BootsnAll Travel Network

This blog is about my adventures during my round the world trek

Welcome to my blog. I am a newly turned 40 year old that has decided that it is time to see the rest of the world outside of my little part of it in Calgary, Canada. I am planning to see as much of the world as I can and have no time limit on the adventure. I plan to go which ever way the wind blows. I am starting in the South Pacific (Fiji, New Zealand, Australia) and then on to South East Asia, Europe, Africa, South American and anywhere else I can find. I have lived in Calgary, Alberta, Canada for 20 years and worked in the food industry. I have a great family that is concerned but supportive and fantastic friends that I hope will join me somewhere on the journey. I hope everyone enjoys following along on my adventure and you can also email me at

Home Sweet Home

May 5th, 2010

Hello all,

Well after 19 months of traveling around the South Pacific and South East Asia I decided to take a little break and head home for a bit.  Actually I surprised my mom by showing up for her 70th birthday party.  To say the least there were many shocked faces.  My sister Cathy and hubby Darryl picked me up from the airport late on Saturday night.  The kids were with them and did not recognize me at first.  We headed to Gem and their house for the night and then surprised mom on Sunday.  Almost everyone was there by the time we showed up including my brothers and all the kids as well as Aunts and Uncles.  I can in the back door and surprised them all.  We had a great day telling stories and it was just like old times.

Not exactly sure how long I will stay in Canada at this point but I am thinking about until around fall or when it starts to get cold again.  Time will tell and I still need to figure out where I want to go as well.  South America and Europe are both high on the list.

To my dismay the weather here has been terrible and I am suffering.  It has been very cold and lots of snow as well.  It is supposed to be cold for the rest of the week and I am not liking that very much.

I will head into the city (Calgary) on Friday and start catching up with some friends.  Lots of people to see.

I probably will not blog for the next while so this will be it until I get on the road again.

Till soon all,

Thanks for following along and I look forward to writing about my next adventure.



Vietnam, some love it and some hate it…

April 29th, 2010

Hello all,

Well I have been in Vietnam for a bit now and wow what a different country than the rest of South East Asia.  Or at least that is how I felt in the first week or so.  I started in the north at Hanoi.  I expected it to be like the rest of the cities I have seen in South East Asia and I guess it was but this is the first place I can honestly say that the people were not friendly at all.  Right from the guy who gave me a ride to the airport till when I left they all seemed so intense, yelling lots and never wanting to help.  It made it for a difficult experience to start Vietnam off with.  I smiled as much as I could but sometimes it got very frustrating.  I met up with Maris who I had met while traveling in Malaysia and we were in contact with Facebook and were able to meet again.  She was traveling with 2 great dutch girls (Sina & Carolina).  The group of us planed a trip to the northern parts of Vietnam right away.  The traffic in the inner city is so crazy as the streets are very narrow and there are a ton of motorbikes.  At times it is impossible to cross the street, kinda reminded me of playing Frogger (now that dates me).  This is the closest I have seen to the traffic I remember while in the Philippines years ago.

Our first stop out of Hanoi was a boat trip through Halong Bay.  It was a 2 hour bus ride to get to the boat but the scenery was great.  Once we got on the boat along with 14 others the scenery went from great to spectacular.  We spent the day cruising all around the bay and even though the weather was grey and cloudy I think it added to the mystic of the area.  We stayed on the boat overnight and had an opportunity to go kayaking as well.  When the sun was going down some of the group were jumping from the top of the boat into the water.  It looked like a lot of fun, just not for me (my fear of water is so much better but jumping from that high is not about to happen).  The second day we made our way back through some different channels and it continued to amaze.  The worst part was having leave and go back to Hanoi as it was so peaceful.

We were not in Hanoi for long as we took a night train to our next destination of Sapa.  The idea was to get sleep but we ended staying up until after midnight playing card games.  When the train got into Sapa we were all still very groggy.  We had a driver pick us up and transfer us to where we were staying about 2 hours away.  Later that morning we started a trek into the mountains.  We were joined by a bunch of the village ladies that helped us along the way looking for us to buy the different bags, scarves and other items they carried with them.  With all the rain, parts of the trek were really slippery but tons of fun.  It was not to hot out either so that made it for good trekking. We hike to a town called Lao Chai (7kms) and had some lunch there.  Then we continued another 4 kms to Ta Van where we were staying for the night.  The homestay was very simple but then that is exactly what I expect for a homestay.  We had some time before it got dark to explore around the village and spent some time at the river relaxing and taking in the sites and sounds.  An older dutch couple (Franz & Andrea) were on the trek as well and were completely awesome.  The whole trekking idea was a little out of their element but they made it the whole way and I never heard a complaint.  They were so nice and great to talk with.

The next morning was an early start as we wanted to make it to the market in Ba Caa as their Sunday market is one of the best in all of Vietnam.  We made it back to Sapa first then another 2 hours to Ba Caa.  The market was really awesome.  It was the first market I have been to that is selling live animals.  It was like some big livestock show with the horses, buffalo, chickens and such in their own area.  There was also an area for dogs, I hope they were been sold for pets but I think I know better.  Lots of interesting local crafts as well and tons of food.  Some looked very scary and I was told by the guide not to try some of it because he was not to sure how clean it was and our stomachs probably could not handle it.  After some lunch, in a diner, we headed off to visit some villages.  The villages are very different here as the are very spread apart instead of everything been close together like most other places. Not sure that they like their neighbors to much.  There was a big thunder storm that night so we all stayed in and played cards and shared in a bottle of local wine.  I got some massage practice in with leg massages for Franz and Andrea.  They were still moving slowly but at least they were moving.  Our last day of the tour was a hike to Cat Cat village and a very cheesy waterfall.  It looked like Andrea might not get through the entire hike but 1/2 through her legs were feeling great and she did the whole thing while some others took a motorbike back to Sapa.  They afternoon was free for us to tour around Sapa and I took the time to get a massage.  I will tell you that is was not a great experience, the massage was awful and the lady would not stop trying to offer me a happy ending.  I ended up leaving before the hour was up still looking for a good massage somewhere.  In the evening we took the night train back to Hanoi and this time we were a little smarter with our timing and got some decent sleep.

We got back to Hanoi at 5am and went straight to the hotel and got a few more zzzz’s.  We then spent the rest of the morning touring around some of the sights of Hanoi.  A lot of the main sites are only open in the morning until 11am and so we got all of those done.  The main attractionwas the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.  You are herded 2 by 2 into the mausoleum to see the body of Ho Chi Minh.  It was very stately but confusing since his last request was to be cremated and here he is for all to see.  There are lots of other places in the same area all dedicated to Ho Chi Minh.  He is a very revered man in Vietnam and he seemed to have some really good principals.  In the afternoon I stopped at a temple and the St. Joseph Cathedral.  After a full day of touring I made it back to the hotel to chill out for a while and then caught a night bus to Hue.

The night buses are called sleeping buses and have fold down seats that is supposed to make easier to sleep.  The only problem with it is each spot is quite small and if you are short (shorter than me) it works great, anyone 6 ft tall would really suffer.  I was only in Hue for a few hours and in that time I got a motorbike tour of the highlights of the old city.  Another bus took me in the afternoon to Hoi An.  I wanted to stay here because I had heard very good things about it from other travelers. Hoi An did not disappoint and the people seem to be getting much nicer and more relaxed as I head south, which I was told would happen.  Hoi an is known for its tailors.  Almost everyone that comes here get some clothing made.  I am no exception as I could use some new stuff.  Most are getting suits made but since I have no need for that i got some shorts and 2 shirts made.  Really good quality and all done in less than a day for so cheap.  I was also able to take in all the sites around the town and enjoy the smaller town.  It was very comfortable what I really wanted was a beach.  They had a beach here but it was 6km out of town so after 2days here I took a night bus to Na Trang and then another bus to Mui Ne.  Mui Ne is beach heaven.  It was sunny, hot and humid all the things I like.  The town really is for kite surfers and wind boarders but I still fit in really well.  I just took so e time to slow down and chill out for a while.  The beach was really windy in the afternoons so I spent mostly the mornings tanning before the wind really started to blow.  I was able to finish my book that I had been reading for a few weeks and mostly not think about anything.  I took a tour of the sites one afternoon and saw some amazing sand dunes, canyons and a great fishing village.

