sulawesi) people are known for eating some weird stuff and this market was supposed to be the best place to view some of those things.  The items on display were bats, forest rats, large snakes and even dogs.  The main butchery area was a bloody mess to walk through but very interesting to see.  The hardest thing for us was seeing the BBQ dog, some already cooked, some waiting for their fate in crammed cages.  Even though we realize this is their way of life, it was hard to see up close and in person as we are both such dog lovers.

After letting our stomach settle a bit from the intense market, we jumped on a bus back to Manado and then took a quick boat to the island of Bunaken.   The beach is unfortunately not very clean as trash washes up from the nearby city on the mainland, but the under water exploring is worth the trip.  We spent several days diving and nights drinking the local rice wine with the great hotel staff.  The diving was just as spectacular as everywhere else in Indonesia, lots of great fish and coral walls.  We also got to do one muck dive which is a very shallow dive over a sandy bottom looking for some unique critters.  We both really enjoyed this dive as it was much different from everything else we have done before and we got to see some really different fish.

We loved every part of Indonesia and diving was a wonderful way to end our two months there.  We had a quick stopover in Jakarta on the way to our next country, Singapore.  More on that in the next blog!

Highlights

  • Climbing the active Lokon volcano
  • Our nice hotel for the night of Jason’s birthday
  • More wonderful Indonesian hospitality from Ferdinand and his family
  • Diving and chillin’ in Bunaken

Lowlights

  • Seeing the dogs at the market in cages awaiting their death and Becky seeing one of them being killed with a blodgeon to the head.
Gunung Lokon looming over the town of Tomohon
Enjoying the views at the steaming cone of Gunung Lokon
Happy Birthday to Jason!
Ferdinand and his wife with us at Linow sulfur lake
Enjoying dinner and drinks in the living area of our hotel
Celebrating Jason's birthday with our good friend Oliver who we met and traveled with from the Togean Islands
Grilled bats sold without their wings
BBQ Dog
Pulau Bunaken
Colorful Nudibranch
Crocodilefish - can you see me?
One of the many turtles we saw around Bunaken
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Togean & Tangkoko

So there we were…walking through the jungle at dusk when we spotted one of the smallest primates in the world, the tarsier.

The journey north from Tana Toraja was a long and exhausting one.  The goal?  The Togean Islands.  The only way to get to the islands is by several long bus, car and boat rides.  Our first day consisted of 14 hours by bus, followed by an exhausting second day of only about 6 hours of travel but 5 hours of waiting around to get a ride.  And on our third and final day, we finally boarded the 5 hour boat to paradise.  In the end, the journey to the islands proved to be worth it.  The water was clear and warm and the beach was surrounded by a spectacular reef with lots of underwater life to see.

With only three resorts on Kadidiri (one of the many islands to choose from), we bunkered down in our beach bungalow overlooking the water.  We were still traveling with some friends from the boat ride up to Sulawesi and we enjoyed sharing meals, playing cards and just hanging out together.  The surrounding reef means it is not only a great place to snorkel, but also dive.  The diving was just as rewarding as it was around Komodo and we saw a lot of large fish and beautiful coral walls.  When we were not diving, Jason spent his time beating everyone at chess while Becky laid in the hammock and read.  It was a very relaxing time and the six days we spent there went by very fast.

We were planning on staying a few more days, but the local ferry heading north happened to be running around the time we were going to leave and we didn’t want to miss our chance to take it.  It had been broken for several weeks and if we didn’t catch it, we would have had to backtrack and go the long way around.  The overnight boat brought us from the islands up to Gorontalo, a port town in the northern section of Sulawesi.  Arriving at 4 am, we decide to just charge through all the way to Manado, a big city 8 hours even further north.  Arriving late in the afternoon, we settled in and immediately paid a visit to one of the cities large shopping malls.  The mall was surrounded by A&W, McDonalds, Pizza Hut and KFC and after being on the islands and eating rice and fish for one week, these places were a welcome change to Indonesian cuisine.  We spent the following day wandering the malls again and getting our fix of air conditioning before heading back on another bus to Tangkoko.

