Wednesday, March 12, 2014
One of my criteria for selecting places to stay around Bali's repetitively pleasant coast is the presence of attractions nearby that could make for enjoyable day trips and not require a long bus ride (really done with those).
The popular resort town Candidasa seemed to be the best option along the island's eastern terratoma, offering easy access to photogenic palaces and temples, sweaty rice field trekking and volcanoes, but what I hadn't counted on was local taxi operators being such greedy, pestering cocks, and with unreliable-to-nonexistent public transport at the other end of the scale, and no energy for or interest in haggling (really done with that too), that resulted in another week of not ending up doing very much.
Which is fine, because one of my other criteria for selecting places to stay around Bali's repetitively pleasant coast is that they look like nice places to hang around not doing very much, so we mostly did that. Shame those mercenary taxi drivers and boatmen didn't shut up all week, bothering me when walking around and even infiltrating the fringes of our fogey resort. This is your fault for being so generous with your tips in the Third World - if more people would be cheapskates like me, taking advantage of the depressing wealth gap rather than being all egalitarian and fair, maybe they’ll learn their place again.
Looking back, I really wasn't racist enough against the Indonesians when writing foreboding blogs the first time around, so I’m having to learn these lessons fresh. Maybe I was just in a good mood or something? Thanks a lot, Past Dave!
Sunday, March 9, 2014
I'm not the fashion police. The fact that I just used the term 'fashion police' should give you an idea of how diligently I keep up with the latest trends generally. I never want to look like I'm trying to be fashionable, to the extent that I've always actively curated a blandly unfashionable wardrobe, avoiding branding and unnecessary designs wherever possible - until I started travelling that is, when location-branded T-shirts became the only form of souvenir I allowed myself.
Now I'm not travelling so much and spending more time shut up in a flat, all those exotic place names do seem less relevant, and I'm back to the frustrating annual exercise of tearing through pointlessly patterned products at overstocked malls to find five cheap T-shirts with differently coloured, blank facades that'll see me through the next few years. It's even more difficult to find those over here, where I was led to believe their kids make them, but needs must when my white 'Save the Sea Turtles' shirt gets beiger with every wash and my girlfriend orders me to throw it out.
Since we've been travelling again, my travel tees have felt relevant again and I've been nostalgically reacquainted with some old favourites - bewilderingly popular products sold by pushy vendors on the doorstep of sacred sites (or inside) and in every other shop down your Khao San Roads and Legian Streets. Practical holiday mementos are to be encouraged, but you people need to stop buying:
Thursday, March 6, 2014
The merciful absence of motorbikes on Gili Trawangan means the roads and tracks that circle and criss-cross this island are less lethal to cyclists, so I could enjoy my annual bike ride in comfort. I only had to make way for horses and push through impassable sand traps every ten metres or so as I zipped around stealing Wi-Fi from the vicinity of various restaurants I'd strategically eaten at in previous days to give me a broad smorgasbord of signals to choose from when my resort's own connection inevitably broke every single day.
When one of these Wi-Fi-leeching jaunts informed me that this whole island can be circumnavigated by cycle in about 90 minutes at a leisurely pace, I was keen to take on the undemanding challenge and was impressed with my (let's say) record breaking time of just over an hour, including breaks for iced tea and taking repetitive photos of dirt meeting water. I guess I'm just mint.
Depressing update: On our last day, on the way to the boat back to Bali, we saw one motorbike, casually ambling along as if it didn't embody the destruction of paradise. Absolute twat.
Monday, March 3, 2014
The Gili Islands jutting out from the top of Lombok like the trailing clouds of a thought bubble have admittedly been devastated by tourism, but they still remain paradise islands due to one crucial factor: there is no motorised transport allowed.
I say 'allowed,' because this is clearly the result of litigation rather than everyone just agreeing to respect each other's peace and the sanctity of the environment. Imagine that! If you let them, they'd import a fleet of cheap scooters and cut the exhausts to produce that satisfying din, joining their buddies across South East Asia in the war against tranquillity. I know what you're like.
Of course, the locals have still found a way to provide comforting taxi hassle to tourists, lurking eagerly by the boat landing with their carts pulled by depressing, skinny horses to harrass new arrivals wading in through the shallow sea. But when you leave the village behind for the typhoon-battered east coast and inland coconut plantations you can truly enjoy peace and quiet. Apart from the periodic cacophony of the mosque five times a day. By which I obviously mean I have equal respect for all religions, especially the antisocially loud ones.
I could really live here. Maybe I'll look into it.
Friday, February 28, 2014
I'm always grateful when events conspire to create a recurring motif in my life story, and in yet another reminder of my poor physical fitness - heightened by the travel break - I chose a lousy time to enter a large body of water for the first time since Krabi last April. We'd seen these waves get fairly boisterous the previous evening, but on the day I'd come prepared with swimming shorts and a snorkel, they were practically ASBO.
I got tossed around in the foam like a Monster High 13 Wishes doll in a dangerous-dog's maw (am I getting the 2010s references right, kids?), and even when I made it out to a safe distance and escaped the barrage, it took a long time to get my breath back. With no lifeguards and few other people foolish enough to enter the Leviathan, I was worried I'd start to feel faint - like that time after a school swimming lesson when my friends told me I looked like ET when he's dying.
But after getting my breath back and perving on a few colourful fish with the shoddy, leaking mask I'd been given (outrageous!) I made it back to the shore in one piece, my sand-filled shorts still on, and only mildly scared to let water splash my feet for the rest of the day.
This year's Bali trip has already given me one customarily fun/traumatic memory, here's hoping for more!