The relax thing can only last for so long so then i made my way to Ho Chi Minh City and that is where I am now.  Even though the city is 5 times larger than Hanoi it just does not seem as busy.  Most of the touristy stuff is within walking distance of the center and I will be checking all that out.  The locals are really nice as well and seem to want to give a helping hand.  The south is so much nicer than the north as far as the people but the scenery up north made it worth while.  I will continue on through the area and then see where I head next.

That is it for now, take care all, till soon….

PS: One big birthday wish this time.  It is my mom’s 70th on Sunday May 2nd.  I know the rest of the family is getting together to celebrate.  I wish I could be there.  Love you sooooooo much!!!

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi

Typical residential street in Hanoi

Our boat for the Halong Bay tour

The beauty and mystic of Halong Bay

Me relaxing at the front of the boat during Halong Bay tour

Working the fields during trek to Ta Van

Carolina, Andrea, me and Sina relaxing at the river after a day of trekking

The incredible view of the rice terraces near Ta Van

Ladies in traditional dress at the market in Ba Caa

Transport from local villages to Ba Caa for the market

Red and white sands along a small creek outside of Mui Ne

Fishing village just outside of Mui Ne

White sand dunes of Mui Ne

Me on the beach at Mui Ne


The lovely country of Laos

April 11th, 2010

Hello all,

Well it has been another 3 weeks of adventures in the life of Steve.  When I last wrote I was in Chiang Rai just relaxing and getting ready to head into Laos.  Well now I have been in Laos for almost 3 weeks and I have some really cool stories to tell.

While I was in Thailand one of the things I wanted to do was to see the hill tribes and do an overnight trek.  It never happened while I was there and I was a little disappointed.  The main reason I did not do it was because all the treks were so touristy and you had to go on elephants rides and rafting down a river.  All I wanted was time in a village and see how the people actually live.  When I crossed over into Laos this opportunity was finally in front of me and wow was it ever great.

I was up early in the morning and walking around a town called Luang Nam Tha, it is a small town and lots is based on the tourists.  There are trekking and tourist shops everywhere and they are all selling pretty much the same packages.  I had found one on my walk and not sure why it stuck out but I went in and had a great conversation with the owner.  He had the same packages as everyone else but I told him I was looking for something different.  He got a big smile on his face and said I think I have a trek for you.  He had been working with a village over the last few weeks and was putting together a new trek to it.This village had never had white people in it before and came to him as they thought they wanted to be part of the tourist trade and improve their village.  They had a rough plan of what the trip would entail and he asked me to help him with the English on his description of what they were planning.  Can you imagine him asking me, I just looked at him and said that I was horrible at English but if it helped him I would try.  I looked over the description and knew it was exactly what I was looking for.  I asked when would they be able to go and he said that he would like to try for the next day if he could get enough people.  He wanted 6 for the trip and since I was with 2 others we were half way there.  I met up with him again in the afternoon and he said everything was a go that we had 7 people.  I was very excited and the rest of the day flew by.  To tell you the truth I do not remember that much of touring around that day because I kept thinking about the trek.

We all met in the morning and ended up having a group of 9.  Two young English couples (Alex and Amy,David and Stacey, one french couple ( still no idea what there names are cause no one could understand them) and the three of us (Andrej, Phillip and me).  We took a truck out to a village called Sopseen and it was very quiet as we slowly got to know one another.  This is where the trek started.  It took a bit for them to get the guides all organized but as this was happening we got to watch the locals at work.  They were working on building a new home and chiseling holes in big beams to put 2×4’s through.  It looked like a lot of work and there were at least a dozen men working on it.  The little children had their own chisels and hammers and trying to make holes in the wood but were not getting very far.  Some of the men were using hammers others used pieces of wood or what ever was around to hammer the chisel.  We had 2 guides from the tour company (Dan and Don) and then 2 others from the village joined us.  One was a young boy that helped carry some supplies for our lunch and the other was an older lady that also carried some supplies and was our cook.  She walked at the back of the pack and while carrying everything on her head she knitted while she walked.  The rest of us were concentrating on where we were going and there is no way I could imagine knitting as we walked.  She spoke no English but she always had a smile for me when I smiled at her.  We trekked into the forest for about 3 hours going up and down mountains.  The scenery we were walking through was amazing except for the very gray sky.  It was not cloudy but very smoky from burning rice fields and forest.  At this time of year the whole north area of South East Asia is covered in a haze from the burning.  It happens all through Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and China.  It would be amazing to see this area with a blue sky and green rice fields but I am here during the dry season and 35-40 degree temperatures.  When we stopped for lunch the old Laos lady put down banana leaves that we all missed her getting as we walked and that became our table.  Next she plopped down a clump of sticky rice for each of us and finally in the middle she made piles of the other things we were eating.  Some were all veg and others had some noodles and chicken.  There were no plates so we all sat around the table she created and used our hands.  It reminded me of Fiji and some of the meals I ate there.  I thought it was great and I knew I was on the right trek for me.  I am not sure every one liked the idea a lot especially the French couple but at least we started talking more and getting to know one another.  After our lunch the lady and young boy headed back to their village as they only came along to carry our food for the day, how nice was that for them to do it.  Our 2 guides knew the way to the village we were headed for and so we were off.  Again up and down mountains and actually the trek itself was pretty difficult.  I stayed near the back of the group and chatted with Dan as we walked.  I asked what his real Laos name was and he told me Dan, not sure I believed him but if that is what he wanted to be called then that is what I would use.  We were at the top of one hill and he pointed out to the bottom and the little village we were headed.  As we walked into the village the children came to see us but when we got close they ran off, not sure if they were scared or had no idea what else to do.  We were met by the chief and taken to a home and sat down to rest for a bit.  The children were curious but stayed a good distance away.  I asked the chief if would be okay to take a picture of the children and he was okay with that.  When the children saw what I was doing they hide behind a post in single file and I just giggled.  We were then escorted on a tour of the village and on the way I took a pic of the chief and another older man.  I went and showed the pic to them and they smiled at seeing their image in the camera.  I then tried to take another pic of the children but they ran away until the chief told them to come back and said it was okay.  I took a pic of a group of them and then held out the camera for them to see.  They were very hesitant but slowly made their way to me and looked at the picture.  Then I took another and showed them again, and soon they were all giggling at each other.  For the rest of the tour of the village the children were almost posing as we took pics and showed them.  The village itself was in way better shape than what I expected.  They had 340 people living there and it was very remote with no roads to it.  They had a good water supply and lots of gardens to feed off of.  Lots of animals were around including chickens, ducks, pigs and lots of dogs.  Most of the houses were in good shape and all made by the villagers.  The only thing I thought that was missing was toilet facilities.  We were told before that there would be no toilets there but I was still surprised that none of the home had anything.  They go in the forest and I guess the animals end up eating it at some point.  I know that is not good but that is what they have been doing for years.  After the tour we had some free time to do whatever we wanted.  So watched as they prepared our meal and explained what we were getting and how they cook in the village.  I watched for a while and others just continued to tour around the village.  At one part of the stream is their bathing area and we got to go there and freshen up, not everyone did but I sure did and it felt great to get the dirt of the day off.  After that I was just sitting and taking it all in and Dan came and sat beside me.  We had a great talk about the village and how it worked and how the future of it looked.  I was a little confused at how nice the village was and wondered how they were able to get everything they had.  Most of it came from hard work as they grow enough rice during the season to feed there entire village for the year and still have extra to sell at the market.  They also harvest other crops at other times of the year to get some extra money.  Everything in the village is about business just like everywhere else in the world.  All those animals they have including the dos are income and are sold to the highest bidder at markets close to the village.  I told him I was interested/concerned as to what will happen to the village as more tourists come here and they earn more money that way.  Will they get lazy and use the tourist dollars instead of growing that next rice field or selling a pig.  I know several others in the group were not very happy with what they saw at the village and not sure how to take it all.  I kept and open mind and hoped that they would use the money for good things like maybe proper toilet facilities for themselves. I was curious about been told we were the first westerners in the village and if that was actually true. It was true but most of the people there had seen westerners before in town but were still very unsure about us. Our supper was very similar to our lunch and everything on the banana leaves and we used our hands again.  To start the dinner off the chief offered us a drink of Lao Lao which is their variation of alcohol.  It is made from rice and was very sweet, it was similar to mead or mulled wine.  It tasted okay and after everyone had some we had our dinner.  The food was very tasty or at least to me it was.  After the dinner we were offered more Lao Lao and were able to ask them questions.  We also got them to ask us some.  An evening of drinking and conversation continued until it was time for bed.  They had the upper level of 2 houses set up with mats, blankets and mosquito nets for all of us. The morning came early with the noises of all the chickens and other animals.  It took a long time to get going because they had to cook our breakfast and lunch before we could leave.  We saw the take a chicken and that was part of our breakfast which included sticky rice again (well it cam with every meal) and the same type of stuff we had for lunch and dinner the day before.  This gave us time to see more of the village and time to chat if we wanted.  We left the village at around 10:30 for our trek back to the city.  We headed off in a different direction than we came and this time we had 2 young men with us to guide us.  That turned out to be very important as they way they took us had not been used in a very long time and they had to cut through a lot of jungle to recreate the path again.  It was very impressive to watch them cut away the forest with their machetes and clearing a path for us.  It was very slow going for a big part but I really enjoyed it.  I could hear the birds chirping and other sounds of the jungle, I guess it doesn’t take much these days to make me happy.After 3 hours of trekking we stopped and had our lunch just like the day before and the 2 guides from the village headed back to their home.  The path was much easier after this except one part where they had cut down part of the jungle to make a rice field and had not burnt it yet so we had to cross all this bamboo and trees.  It made it fun and adventurous for me.  We ended at a village called Simoudom where we were met by a truck to drive us back to Luang Nam Tha.  I was so happy that i got to do the trek and see this village and there is only one thing that I was disappointed about.  After all the trekking and questions I was not smart enough to ask the name of the village so I actually have no idea where we went. I could show you on a map but how dumb not to get the actual name.