Tangkoko-Batuangas Nature Reserve sits an hour and a half from the big city, but is a world away.  Right on a wonderful stretch of beach, the jungle runs right up to the water.  We came here to see some of the unique animals that live in the park.  After arriving mid-day we signed up for a night walk to look for the tarsiers, a small nocturnal primate that only lives in Indonesia and The Philippines.  We quickly spotted a small family of 6 to 8 of them, all sitting in a large tree.  They are extremely small (they could fit in your hand) and cute, with eyes that are larger than their stomachs.  On our way out of the park we also spotted a large tarantula out of its hiding place looking for food.

The following day we woke up early for a morning walk hoping to spot the unique black macaque monkeys and other small animals.  We got lucky and spotted a small group of five within our first 20 minutes of walking.  From there we also spotted several large hornbills and various other birds.  And after a few hours, as the walk was coming to an end, we came across another huge family of monkeys, this time there was over 50 of them, all running across the forest floor.  It was a short, but successful journey through the jungle and soon enough we were back on a bus making our way to the pleasant town of Tomohon.

Highlights

  • Relaxation and diving in the hard-to-get-to Togean Islands
  • Seeing the cute tarsiers in Tangkoko

Lowlights

  • The long and exhausting travel getting to and from the Togean Islands
Our wonderful new friends that we traveled up to Sulawesi with and then onto the islands
Great stretch of beach right in front of our bungalow
Togean Island sunset
Jason trying to out smart our friend Oliver in a serious game of chess
Wonderful underwater scenary
Napolean Wrasse
Pipefish
Stonefish - Can you see me?
Finding the tarsiers in Tangkoko Nature Reserve
Tarantula coming out of its hiding place

Tana Toraja – The Land of the Dead

**WARNING: Some of the photos below are graphic and contain some blood**

So there we were…experiencing a moment right out of National Geographic; watching a buffalo be sacrified only feet away at a local Tana Toraja funeral ceremony.

We had originally planned to spend another few weeks on the island of Flores and then head north to Sulawesi by plane but we found out that a local ferry, that only goes every two weeks, was leaving from Lanbanbajo to Sulawesi the day we left Kanawa island. Figuring we could save a lot of money by not flying, we decided to cut our time in Flores short and spend our last month in Indonesia exploring Sulawesi. Buying tickets for the ferry should have been a sign of how crazy the ride would be, but nothing prepared us for arriving at the dock with thousands of people waiting, pushing and shouting to board the boat. When the ladder was put overboard to let people off the boat, chaos ensued and people started jumping and pushing their way on board. Even after waiting a bit, the chaos continued as we tried to get onboard and we were squeezed like sardines through a massive crowd. We met several other travellers at the ticket office and once we all got on board, we attempted to find a seat. We soon realized that was impossible as there were so many people, boxes and bags of food EVERYWHERE inside and outside on the boat. We were forced to sit on the dirty floor in one of the areas inside, this was going to be a long 18 hour ride. Soon though Jason came back with news that a worker on the boat offered us his officers cabin for us all to sleep in for about $10 per person. We jumped on the opportunity as his cabin had TV, a bathroom, a/c, a bed and mattresses for us all to sleep on. The six of us (the only tourists on the boat) crammed into the room for what turned out to be a much more comfortable ride up to Sulawesi.

After getting as much sleep as we could, we landed in Makassar, Sulawesi where getting out of the boat terminal turned out to be as much of a nightmare as getting on. But, we eventually popped out of the crowd, sweaty and wet (it had been pouring rain) and made our way to a hotel. After only one night in Makassar, we went north to the Tana Toraja area ready to experience one of the most interesting cultures we have seen on this trip.

The people of Tana Toraja focus all of their time and money on funerals for their loved ones. Funeral preparations there can cost a fortune, one man told us,” Tana Toraja is one of the most expensive places to die.” Most of the people are Christian, but they mix many of their cultural believes with Christianity. When someone in a family dies, that person is given a big party at their house. Bamboo structures are built, seating areas are made, and the homes literally turn into compounds to support visitors of the dead. Family and friends come, usually bearing gifts for the family, and are welcomed with tea, coffee and biscuits. The funeral lasts all day (with the burial happening the day after) and the main event is the slaughtering of a buffalo. The number of buffalo a family slaughters shows their social status and how much money they have. At some small funerals, only a few buffalo are sacrificed, while at large ones, there can be up to 100 killed over the course of a few days. Live pigs are also given as gifts to the family and those are killed as well and grilled up in the back to feed all of the guests.