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
I 'did' Bali at the end of my first year of travel. Zooming around notable temples on package day trips; trundling between the coast and the highlands on hazardous local buses; donning sarongs to hang out with urban monkeys - it was paradoxically one of the most stressful and most tranquil months of my life, and I always planned to go back.
Two and a half years later, I headed back to Bali with my girlfriend and without any tourist obligations. The plan was to basically enjoy doing nothing, which seemed to confound everyone from the sarcastic immigration officer to our fellow guest house tenants I'm forced to interact with when held hostage by common area Wi-Fi. Is this self-appointed paradise island not the place for that sort of thing? It seems pretty peaceful to me, apart from all the motorbikes.
Our first port of call was exactly that. Padangbai is the gateway to Lombok, and consequently a well-worn resting stop on the backpacker trail that many visitors express regret at not having spent more time in before eagerly speedboating to an essentially identical destination. I'm far too experienced and lazy to fall into that trap, of course. We stalled our boat for a week.
Saturday, February 22, 2014
The BBC uses my images without asking, so it's all fair game
Sod it, I'll just become Asian. I don't have to give up anything really, I'll just be one of those Westernised ones. I already like most of the food, I don't have to eat the pungent preserved fish as well. I don't have to start warbling karaoke or buy an antisocial motorbike to do my bit towards the neighbourhood din. I already follow my girlfriend around as her personal photographer, diligently snapping excessive pictures for an imaginary portfolio like a well-trained Asian boyfriend. They'd never accept me with this face, but a little unnecessary cosmetic surgery never hurt anyone (according to the misleadingly positive news stories I used to be paid to write every day for a Harley Street clinic. Don't blame me for your botched boobs).
You know your foreign friend back at university? Whose English wasn't perfect but who tried to fit in and who - good-natured ironic racism aside - you basically accepted as one of the guys, since you all came from different backgrounds anyway? That doesn't happen out here. Even if I became pointlessly fluent in the local dialect of this one island of the best English-speaking country in the continent, the racism-tinged wisdom passed down by older, more experienced bloggers has led me to believe I'll always be viewed as the outsider. If I spend all my life here, I'll never be local.
So while that sadly means I'm condemned to be a tourist until I die or leave, it's at least a handy excuse for cultural and linguistic laziness. It's always worth trying to learn these lessons second-hand at an early stage so I don't become one of those bitter ex-pats in the future myself. I know, it's too late already.
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
That's sort of a foreign pun this time. Makan means 'eat' in Malay. No, it still doesn't really make sense, but look impressed anyway.
When you talk to locals from any country (there may be notable exceptions), they'll invariably tell you more about the food you should try than the places you should see, and I found this in Malaysia more than anywhere. The first time I visited I was determined to try the breadth of the cuisine on offer, as long as it didn't exceed the low budget threshold, and made a couple of overly detailed blogs cataloguing my efforts. It wasn't very impressive.
These days my income isn't actually any bigger and I'm paying for two, but being in company deludes me into thinking I can be slightly more lavish now, which means only eating at dirty roadside huts a couple of times a week. Here's a similarly tediously exhaustive food diary (not literally everything I ate; I'm not completely insane) from our recent Malaysia/Borneo trip and from our previous trip last April, which I somehow forgot to obsessively document at the time. Must have been something I ate.
Guaranteed to be free from edifying cultural or culinary insights. I didn't cook it, did I?
Sunday, February 16, 2014
We were nearly cursed to be among those day trippers making the four-hour round trip from Kota Kinabalu to the national park area on several occasions until I finally got a reply from the one guest house I'd found in the region that wasn't full and promised Wi-Fi. It's also the first 'homestay' I've stayed at that's taken the term to heart.
During our time at the pleasantly isolated Slagon Homestay (that's only the second time in this blog's history I've given an unsolicited link to a hotel - I don't shill lightly) I felt like a child again, which was a bit disconcerting after nearly a decade of independent living but certainly lightened the load on a trip where I've basically been the dad. After dealing with bitchy Filipino staff at our last hotel (will these people never leave me alone?), our surrogate Malay mother made sure we were well fed at every meal time when we couldn't be bothered to get out and see the natural wonders on our doorstep.
Even better than the buffets and the chilly, foggy mornings was the bookshelves, which might be the highest quality guest house library I've ever seen (and I always check them out). As well as handy travel guides, some genuinely decent novels and local interest publications, they even had - most excitingly and unlikely of all - the next few volumes in the nostalgic children's adventure gamebook series I've been working my way through.
I added one to the pile. Maybe if a few more childish nerds pass through these parts they'll eventually complete the set
We could easily have got sucked in to living out our visas in this place and never moving on, but unfortunately we didn't have the same minimal freedom as Lone Wolf to choose between several predetermined paths through our lives, as we had a flight looming. So that was a lucky escape. Being happy and not having to deal with transport and immigration stress for a while longer would have been terrible.
Thursday, February 13, 2014
Gunung Kinabalu is a modest mountain. Its height of 4,095 metres makes it just half an Everest, but like all runners-up they've found a few niche categories it can rank 20th in to keep it from feeling too bad. It's a shame it doesn't quite scrape into the Southern Hemisphere, accolades are piss easy down under.
Kinabalu is supposed to be relatively easy to climb too, and I would have given it a try if a sedentary lifestyle hadn't eroded what little physical fitness I once possessed. A week of walking around a city slightly too quickly at least put me in suitable condition to tackle the lesser trails of the surrounding Kinabalu Park, where I tackled nature head-on by sticking to conveniently carved footpaths over gentle hills. It took me back to my solitary hiking days around New South Wales and Korea, except I was doing it with someone who grew up in a pedestrian-unfriendly country and needs to rest every few minutes or die.
Maybe we'll skip those volcanoes in Bali after all.