The next day Phillip and I caught a local bus to a town called Udom Xai which is more of a Chinese town than Laos. There was not much to see and in a mater of a few hours in the afternoon we had seen it all.  The adventure was the bus ride itself as they stuff as many people into these buses as possible along with a variety of other things.  This day it was Rats, big ugly dead rats.  The driver was going along and while going through one town he stopped to buy a bundle, group, (what is a bunch of rats tied together at the legs called??) of rats.  once purchased he tossed them up onto the shelf that was meant for baggage above the peoples heads.  This did not bother the locals at all but I was glad I was further back and not near them, they were definitely ugly.

The next morning I caught another local bus to Luang Prabang and Phillip headed for Vietiane and then Bangkok and back to Germany.  I got to Luang Prabang just before a storm hit and was lucky enough to find a decent guest house in time before the rain.  Andrej ended up here as well and had meet another guy from Italy (Roberto).  It was a quiet evening after the rain and we just took a walk through the market and got some dinner.  The next day the 3 of us took a walk around the town to get familiar with it.  There are some really nice Wats (Temples) here and the Royal Palace was really nice.  After spending some time here I was really enjoying the atmosphere of the place.  Even though there was lots of building going on the town kept its old culture as well.  The town is known for 2 thing for the tourists, caves and waterfalls, oh I should not forget its night market as well.  The next day was spent at the Pak Ou cave.  The cave itself is not that spectacular but the day was full of adventure.  The idea is to get as big a group you can and then hire a tuk tuk to take you for the day.  The more people you have the cheaper it gets per person.   We spent over an hour trying to find others that wanted to go to the cave that day but most were headed to the waterfall as it was very hot.  After lots of talking and Roberto making us laugh we got 2 others to join us and had a great afternoon.  The next day we went through the same process again but this time it was easy to find others headed to the waterfall.  We got out to Kouang Si Waterfall at around 11am before most of the people go.  It turned out to be a great plan as it was not busy and we were able to see an amazing waterfall and not have tons of people in our pics.  It had several different levels and a few nice swimming areas.  At the top where the main fall is, I was able to take some time and reflect on how lucky and great this adventure is for me.  It was nice to relax and take in all the sounds the area offered.  It is sometimes hard to explain areas like this and so just take a look at the pic and I think you will know what I mean.  The next day was spent looking at a few more Wats and then relaxing.  I had a really cool moment while walking around.  I heard my name called out and turned around to see someone that I knew from earlier in my trip.  I know this has happened often but this was different.  The girl calling my name out was Eva and I met her on my very first week while I was in Fiji. I did not recognize her at first but she sure knew me.  She was the girl that told me about Voro Voro and I ended up staying there for 5 weeks.  It was so cool to see her again and we met up that evening for a few cocktails and lots of conversation.

After Luang Prabang it was time to head to Vang Vieng.  This is party central for Laos and all the young backpackers traveling the world.  It was also Andrej birthday and what better place to celebrate.  It turned out to be everything we were told by others.  One big party all day long.  Most sleep in until around noon and then head to the river for some tubing.  along the river are bars set up with lots of free alcohol and big swings to throw you in the water.  Everyone was having a great time but with my fear of water the swings were out of the question.  The tubing was great on its own and I completely enjoyed myself.  Because most of the activities were on the water I never had my camera with me and thus really no pics.  We went caving the one day and I took some pics there but the area is about the river and tubing and i don’t have a single pic.  After a few days of fun I knew it was time to move on as I can only take so much of that.  I can see how some of the young people come here and plan to stay a day or two and end here for a week.

We took a bus from Vang Vieng to Phonsavan or better known as the Plain of Jars.  The town itself has almost nothing to see except for a good fresh market.  The highlight is a little out of town called the Plain of Jars.  Here is another thing that is difficult to explain mostly because the locals don’t know where they came from.  Try to imagine bug cups or urns (as big as me) that have been made by someone at some time.  They may even be prehistoric.  They really do not have any clue where they come from and have not been studied that much since 1930 because of all the wars in the area.  The area is covered by unexploded mines and so you have to stay to the path and no wandering around on your own. They have a few theories about the jars but none that make that much sense.  I guess just look at the pic and make up your own story, cause that is what I am gong to do.

From Phonsavan we took a night bus to Vietiane which is the capital of Laos.  It is the big city but not like the big cities of the other countries I have been.  This place is still very much in the old ways with no McDonalds or Subway and I like it so much better this way.  I will stick around here for a days as I wait for my visa to get into Vietnam.  I got in on a Friday and now have to wait until the weekend is over to get it from the embassy. There are lots of Wats and cultural stuff here to see so I have lots to take in and complete before I go.  It is really hot here as well (41 degrees everyday) so by the afternoon you are pretty tired out and need to get out of the sun.

So my next blog will be about Vietnam and what ever adventures I can find there.  I continue to enjoy myself and going where ever I feel like.  It is so nice to be this free and very lucky as well.

Take all and enjoy everything you have!!!

Love Steve

PS: Okay it is birthday time again, although there have not been any in the last few weeks which is different so I can make some wishes early and be ahead for once.  Happy Birthday goes out to my buddy Abel (I know I will get in trouble for this but my friend is turning the big 5-0). Even though he is not planning a big celebration I know April 16th will be a very special day.  My nephew and godchild Matthew has birthday the very next day.  My uncle Richard is on the 20th (have a rum for me), and then there is a double shot on the 25th for my cousin Linda and my lovely sister Cathleen.  I love you all and hope you have a great day!!!

Dan (the guide) and myself on the trek to village

Our lunch on the trek, nothing better than eating with your hands

The trekking group

Pic of the village kidsThe jungle trek

Anyone want to try a drink of local whiskey???