The reason that the buffalo sacrifice is so important is that the Toraja people believe the buffalo leads the deceased on to their afterlife. Right before the buffalo is killed, the body is turned to face south. They believe the body must be facing south when the buffalo dies so they can travel together to their next life. Once the buffalo sacrifices have occurred, the body is then ready to be buried. Buffalo in Indonesia are very expensive and it can sometimes take the family a long time to raise the money to throw a proper funeral. During that time, they embalm the body of the dead and keep it in the house until the funeral can happen, sometimes staying there for years until they can afford a proper send off.

Visiting a funeral while in the area is the best way to see the culture up close. You may think, isn’t that invasive going to a funeral of someone you don’t know? But the people in the area are very used to tourists coming and welcome them as regular guests like everyone else. Hiring a car in town, us and a few friends from the boat up to Sulawesi, spent one of our days visiting a local funeral and exploring the unique burial sites around the area.

The funeral we visited was a small one and the man had died over two months ago. We were immediately invited to sit in the large seating areas (constructed just for the ceremony) and were offered coffee, tea, and snacks just like the other guests. Meanwhile, screaming pigs were brought in and out as guests arrived bringing them for the deceased family. Soon though the pigs were carried away and the buffalo made its way front and center, right where we were sitting. Only one buffalo was killed on the day we visited and then two more were going to be killed the following day when they actually moved the body to its final resting place. Wasting no time at all, the buffalo killer (who is actually hired to perform the sacrifice) whipped out his knife and WHACK, slit the buffalos throat. Blood poured out of the buffalos neck as it let out a loud moan. It stumbled around a bit and then WHACK, the knife hit its throat again. More moaning, more splattered blood. Soon the buffalo fell over and after five minutes had stopped moving. Once it was good and dead, the buffalo was skinned and chopped up right on the ground where it had fallen. Most of the meat was distributed to guests to take home or cooked in the back for the celebration. Seeing the slaughter happen in person was one of the most intense things we both have ever witnessed. Becky could hardly watch and even now still has a hard time looking at the pictures. We didn’t stick around much longer, we had all seen enough and it was time to continue on to the other sites in the area. The rest of our day was spent visiting some of the burial sites around town. Many people are buried in hollowed out rock faces or cliffs, making the graves an interesting place to visit.

The following day, we ventured up into the hills and did a nice walk through several small villages with stunning mountains and rice paddies. The area around Tana Toraja is also known for a unique style of house, large boat-shaped structures, only found in that area. The walk was a great way to see the homes up close throughout the surrounding hills.

All in all, the area was a wonderful place to experience a fascinating culture where lives revolve around family and death. We enjoyed getting an up close (maybe a little too close!) and personal view of how these people live and eventually get laid to rest.

Highlights

  • Being able to join in the funeral ceremony, even if it was a bit bloody
  • The beautiful houses and hillsides all around town
  • Visiting the weekly market in Rantepao, hundreds of buffalo and pigs were being sold along with all the other normal fruits and veggies

Lowlights

  • The madness of our ferry ride to Makassar

**WARNING: Some of the photos below are graphic and contain some blood**

Local Tana Toraja home
Local rice terraces
This little boy was showing us his rhinoceros beetle
Walking through the hills around Rantepao
Tana Toraja burial graves
Who wants to buy a pig?
Buffalo for sale at the market in Rantepao
Carrying in the pigs that were brought as gifts for the funeral, they were soon killed in the back and cooked for dinner
The buffalo sacrifice
After the first WHACK of the knife
Skinning and cutting up the buffalo meat

Dragon & Manta Spotting

So there we were…gliding underwater checking out the fish and scenery when a curious sea turtle swam right up in our face to check us out, scuba diving has brought a whole new world of wonderful experiences!