Me at the first swimming hole at Kouang Si WaterfallKouang Si Waterfall at the 2nd swimming hole

Wat (Temple) in Luang Prabang

Sandwich lady at market in Luang Peabang, we had lunch there every day

on the white side is free of landmines, the red side not clear of landmines

Me at the Plain of Jars near Phonsavan

Another pic of the Plain of Jars

Buddha Statues at a Wat in VientianePatuxai Monument in Vientiane

A view of the park and city from on top of Patuxai Monument


Thailand – West and North

March 21st, 2010

Hello all,

Well after getting to watch the end of the Olympics and Canada winning gold in hockey, I figured it was time to get on the road again and see what the other parts of Thailand had to offer.

My first adventure away from Bangkok was to the west.  I decided to head out with a tour group because after looking at all the options it turned out to be the cheapest one.  Most go on a day tour to the area but I wanted to see a little more and planned out a 3 day tour.  I also did not want to go on a big bus tour so I picked one with a smaller group of only 10 people.  I was picked up at 7am and everyone on the bus was very quiet.  It was early and most were still a little sleepy.  It turns out that even though I was going for 3 days I ended up with all the one day tour people as well.  It was okay because there were some really nice people in the mini bus and we had a good time.  Part way through the day I was transferred to another bus because I had some different things to see with my three day tour. So what did I see you ask??? Well heading west means going into the area that is famous because of WWII and Japans part in the war.  We started off by going to Kanchanaburi and visiting the allied war cemetery and  war museum.  It kind of prepares you for the rest of the war things that you are going to see and try to understand.  Kanchanaburi is famous for one thing, Bridge over river Kwai.  Yes, you remember the movie about it or maybe you don’t, I don’t but now would like to see it again.  The bridge itself is just a bridge but it is how and who made it that makes it so significant.  The Japanese forced allied prisoners to build the railway and several bridges of which this was one of them.  It was good to see the pictures in the museum because at the time of building there was nothing else around and now the bridge is in the center of town and it is hard to imagine what it would have been like during the war.  I walked along the bridge and try to take in the atmosphere of what it would have been like.  There are lots of other tourists around so I walked all the way to the other end of the bridge where very few tourists went to.  After 3 days in the area I have a much better understanding of what happened during the war in this area.  I really had no idea about the area before or at least don’t remember anything from my school days.  You all know that I am not much of a fan for school, but I really do enjoy learning all this stuff in my own way and seeing for myself.  I seem to go onto the internet and look a lot of stuff up after I have been to these places just to get more information, who knew history could be so entertaining!!!  I had 2 other stops on this tour that dealt with the war and one was a trip on the Death Railway.  No the railway is not unsafe, it is called that because so many allied prisoners died while building it.  It was pretty unsafe at the time because some prisoners would purposely use bad wood or miss nailing in pegs so that it would fall apart, but if they got caught doing this that meant a beating and maybe death.  My other stop was a part of the railway called Hellfire Pass.  In this area the prisoners had to remove a large part of a mountain to get through to the other side.  They would dig by hand and then put in dynamite to help along the way.  It was called Hellfire Pass because they were made to work day and night and at night the area was lite up by torches that made the area look on fire.  Parts of the railway are still there today and walking through the pass was an intense feeling for me and I took some time to reflect on the stories I read about throughout the 3 days.  Not everything I did was about the war and I was able to have some fun as well.  The one afternoon I went on an elephant ride which turned out to be very touristy and I am not so sure that it was very good for the elephants.  The elephants end up having to take tourists up and down this path about 6 times a day and once I thought about it I was not that happy I did it.  I was able to make amends for it the next morning as I was able to go for a bath with the same elephants.  They take a very small group and you meet the elephants at the river for some fun.  It is their bathing and play time.  I followed my elephant into the water and they lean down so you can get on them but this time you are seated directly on them and not on a chair strapped to their back.  Pretty much the first thing that happens is the elephants lifts his trunk and completely sprays you with water.  Now that everyone is wet we can have a little fun.  It is almost like elephant rodeo and they move around and toss you into the water.  There is lots of laughing and the elephants have a ton of fun in the water.  After about 1/2 hour of play it is time for them to go and I headed back to the accommodation to see what else was planned for the day.  The accommodation is actually a room that is right on the river (called a river house).  It was a nice place and had friendly people, staff and other guests.  Both nights I was there I meet several people and we had great evenings.  I also got to go to the Tiger Temple.  From the info I had read the place is run by the monks and you can pet, play and walk with the tigers.  Most of the tours allow you 1 hour at the temple which I knew would be not enough and a big reason why I planned a 3 day tour.  I was able to stay at there for 3 hours and it still was not enough time.  I got there and the first stop is where you can pet the tigers.  I meet one of the trainers and was told that if I wanted to get a much closer look that I should come back later and see them during play time, which had an added cost but most of the tourists are gone and it is a better experience.  It sounded like a great idea so I paid and continued my way around the rest of the place.  It was a very open area that had lots of deer, horses, oxen, camels and other animals just roaming around.  The tigers all had there own area but during the day most are out with the trainers among the tourists.  I was able to sit right beside one tiger and get a picture.  It was interesting because the tigers are all on big chains and are not allowed to get to far.  I suppose this is good as they might decide to eat a tourist if they got hungry.  The only part of the day that I did not like or i guess understand was that I walked around the place for 2 hours and did not see one monk and could not find a temple.  Not sure if I was looking in the wrong area but it was strange not to find either.  The best part of the day was getting to see the tigers during their play time.  Most of the tourists had to leave and about 12 of us got to stay.  The first thing they do is take all of us and put us in a cage, instead of the tigers.  It felt good that we were the ones caged.  Once we were in, although the cage is not very high or really that safe, the tigers were taken off their chains and let to roam free.  You could quickly see which ones were the dominant ones and which ones just tried to stay out of the way.  Several played fairly rough with each other like 2 brothers fighting.  The trainers brought out some toys for  they to play with and got them jumping and swimming and having fun.  It was amazing to see how much respect the tigers have for the trainers as they could attack them at any time but just seem to want to play and have fun.  It was good to see this as I think most of their day is spent chained up and walked around for tourists to see.  My last stop in the area was to see a couple of waterfalls.  The first day I was dropped off at a small waterfall that most only see for 30 minutes but I had 3 hours again.  I was able to climb to the top of the waterfall for an excellent view of the area and then I found a trek that went into the mountains and 2 caves.  The first cave was not much but the far cave looked very impressive.  I started my way down the cave even though the sign said to wait for a ranger but none was coming.  I soon realized that this was not such a good idea to do alone especially in flip flops and without a decent flashlight.  I did go a little way until I could not see anymore and had no idea where or what I was stepping on.  On the way back I stood in the middle of the waterfall and had a refreshing cleanse.  The other waterfall I got to see was called Erawan Waterfall and it was completely amazing.  It is part of a national park and is a long trek to get to the top of it.  The waterfall has 7 levels and most do not go higher than about level 4 or 5.  I stopped for a swim at level 3 and then continued all the way to the top.  The scenery is so good and full of energy, at one point on the way back I just sat down for a while to take it all in.  The colors and smells of the forest and the sounds of the water are really relaxing and made me feel so good.  After 3 days in the area I headed back to Bangkok in the evening and got ready to make my way north of Bangkok.

The next morning I got onto another tour that was headed north but this time I took a one day tour with no plans to return to Bangkok.  I was the only one that had a big bag with them and most asked mt why I was bringing so much.  Once I explained that I would stay in Ayuthaya and not return that evening with them it made more sense.   Ayuthaya is all about seeing temples (Wats) and the Buddhist culture in the area.  We were toured around 6 different Wats during the day and seen some amazing places.  At this point I had seen lots of Wats through South East Asia and now I was looking for more information on what I was looking at.  This ended up been the perfect place to figure some of the information out.  During the day I wa able to understand the difference in a Wat, Chedi, Stupa, Pagoda, Prang and the other monuments.  I will not try to explain them all because we could be here for a long time then.  It was good to have a better understanding of all the monuments and get more information about them.  I was also able to find out a lot more information on the Buddha statues as well.  There are 3 different positions a Buddha will be in (sitting, standing and reclining) and all have different meaning.  The Buddhas have specific hand gestures as well and each has its own meaning.  There are to many to list but if you are interested you can look them up on the internet.  It has been very interesting to get an small understanding of the Buddhist faith just like it was with Hindu and Muslim as well.  I feel that having this understanding is making me a much more well rounded and better person.  Like I have said in the past, I think religion is a very personal path and I will not preach that any is right or wrong as each person has to make their own choice on what they believe.