We were happy to be moving on from Sumbawa and excited to get to our next destination on the island of Flores. Lanbanbajo is the port town on the western side of the island and is also the jumping off point for Komodo National Park where you can not only spot the largest lizard in the world, the Komodo Dragon, but you can also do some fantastic diving. We were warned that the diving there was not for beginners because of very strong currents and whirlpools but we were hoping to find some easy spots that a dive company would be willing to bring us to. While wandering the streets of Lanbanbajo and speaking with some dive operators, we stumbled into the Kanawa Island bungalow office and found out that a new dive center was opening on this small island and that we could go stay in the bungalows and take dive trips from the island. This immediately peaked our interest because we wanted to visit the small island anyway and staying on the beach was much prefered over staying in the dusty port town of ‘Bajo.

Picking up our bags from the hotel we boarded the boat to paradise. With only 10 bungalows on the whole island, we were shown to our room just steps from the clear blue water. We immediately knew it would be a hard place to leave. Meeting up with some other travellers at the hotel’s restaurant, we all organized a boat trip to Komodo Island for some dragon spotting and snorkeling the following day. Leaving bright and early, as it is a two hour boat ride to the park, we arrived at Komodo National Park to begin our hike to find some dragons. After walking for about 20 minutes, we spotted our first, and unfortunately only, dragon sleeping in the shade of a tree. All you can say is “WOW” when you see these giant lizards. After staring at her for a while and snapping some pictures, we continued our hike back down to the park office. We were a bit disappointed that we only saw one dragon, but one is better than none!

Hopping back in the boat we headed to our first snorkeling spot of Manta Point. With deep clear blue water, huge manta rays are known to visit the area for food or to get cleaned. Our boat drove around slowly hoping to spot one when someone yelled “MANTA!” Everyone scrambled to get their gear on and soon we were all in the water. Becky got to see one but Jason unfortunately didn’t see them before they swam away. Heading to the next spot of Batu Balong, the coral and fish here were impressive and made for some excellent snorkeling to finish out a wonderful day out on the water.

The following few days were spent loungin’ and snorkeling right off the beach; the island is surrounded by some great, colorful coral and lots of things to see which kept us busy for hours on end. But, one of the main reasons to come to the Komodo area, besides the dragons, is because of the diving. The area is home to some of the best dive sites in the world and even though we are beginners, we were able to arrange a trip to a few “easy” locations.

Back on the boat we made our way out on the water with Ed (our Dive Master), Max (the owner of the island) and a Swedish couple who we had been spending time with on the island. First stop was Batu Balong, the same place we went snorkeling the day before. The snorkeling there was fantastic, but the diving turned out to be even better. With a massive wall of coral, there were plenty of small fish to see but the big fish are what caught our attention. We saw a shark, Napoleon fish, a huge grouper, along with many other wonderful things. While taking a break back on the boat to have lunch and rest before heading to our next dive spot, someone on the boat again yelled out “MANTA!” Jason dove off the boat and was in the water with his mask before anyone else had even noticed what was going on. He did not want to miss this second opportunity to spot a manta ray. His quickness paid off and he got to see two swimming very close to the him and the boat.

Arriving at our second dive spot, we were told the currents were very strong here and after getting in the water, we definitely could tell. We didn’t even have to kick, the current swept us along the reef, fish and coral whizzing by at an incredible rate. If you wanted to slow down, you couldn’t, it took all your effort to try to stay in one place and look at something. It was another great dive though and at the end of the day, we were tired and satisfied. Our trip to Kanawa and Komodo had been a welcome reward after traveling through Sumbawa. After five days though it was time to leave for the next destination, another large island in Indonesian’s massive chain, Sulawesi.

Highlights

  • Seeing a Komodo dragon in the wild
  • The amazing underwater life in Komodo National Park
  • The beach at Kanawa, it was a wonderful place to hang for a few days

Lowlights

  • The hike to see the dragons, we opted (as a group) for the short hike, we wished we would have taken the longer walk through the park for a better chance to see more dragons
  • Both of us getting stung by a wasp, at two separate times, and then finding a small wasp’s nest under the table in our bungalow
Kanawa Island paradise
Relaxing at sunset on Kanawa
Wonderful beach on Kanawa
One of the many amazing sunsets
Komodo National Park
The largest lizard in the world
Indonesia is the only place in the world the Komodo dragons live in the wild
The curious turtle getting friendly with Becky
Lion fish
Cuttlefish

Sumbawa – The Land of Hey Misters

So there we were…walking down the street heading to dinner when every 20 feet someone yelled “Hello, Mister! Hello Misses!” Each time we stopped our conversation to wave and say hello back…is this what being a celebrity feels like?