I only stayed in Ayuthaya for 1 night and the full next day.  That evening I took an overnight train north to Chiang Mai.  While I have been in South East Asia I have been lucky enough to be getting lots of massages.  They are very cheap and make you so relaxed, and no I am not talking about the ones that have the “happy ending”.  I have always liked getting massages but also giving massages as some of the backpackers I have met can attest to.  While in Bangkok there were lots of courses in learning the art of Thai massage and I was interested but never did anything about it.  That all changed in Chiang Mai.  In my short time in Ayuthaya I met Eveline who was also on her way to Chiang Mai and interested in doing a massage course.  She ended up there the day before me and looked up a few schools that offered courses.  We signed up on Sunday for a 2 week course that started the next day.  I was really excited to be learning something new but also very nervous.  The course we signed up for was for Traditional Thai Yoga Massage.  When we got there on Monday morning and met the other classmates I was even more nervous.  Most of the class had done some form of yoga and had some interest in energy lines in the body and some other stuff I did not understand.  Thank goodness I learned a little about Buddhism and the energy of the body earlier as this is where this form of massage comes from.  Our teacher was a fantastic Thai lady that has been doing this for a very long time.  There was very little theory in the course with the majority of it been a practical class.  This was very good for me because I do not learn very well from a book and much better by just doing it.  Each day started at 9am and went till 4pm with an hour lunch break.  In the morning we would learn how t0 massage a certain part of the body and then in the afternoon we would practice on each other.  We had to practice with all of the people in the class which was good because there were many different body types in the class.  We had 3 guys and 5 girls in the class and everyone got along pretty well.  We actually had a 6th lady in the class to start but something happened the first day and she went running out of the class and never came back.  She kept on talking about some former boyfriend and seemed to be really unstable.  Most of the time I just tuned her out and I think it was good that she left as it could have been very distracting.  After the first week of class i was almost on overload with so much information and we still had more to learn.  A few of us did a practice session on Saturday and then I took Sunday off and did nothing with massage.  It was very strange to be in a class again but I was really enjoying learning something new.  Over the weekend I also took in the Saturday and Sunday night markets that are famous in Chiang Mai.  The market is huge and has anything and everything a person may want.  I think if you liked shopping you could end up spending a lot of money in a place like this, I did get a few things but was able to control myself.  The second week of class was also good and by this time I knew most of the class pretty well as we would meet for dinner in the evenings too.  The other 2 guys in the class were from the States (Yo and Balla), Annikii was from Sweden, Arati from India, of course Eveline who was from Austria, Lenny from Holland and a french girl that I did not get to know.  Eveline, Annikki, Arati and I spent a lot of time together during the class and in the evenings.  They were all great but I spent most of my time with Eveline as we were in the same guest house and seemed to chat a lot about all kinds of topics.  She is someone that I can see been a friend for a long time and chatting with as I continue on my journey.  I have several other people like this as well and it is nice to meet such great people as I travel. We completed all the learning by Wednesday and then Thursday was all for practice.  Our final exam was to do a full Thai massage on Friday which takes about 2 1/2 hours to complete.  We drew names for who we would have as a partner and I got Balla.  I was very lucky as Balla is a yoga instructor back in the states and had a really good knowledge of what was going on in the class.  On exam day when I got stuck at one point he just moved into the next stretch and then I knew what I was forgetting and was able to continue.  I was also able to get a really good massage in return and that did not happen for all in the class.  In the end I got a certificate that I completed a Beginners course in Traditional Thai Yoga massage and I was very proud of myself.  The amazing part was as I was going through the course and getting massaged everyday I learned that I was not as inflexible as I thought.  Although I am not that flexible I did get into some positions that I never thought I could.  I can even touch my toes without bending my knees, which I have not done in probably 20 years.

After 2 weeks in Chiang Mai I knew it was time to move on even though I had not seen that much of the city itself but I did tour around a little.  My next stop in Thailand was to Chiang Rai.  While I traveled in Indonesia I was told about a great couch surfing host in Chiang Rai so I contacted then before I got to Chiang Rai and set up to stay at there place.  That is where I am now and will stay here for a few days.  I went to the Saturday night market last night and this morning I went for a 3 hour bike ride through the countryside with Phillip another couch surfer here as well.  I think I will stay here until Wednesday when I have to take a bus out of Thailand and make my way to Laos.  My 30 day visa in Thailand runs out on Wednesday so that is why it is time to move on.  I have really enjoyed Thailand and learning some culture and ways of life in the country but I think I will always remember Thailand for the massage!!!

Thanks for following along on my adventure and I hope you continue to enjoy reading about it as much as I enjoy living it.

Till next time, take care all, love ya!!!


PS: It time for me to send out a birthday wish as I always do and this time it goes out to my cousin Jacqueline!!! I always enjoy our skype conversations and look forward to the next one.

Bridge over River Kwai

Hellfire Pass

Me and a tiger at the Tiger Temple

Bathing with the elephants

Me at the 7th level of the Erawan Waterfall

Buddha statues at a Wat in Atuthaya

Me and a reclining Buddha statue in Ayuthaya

A wat in ruins with a Chedi in the background at Ayuthaya

a cool Buddha statue in Chiang Mai

My massage class

Massage class - this position is called Hala Asana, and yes my toes are touching the ground!!!

Having fun while Eveline tries to stretch me

My certificate proving I completed a course in Traditional Thai Yoga Massage


Finishing Malaysia, touring Cambodia and starting in Bangkok

March 1st, 2010

Hello all,

It is that time again to give an update of my travels.  Over the last 3 weeks I have been hopping all over the place in South East Asia and having a grand time.  I will give a brief rundown of where I have been and then tell a few stories about the places I have been.

Feb. 5 – arrive in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia from the Cameron Highlands

Feb. 6 – 8 in Georgetown

Feb. 9 & 10 – Langkawi, north tip of Malaysia

Feb. 11 – 14, Ko Lipe, south island of Thailand

Feb. 15 – Hat Yai south mainland of Thailand

Feb. 16 – overnight bus to Bangkok

Feb. 17 in Bangkok

Feb. 18 – bus to Siam Reap in Cambodia

Feb 19 – 21 in Siem Reap and Angkor Wat (one of the 8 natural wonders of the world)

Feb. 22 & 23 – Phnom Penh – capital city of Cambodia

Feb. 24 – Mar. 1 – Bangkok

Looking back at these 24 days and I can’t believe where I have been and what I have seen.  I have had some great moments and stories to tell.

In Georgetown I stayed in a hostel called Huttons Lodge and met my 2 dorm mates (Sascha from Germany and Michael)right away.  We decided to go to an outdoor cultural show that was at the town hall.  It was mostly Chinese cultural stuff with Chinese New Year so close.  After the show we made our way to the pub district and had a few drinks before getting caught in a huge rain storm and having to take a taxi back to the hostel.

The next morning Michael and I along with 2 American girls decided to tour around the Penang Hill.  At the bottom you get a pulley train to the top where they have a Hindu Temple, Mosque and Christian church.  The group of us then walked down the hill and along the way we got a little to close to some monkeys and a male decided to chase us down the road.   I thought we had gone far enough and looked back and the damn thing was right behind me and did not look happy.  We ran a little further and the monkey finally left us alone.  We ended up going down the wrong side of the hill and so we needed to take a taxi to our next destination Kek Lok Si Temple.  The temple is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia.  It took us a long time to get it see all the different parts of it and it was amazing.  We stopped for a few minutes and were approached by an older gentleman who asked us if we were there for the celebration?  We looked at him and asked what celebration.  He told us that it was the lighting of the festival lights on the temple for Chinese New Year’s.  We were invited to join in the buffet dinner and then got to watch the monks as they went through all the ceremonial prayers before the lite up all the lanterns.  It was amazing how many lights they had, it had to be a million all over the place.  We walked around the temple again in the dark and then headed out so that we could see it from further away.  The temple was so bright and you could see it from all over the city.  My last day in Georgetown I toured around the city and seen all the sites.

It was time to head for the beach and get some sun on the island of Langkawi.  Langkawi is at the top end of Malaysia and is a beautiful island.  I got checked into the hostel and went straight for the beach.   Sascha was also in Langkawi and we ended up meeting up later in the evening with some others for dinner and then drinks at a beach bar that had a great jazz band playing.  I only spent 2 days in Langkawi because it was very touristy and I was headed to another beach place next in Ko Lipe Thailand.

Ko Lipe was like a vacation away from my travels.  It is a beautiful small island that had no cars.  They are plenty of motorbikes but everything is really relaxed on the island. I met up with my friend Nilly that I met while in Kuala Lumpur.  She was there with her boyfriend and some of her friends from Sweden.  We spent 4 days chilling out and relaxing.  We did a tour around the island and got in a great day of snorkeling in as well.

I had planned on meeting up with my friend Sanna in Bangkok but while I was in Ko Lipe she contacted me and we worked out a plan to meet up sooner.  When I left Ko Lipe I went to the Thai mainland and the town of Hat Yai where I got a bus up to Bangkok and then another bus to Siam Reap in Cambodia.  After two days of travel I was pretty tired when I got there and meet up with Sanna.  We took it easy the first evening as Sanna was not feeling that well.

Siem Reap is the town where you stay to visit Angkor Wat.  The temples of Angkor were built from the 800’s to the early 1200’s.  As each king took over they seemed to want to build something bigger and better than the last king.  The result is the seventh wonder of the world.  Most of the temples are is assorted states of ruin but are amazing to see.  They all tell a story in their carvings throughout and a huge national pride to the Khmer (Cambodians) people.  There are so many temples in the area that you would need over a week to see them all but the ones we did see were amazing.  The city of Siem Reap is very touristy and all are there for the same reason, to see Angkor Wat.  This is a place that everyone should take the time to see and enjoy the history is shares with us.  These types of places are hard to describe in writing and so I will not even try.

Meeting up with Sanna has been great and getting to know her again.  We traveled together with Esther and it is so nice to meet up with her again.  We have had great discussions and debates and our travels together have been fantastic.

We left Siem Reap and took a bus to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.  Going to Phnom Penh was about trying to understand what happened in Cambodia’s past.  While I was there we went to the killing fields of Choeung Ek.  This is one of over 3oo killing fields throughout Cambodia from the time just after the Vietnam War.  A communist dictator named Pol Pot took over and forced all the people to leave the cities and work on rice fields in the country.  Any of the intellectual people were killed and anyone who went against him.  100,000’s of people were murdered in a 3 year span from 1975 to 1978 until Vietnam attacked the country and took over.  I don’t remember learning a lot about this stuff in school but it is amazing to be learning it now.  To think that it was not that long ago that all this happened.  It is hard to explain everything I saw here but it was not a good feeling  kinda of like when I was in parts of Germany and France 20 years ago taking the sites of WWI and WWII.  One thing that seemed to make everything a little easier here was hearing a bunch of kids playing in the area.  There is a school right beside the killing fields and it was nice to hear them.  In the afternoon we toured around the other sites of the city and saw the huge Royal Palace and Silver Pogoda.  In the evening I went to the Olympic Stadium and saw a ton of Khmer people exercising is many different ways.  I saw soccer, volleyball, basketball, badminton, running, aerobics and swimming.  The Khmer people seem to be very happy and have moved on from their terrible past.  They talk about how all Thai people smile and they do but the Cambodians just seem to have bigger smiles.

After 2 ½ days in the capital we flew to Bangkok because Sanna was flying back to Finland.  I have spent the last 6 days hanging out in Bangkok.  I was able to see a bunch more temples in the city as well as the Grand Palace.  The palace was an amazing place as well and the Thai people really love their King.  I would have left Bangkok earlier but I really started to get into the Olympic coverage and wanted to stay around so that I could watch how Canada did and especially in hockey.  As it turns out it was a great decision and I got to see Canada win Gold over the Americans.  We had a crowd of about 20 Canadians and a few Americans.

I am getting ready to head into the north part of Thailand and really see the culture and history of the country.    I will see a tiger temple, bridge of river Kwai (yes the one from the movie) and the hill tribes of northern Thailand.

I hope you all take care and that I get to chat with many of you soon.


PS:  There are a few upcoming birthdays to send out wished to.  My Uncle George has a birth day on March 1st, then my cousin Nicole has her day on the 7th of March and her sister Jacqueline has her birthday on the 15th of March.  I hope you all have a great day on your special day.

Me in the hills above Georgetown

Kek Loc Si Temple light up for Chinese New YearsThe group of friends from Langkawi

A picture of the beach at Ko Lipe

My group of friends from Ko Lipe

Me snorkeling at Ko Lipe


Me crossing at the Cambodian border

Sanna and I in a tuk tuk

Part of Angkor Wat

Me at Angkor Wat

Me having a chat with a buddha at Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom

Me with elephant at Mountain Temple

Ta Prohm Temple where the jungle has grown into the temple

The only pic I took at the killing fields, this is the memorial and it is filled with skulls

Royal Palace in Phnom Penh

Me and 3 young monks, I had a great conversation with them

My tuk tuk driver in Bangkok

The Grand Palace in Bangkok

Statues at the Grand PalaceThe reclining Buddha at Wat Pho in Bangkok


Jakarta, Singapore and Malaysia

February 5th, 2010

Hello all,

Well the last time I wrote I was on a train to Jakarta, this time I am sitting at my hostel waiting for my bus to the west coast of Malaysia.  I spent 5 days in Jakarta and then flew to Singapore for a 4 day stay.  Then onto Kuala Lumpur and central Malaysia. During my time I had some great experiences that I get to share with all of you.

Going into Jakarta I decided to try Couch surfing for the first.  For those of you that do not know what Couch Surfing is let me explain.  It is an online community of travelers that open up their homes for other travelers.  Most of the time there is no charge for you to stay there as long as whenever you are home that you do the same for other travelers.  I got to say that I was a little nervous in going in to other people’s homes but it turned out to be a great experience.  I arrived at the train station in Jakarta and my host (Wahyudi) was there to pick me up.  HE spoke very good English and we got along right from the start.   I got into Jakarta at 4pm and had my first experience with rush hour traffic in Jakarta.  The only other place I have been that compare to this would be Manila in the Philippines.  Even in the places that they have traffic lights they mean little.  At one intersection we got stuck in the middle of vehicles heading in all directions.  I would think that if they would just follow when the lights are red/green then it would be faster but that is not how it works here.  It took a couple of hours to get near Wahyudi house and we stopped for some dinner.  I wanted to have street food so he took me to one of his favorite places and tried something totally new.  I got to try pressure cooked chicken, you ask why pressure cook it, because by using a pressure cooked you soften the bones as well and then you et everything, bone and all.  I was not too sure at first but it was fantastic.  From there we went to Wahyudi house which he shares with his mom, brother and 2 sisters.  There were a few others around as well.  Wahyudis’ father has passed away but I could tell he was a large influence in his life.  Wahyudi told me that his father traveled a lot and he would bring assorted musical instruments home and they would learn how to play them.  He knew how to play so many instruments like guitar, several woodwinds and percussion.  He also plays in a band and I will talk about that soon.  I got my own room in the house and it was very comfortable.  We were never in a rush to get the day started while I stayed at Wahyudi but that was also to let the traffic ease up a little, even when we did the traffic was still crazy.  Wahyudi drove everywhere in Jakarta, we covered all areas and seen all the sites.  My second evening with Wahyudi he invited me to come along with him to a radio interview for his band.  I was excited to go but did not know how cool the experience would be.  As we were driving there I asked a few questions and found out that 3 other members of the band would be there and they planned to play some live songs on air.  The band plays jazz/traditional music using traditional Indonesian instruments.  When we got there and went i I was trying to figure out where all the instruments were, they had a guitar, gamelan (Indonesian xylophone) and 2 small backpacks.  Inside those backpacks were a ton of different percussion instruments.  The group played 4 songs during the hour long interview while answering questions.  The reason they were invited was to promote the upcoming Java Jazz Festival.  Each year amateur groups compete for one spot to play in the festival and his band won the competition last year.  The announcer (Bepe) was really cool and thought at first that I was the manager and when he found out more about me then he had lots of questions about my travels, of course not on air.  The music was fantastic to listen to and I was right in the studio with them.  I have pics and a video on Facebook if you would like to see it.  After the interview we headed home and were listening to the station and Bepe mentioned me on air, really cool.  My last night with Wahyudi was spent doing an interview with some of his friends that are part of an Indonesian Backpacking group.  They did an interview of me and might publish something in their next newsletter.  Wahyudi and all his friends were so nice to me and I enjoyed their company.  I spent 2 more days in Jakarta with another host (Wendy and Jason) who are from the U.S. and teaching in the area.  This again was a different experience because they are based in the richer area of Jakarta and had an incredible home.  They were so nice to me and so were there friends.  They took me out for drinks my first evening for some socializing and I met a bunch of new people.  My last day in Jakarta was spent shopping for gifts to send home to the kids and some relaxing.  That evening I got taken for a massage and then to a really nice Italian restaurant for dinner.