After recovering from our hike we headed to the island of Sumbawa. Sumbawa is another large island, east of Lombok, which does not see much tourism except for a few surfers who venture there for the big waves. Our final destination was Flores (an island even further east of Sumbawa – confused yet?) and we could have taken a boat around Sumbawa and straight to Flores, but we thought it would be nice to visit a place that was a bit off the beaten track. After a short ferry from Lombok, we jumped on a bus taking us to Sumbawa Besar, the transport hub on the western side of the island. We decided to sleep here and just relax the following day because we hadn’t had much of a break since our hike. Not many tourists travel through Sumbawa Besar and you can tell. Around every corner people wanted to say hello to us. Indonesians are very curious people and are not afraid to ask you a million questions so we were constantly pestered, “hey mister, where are you going? “hey mister, what are you doing?” The first day we really enjoying being the only tourists, but after that, the attention got to be a bit exhausting.

Getting anxious to make our way to Flores, we decided not to stop at any tourist attractions (which there weren’t many) and just travel through the island. After a 12 hour bus ride that should have been 8 hours, we arrived in Bima, the transport hub for the eastern side of the island. On the ferry over from Lombok to Sumbawa, we met a nice young guy who was in a dance group with his family, they were traveling home from a show. They chatted us up the entire boat ride over and in the end, invited us to come to their small village of Maria outside of Bima. They were so generous (he bought us lunch and refused to take our money for it) and nice on the boat, we decided to take them up on their offer and called him when we got to Bima.

Khaiqal (our new friend) arranged to have his Uncle pick us up at our hotel and drive us an hour to their village to spend the day. Talk about Indonesian hospitality! Him and his family (and friends) spent the whole day with us showing us around their town, buying us lunch and having us in their home for dinner. Words can not describe how generous these people were. We wandered the quant streets of their village visiting with some of the local people, all who were utterly fascinated with us but who didn’t speak a word of English (and us not much Bahasa Indonesian). After that, Khaiqal and his friends took us through the beautiful rice paddies on the edge of their town and down to a nice waterfall to relax for a few hours. Soon it was dinner time and the family had already done so much, we did not expect them to feed us, but of course they did. We sat around rice and noodles on a straw mat on their floor while extended family and friends from all around the village (who we guess were now done working) flooded the doorway all staring and smiling at us. We were invited to spend the night, but we had an early ferry to catch the next day and wanted to make sure we made it to the port in time. Without hesitation, Khaiqal offered another ride from his Uncle to the port town where we could spend the night, another hour outside their village. We graciously accepted and said our long goodbyes to all the wonderful people we met.

Being invited into a locals home to spend the day is something that has never happened on this trip and is something we will remember forever. It was an extremely rewarding and humbling experience, these people don’t have much, but yet they gave us their time, their home, their food and even some small gifts (that we had a hard time accepting). At the end of the day we were exhausted from being introduced to so many people, but when we got to our hotel and settled in, all we could do was smile at the kindness these people showed us…THIS is why we travel!

Highlights

  • The generosity of Khaiqal’s family and friends, it was an overwhelming but wonderful experience

Lowlights

  • The bumpy, dirt road taking us from Sumbawa Besar to Bima, the entire road was under construction for most of the 12 hour ride
  • Paying $25 for a room in Sumbawa Besar (as the cheaper rooms looked uninhabitable)and finding bed bugs before falling asleep
Jason and our new friends
Walking through the village of Maria
Our new friends cutting us up some fresh coconuts
Great views from the rice paddies around the village
Lunch time with the family
Khaiqal in the new Man U jersey we purchased for him as a thank you for having us for the day, he is a huge fan!
Jason trying to beat the locals in a game of chess
Our wonderful hosts for the day
On the ferry to Flores

Gili to Rinjani: Ocean Diving & Mountain Climbing

So there we were…scrambling up loose gravel rock as the summit came into view. Our tired bodies reached the top and took in the amazing views as the sun rose around us.