I flew into Singapore and the city looked huge from in the air.  After been in Indonesia for 7 weeks I am not sure I was ready for all that Singapore was.  It was big, westernized, clean and very easy to get around.  I almost felt out of place there because it was too easy and clean and all the other stuff.  One good point was I was able to find a dentist there and get my teeth cleaned.   IT took 2 days to walk around the city and see all of the sights and they were beautiful and amazing but the big city just did not seem to be an attraction to me.  I stayed in the Little India part of town which was interesting and the hostel was great.  I have a tough time talking about Singapore because it is a nice place and I do not want to say ad things about it because it would be wrong.  I figure there are tons of people that would love Singapore and I was just not one of them, but I am glad I went and seen it for myself.  I was very lucky to be in Singapore at the start of the celebrations for Chinese New Year.  I toured around Chinatown and got to see a fantastic Lion Dance and martial arts show followed by some traditional Chinese music.

From Singapore I took a bus to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  I had talked to my friend Sophie before I left and she told me which hostel (Equator) to stay at, which is run by a friend (Hady) of hers.  I showed up on the doorstep and was informed by Hady that they were fullbut she found room for me anyway.  ONE of Sophies other friend (Nilly) was there as well.  I got settled and then went for a walk around the area and found a great place for street food.  I went back to the hostel and a big group of us chatted for most of the evening.  It was like a United Nations of counties (Canada, Germany, Holland, Australia, Bulgaria, Sweden, Malaysia and China).  Lots if translations were going on and we had a great night.  KL was easy to travel around as well and I toured around most of the areas in 2 days.  I was surprised by the amount of green space that KL had and some amazing garden areas.  The KL Tower is the 4th tallest in the world and looking out from it really showed how big the city is.  I got great views and some really nice pics.  The highlight of my stay in KL was the Hindu festival called Thaipusum.  This festival was an amazing to ones faith.  WE got up at 6am to take 3 different trains to get to a place called the Batu Caves, a holy place among Hindus.  When we got there they place was already crowded with people as they have 1.5 million people show up over the 3 days.  The first thing I saw was a huge Hindu statue and beside it a big ferris wheel.   I know when you go to other festivals they always have these rides and stuff, I was just surprised to see them at a big religious event.  Hindu devotees start a trek from KL the evening before and walk all the way to the cave.  From there they walk up the 272 steps to the entrance of the cave and then more inside the enormous cave itself.  This in itself is a feat but they are doing this while carrying kavadis on their backs as well as been pierced with hooks and rods on all parts of their body.  It is hard to explain it all here but you should look up Thaipusum on the internet to get a better idea and my pics will also say a lot.  It is always interesting to see how others profess their faith to their god or gods.  It is not always for us to understand what they are doing but to accept that this is how they worship and it is okay.  I have been seeing lots of different religions lately (Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhism) and each has been interesting to see.  I am still very much Christian and Catholic but I have enjoyed trying to get an understanding of the other faiths and been open to the choices others make.  It raises a lot of interesting questions that I am not going to get into here as religion to me is a very personal matter and not to be preached to others, each person makes their own decisions and anyone else has to be strong enough to accept them.

My last night in KL was spent having a BBQ with my new friends and a few glasses of great wine.

From KL I headed into central Malaysia and the national park called Taman Negara.  I stayed in the village of Kuala Tahan on the edge of the park.  We had a 3 hour boat journey down the river to the village.  The stay at Taman Negara is filled with long treks through the jungle and rain forest in search of whatever animals you might find.  My first evening was spent on a night trek to a viewing platform where we saw some deer.  Along the way we also spotted some stick insects and scorpions.  Most of the walk was spent looking for different types of insects.  During the day I was able to spot assorted types of squirrels, one that was quite large and had a huge flat tail, birds and monkeys. The area is also known to have elephants, tigers, sun bears, snakes and large and small deer.  Most of these animals are very hard to spot and I did not come across any during my 2 days of hiking.  They also had a really cool canopy walk amongst the tree tops.  I trekked through most of the jungle on my own and enjoyed the sounds that it produced.  Sometimes it is better to be on your own instead of big groups because you end up missing these sounds.  The views from the mountain top were spectacular and I saw 2 huge birds that when they flew their wings sounded like a wobbling piece of tin.

After 3 days at Taman Negara I headed to the Cameron Highlands which is still in Central Malaysia but a lot higher up in the mountains.  The area is all about growing tea.  You can see tea plantations for miles and they go a long way up into the hills.  With been higher up the temperature is cooler as well.  I know what I am about to say will make some of you made but it is the way it is.  It is only getting to about 20-25 degrees here and at night it gets down to about 10-15.  I know that is not cold for most of you but for me and what I am now used too, it feels like it is freezing.  I have to put on my track pants and a sweater in the evening to stay warm.  My bed even has 3 blankets on it, I have laughed at what you must be thinking because I know that this is not really cold at all.  The area here is also all about trekking into the jungles and forests.  I did one on a tour with 7 others and it was very good.  We got takes into the mossy forest which I can only describe by saying think of “Lord of the Rings”.  WE had to bend down most of the time as the trails were made by the animals and the soft moss was so spongy to walk on.  At times I thought that a hobbit was going to pop out in front of us.  We also got to see a tea plantation and factory.  The area also grows lots of strawberries and had many bee farms.  All the strawberries are grown in greenhouses and so I did not go to any but I did eat some and they were fantastic, fresh strawberries are always so good.  My 2 other days in the area were spent trekking in the jungles and forests.  I did not see any big animals here but they had some nice waterfalls and again the scenery was incredible.

From here I take a bus and head to the west coast and some time on the beach.  I cannot go to the east coast at this time as it is monsoon season there.  I will head up into Thailand in the next week or so and make my way to Bangkok by the middle of the month.

That is it for now, I hope you all feel caught up on my adventures.  I am truly a lucky man to be able to see all the places I have seen and I remind myself of that every day.  I thank you for taking time out of your day to read about my adventures and hope to chat with any and all soon.  I do enjoy hearing the stories from home and how everyone is doing there.  Do not mistake this as home sickness because that is not how I feel but I just enjoy hearing your stories as well.  Anytime you would like to email me with one I would truly appreciate it.  I just wish everyone would be able to see the world as I have and the feelings for themselves.

Take care all,


PS: I heard that Rods birthday was a great event, hope you all had fun.  I huge birthday wish goes out to my lovely aunt Lavina (Feb. 7th), thanks for all the great comments back on my blog.