After saying goodbye to our friends from Colorado, we stayed in Gili Air for a few more days to complete our PADI Open Water certification. It was a three-day course consisting of four open water dives, the first which we completed with Mark before they left. Our instructor was a Spanish guy named Ruben who was not only a really cool person, he was a great teacher. Patient, helpful and extremely knowledgeable (he has been diving for over 19 years!), we were very happy we chose to get certified with him. For years our friends who dive said that once you try it you will be hooked, and they were right! We both really enjoyed getting certified and are looking forward to putting our scuba skills to work over the next few months in Indonesia.  There are some of the best dive sites in the world here and we can’t wait to go do some underwater exploring.

We spent eight days on the beach with Mark and Melissa and two more days finishing our certification so by the time we were finished we were definitely ready to move on. We headed straight to Lombok, a large island to the east of Bali, to conquer Mt. Rinjani, Indonesia’s second highest volcano at 12,295 ft. Taking the cheap, public ferry over to Lombok, we got lucky and hitched a ride with two girls heading to Senaru (one of the treks starting points) where they had already booked their hike. After speaking with their tour operator, who had already let us jump in their car for the 1 1/2 hour drive, we decided to book our trek through them and leave the following day. Opting for the 2 night/3 day package, the first day took us up from Senaru straight to the crater rim. The volcano recently erupted in 2004, leaving a huge caldera filled with a crater lake and small steaming volcano cone in the middle, baby Rinjani. After seven hours of hiking, the views from the edge of the rim overlooking the peak and the lake were spectacular. Spending the night at the rim, we awoke at sunrise to begin day two of hiking. We continued to follow the rim, hiking down to the lake where we found a beautiful waterfall and natural hot springs to rest our weary legs. After a short dip and a filling lunch, we continued back up to the other side of the rim which positioned us right below the peak.

After a relatively short day of hiking, we had an early dinner and were in our tents by 7 pm to try to get some sleep for our 2:30 am wake up call. We started the final push to the peak at 3 am, again armed with flashlights and as much determination as we could muster that early in the morning. The first 45 minutes were tough up a slippery gully full of lava rock and small stones. It soon flattened out and the next hour led to a tiring but gradual ascent. The final 1000 feet is where things got tricky. Extremely loose lava rock and a very steep grade made every step feel like quicksand. For each step you took forward, you slid half way back down or more. And after two full days of hiking, our legs were already tired and weak. But, after another hour of what felt like walking on a treadmill, we saw the end in sight and at 6 am, we reached the summit. The sun rose all around us as we took in the spectacular views of Lombok and beyond. The climb was well worth the effort, now we just had to get back down!

With jello-y legs, we made our way back to our camp for breakfast and then continued the hike all the way to the bottom. Taking a different route than we came, we ended the hike in Sembulan Lawang. Relieved to be down and ready for a shower, we decided to sleep in the small village at the base of the volcano. Not realizing how far the town was we began to walk with our bags to find a hotel. After 10 minutes of wandering were told the town was 4 km away! Not up to walking any further, one of our porters from the hike arranged some motorbikes to carry us the rest of the way. Thank goodness as our tired feet had been through enough! After a shower and some food, we quickly passed out ready to head out the following morning to the next island in the chain, Sumbawa.

Highlights

  • Getting our Scuba Open Water certification, now we need to find the time to complete our Advanced course so we can dive even deeper
  • Reaching the summit of Mt. Rinjani, it was an exhausting hike, but the views from the top were spectacular and worth the climb

Lowlights

  • None to speak of – it was paradise
Spectacular beach on Gili Air
Celebrating our scuba certification with our great instructor Ruben
Day one of Rinjani hike
Enjoying the view of the crater rim from our first campsite
Our guide and porters whipping us up some yummy dinner
Rinjani peak at sunset
Waterfall flowing from the crater lake next to the hot springs
We made it to the summit!
Crater lake at sunrise
Back at our campsite after we reached the summit, happy to be making our way back down

Bali to the Gili Islands

So there we were…lying on the fine white sand, staring at Mt. Rinjani and Mt. Agung off in the distance towering over the clear blue water.  Life on the Gili islands is rough…

Catching a flight out of Bangkok, we flew in to Indonesia’s Denpasar airport on the island of Bali.  Our good friends Mark and Melissa from Colorado came out for two weeks to share their vacation with us.  We met them in the beach town of Sanur on Bali’s eastern coast.  The town and beach were nice, but not quite the tropical paradise we all had imagined.  It was a good place though for us all to meet and allow them to adjust after several long flights.

Heading inland, we made our way to Ubud, a town made famous by Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love bestseller.  Even though the city is overrun with tourists, shops and restaurants, we enjoyed a few days checking out some of the Balinese architecture and getting up close and personal with some monkeys in the “monkey forest.”  We also went to watch a traditional Balinese dance show, where the unique hand and eye movement, along with the live music, all tell a story.  Unfortunately, the show was outside and it rained the entire time we were there.  But, we made the best of it and rewarded ourselves with a couple of Bintang’s (the local beer) after the show.

Before our lazy beach time could begin, we all agreed to work up a sweat on a nearby trek up Mt. Agung.  Indonesia has hundreds of volcanoes, Mt. Agung being Bali’s largest at 10,368 ft.  Leaving Ubud at midnight to start the hike at 2 am, we were all quite tired before the hike even began.  Reaching the base, armed with flashlights and determination, we followed our guide straight up the side of the mountain.  No gradual ascents here!  We continued up a steep incline the entire way, reaching the top around 5 am where we awaited the sunrise over the beautiful island.  As the sun rose you could see the lush, green rice paddies throughout Bali, the deep blue ocean as far as the eye could see and several surrounding islands where the beautiful beach awaited us.  Anxious to get back down and head out to the beach (and get some sleep!), we carefully made our way back down the steep, slippery descent.

The following morning our sore bodies hobbled to the boat, taking us to the Gili islands, our much deserved beach paradise.  The Gilis consist of three separate islands, all relatively small, wedged in between Bali and Lombok.  We started our time on Gili Trawangan, the island with the most tourist offerings.  Lined with numerous bars, restaurants and hotels, all set along a gorgeous stretch of white sand and turquoise water, it is a hard place to want to leave.  We spent our days riding bikes around the island (you can circle the whole thing in an hour) and snorkeling off the beach (where we saw loads of fish and sea turtles), and our nights drinking and having fun at many of the popular bars.

After five fun days on Gili T, we decided to make our way to the more subdued Gili Air where the turquoise water and white sand beaches are just as inviting, but the social scene is more low key.  We had plenty of time to work on our tan and on Mark and Melissa’s last day, Mark and the two of us (Melissa unfortunately couldn’t join due to a lung injury a while ago) signed up for an introduction to scuba diving where they teach you the basics of diving and take you on one open water dive to see if you would like to continue to get your certification.  All three of us really enjoyed it, but since Mark and Melissa had to get back to Bali to catch their flight, only the two of us were able to continue on with the three-day course to get our PADI Open Water certification (more on that in the next blog!).  So after two wonderful weeks together and a great farewell dinner, we had to say goodbye to our friends.  Thank you to Mark and Melissa for coming all the way to Indonesia to share your vacation with us, we hope you had as much fun as we did!

Highlights

  • Having great friends visit and share part of our Indonesian experience
  • The Balinese (and Indonesian) people, they are some of the friendliest people in the world
  • Sunrise over Bali on top of Mt. Agung, it was a tough hike, but worth it in the end
  • Getting used to beach life on the amazing Gili islands

Lowlights

  • Sanur, the town and beach were both disappointing
Balinese architecture
Making offerings in the monkey forest
Mark getting friendly with the monkeys
Traditional Balinese dance in Ubud
Watching the sunrise on Mt. Agung
Very happy to be at the top of Agung
So exhausted and happy to be finished with our hike
Beach in Gili T
Turtle spotting off the beach of Gili T
Drinks at one of the many watering holes in Gili T
Amazing sunset Gili T