Wahyudi and his band during radio interview

Bicycles for hire in Jakarta, I love the helmuts

Touring Little Indonesia Park in Jakarta

Main street in chinatown in Singapore dressed up for Chinese New Year

Lion Dance performance at start of Chinese New Year celebrations

The Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, taken from the KL Tower

The crowd walking up the 272 steps to the Batu Cave at Thaipusum Festival

One man carry his kavadis which is scewered into his skin

ANother man and his journey up to the top of the Batu caves

Me on the boat ride to Taman Negara

Stick insect from night walk in jungle of Taman Negara

At the top of Teresek Hill at Taman Negara

Canopy walk at Taman Negara

Me in the middle of the tea fields of Cameron Highlands

me at the top of Gunnung Brinchang, highest point in Cameron Highlands

Me in the mossy forest

Me at the Robinson Waterfall in Cameron Highlands


Traveling Indonesia

January 18th, 2010

Hello all,

As I am writing this blog I am on a 9 hour train ride from Yogyakarta (pronounced Cho-cha-karta) to Jakarta.  It is a great time to catch up on my blog and let you know what has been going on for the last 16 days.  As I am on the train it has made me think more about the travel then necessarily about each individual place.  I think I might write this blog a little differently than some of the others and give you hopefully something more entertaining to read.  Just typing that I have gone from this place to that place I am sure can get pretty boring sometimes.  Here is a quick overview of where I have been and then I will get into some stories about the travel.

Jan 2 – traveled on overnight bus from Ubud , Bali to Surabaya, Java

Jan 3 – Check out Surabaya city of 2.4 million people

Jan 4 – Continue to see the sights in Surabaya

Jan 5 – More in Surabaya in the morning then take a 5 hour train ride to Semarang in the afternoon

Jan 6 – Take a 23 hour boat ride from Semarang to Kumai, Kalimantan

Jan 7 – Arrive in Kumai and travel short distance to Pangalan Bun for the day

Jan 8 to 11 – A 3 day boat tour of Tanjung Puting National Park in search of wild Orangutans and other primates.

Jan 12 – another boat ride back to Semarang except this one took 26 hours because of high seas and rough weather.

Jan 13 – Arrive in Semarang late and stay overnight

Jan 14 – Take bus from Semarang to Yogyakarta

Jan 15 – Tour the Buddhist temples of Borobudur and Prambanan just outside of Yogyakarta

Jan 16 – Tour the Kranton (Sultans Palace) and a few museums in Yogyakarta

Jan 17 – Tour more sights in Yogyakarta and chill for the afternoon

Jan 18 – 9 hour train ride from Yogyakarta to Jakarta

Okay that is the places I have been, now here are some stories of the adventures I have had in Indonesia.

Let’s start with getting around Indonesia because this is a huge business in Indonesia and employees a lot of people.  I have been on many forms of transport so far and some where great and others just horrible.  When you are in the cities you have several choices and depending on how far you are going will determine what you use.  For longer distances you can use taxi (which are mostly well priced) or local bus (which is extremely cheap.  The bus is a little more difficult if you do not know where you are going and when to get off.   The biggest obstacle is me not knowing enough Indonesian to communicate properly with the drivers.  When I was leaving Surabaya I needed a taxi to the train station.  I told the driver “Pasar Turi train station”, and he ended up taking me to a shopping mall.  I knew that we were in the wrong place and when I finally got smart enough to look the words up In Indonesian and told in “Pasar Turi kereta api”, then he knew exactly where I needed to go.  I was a little frustrated with him at first but how rude of me when I am in their country and cannot use their language.  I had to giggle at myself and when my frown turned to a smile I could tell that he felt a lot better as well.  When you are going short distances then you can go by becak (bicycle with a seat off the front of it) or Odjek (motorbike) and lastly walking, which I have done tons of.  Yesterday I took a ride on a becak and not because I was been lazy but just wanted to try it out.  I had a really cool driver who spoke a little English and he toured me around a bit.  I had to pay him only 3000 Rupiah which works out to be about 50 cents cdn.  As you walk down the street there are literally 100’s of becak drivers and lots of others looking to give you a ride on their odjek.  When you are traveling between cities you end up using bigger busses, trains, and several types of boats.  My bus overnight bus ride from Ubud to Surabaya was completely horrible.  I ended up at the back of the bus where they fit 3 seats into the space for 2 and no reclining back which made it hard to sleep.  There were 2 other guys in the seats beside me and if we all leaned back at the same time we would not fit.  They were very nice and we had to laugh at the situation because what else could we do.  Just before we left they put on a mother with her 2 kids and they had to sit on a wooden plank on top of milk crates, so I guess I shouldn’t complain too much.  My bus ride from Semarang to Yogyakarta was much better but it was more of a large van than a bus and I had the front seat.  The trains I have used have been great.  They are very comfortable and give you a great look at the scenery that you could never get from an airplane.  Have you noticed that I have not taken an airplane since I have got to South East Asia, not sure why because they do have really cheap flights but I think I am seeing a lot more by using other methods of transport and it makes for better stories.  When I have crossed on the seas I have used mostly Pelni boats which is the name of the company and they have lots of different boats.  Most of them hold up to 1000 – 2000 people plus vehicles on the bottom but most of those a huge transport trucks delivery supplies to the islands.  My boat ride to Kalimantan was great, I booked a 2nd class ticket and I had a room with 4 beds and a bathroom.  There were 3 Indonesians in the other beds and they spoke no English so we did not talk much.  I met an Indo girl on the boat that did speak English and we chatted quite a bit through the long ride.  It was very easy to sleep on this boat and the seas were not high so I got a great rest overnight and refreshed when I got to Kalimantan.  My boat ride back to Semarang was not the same experience.  Again I booked a 2nd class ticket but this time there were no rooms on this Pelni boat.  2nd class was a cabin of 45 reclining chairs that looked like they were from the 50’s.  My seat would recline back to about a 45 degree angle and it was like I was trying to sleep upright.  I had it better than a lot of people but still did not get much sleep.  This boat was supposed to be that fastest in the fleet and take about 16-18 hours.  As it turned out the wind was strong and the seas were high and choppy.  A ton of people spent the time throwing up and one poor lady threw up every half hour for the entire trip, I felt so sorry for her.  If I was to book an economy ticket than you get a piece of the floor somewhere on the deck or lower level.  You can rent a mat to sleep on as well but spent the extra dollars to get a 2nd class ticket.  1st class in not very different from 2nd class except you may only have 2 in a room.  How Indonesia has set up their transport system in very interesting and the key to employing a lot of people.  Most of the airports, train terminals and bus terminals are located between 3 -5 kms away from the city.  So when you get to a destination you need to take another form of local transport to get to your accommodation or the city center.  When you arrive you are hoarded with eager drivers that want to take you where ever you want to go.  You need to barter on the price as they are trying to make as much as they can as you may be their only ride for the whole day because there are so many of them.  The only places I have found so far that had terminals in the city centers were the train station in Yogyakarta and Jakarta and that is part of the reason I went by train.  It must be a very tough living for all these local drivers.  At all the terminals you will also find a bunch of porters that will carry your bags for a few dollars.  Again when you arrive they come running looking to find someone that needs help carrying their bags.  A lot of the porters are older men and I am amazed at how much they will carry.  They will tie 2 or 3 suitcases together and throw them over their shoulder and then carry a box on the other shoulder and still fill their hands.  My backpack has started to get a little heavier but compared to what these guys are doing I have it easy.  When you consider all the people that are working in the transport industry it is amazing to think any of them are making much money.  We are pretty lucky when you look at the jobs most of us have and how we lead our lives.

I spent a few days in the city Surabaya and had some interesting events happen.  I took a tour of the city of a free bus which took us to the major sites around the city.  Along the way a huge wall was painted with bright colors of all the different sites of the city, it was very nice and surprising when we found out that it was the outside of the prison in the middle of the city.  The guide told use that it would be a much different scene inside as it was a maximum security prison and only the worst offenders were in there.  I thought it was interesting to have that kind of prison in the middle of a rural area.  We also toured around a war memorial that was very impressive.  It has surprised me that through all of Indonesia there hav been very little on WWII.  Indo was mostly Japanese during that time but you find very little that speaks about that time and what happened with the Indonesian people. The tour began and ended at a place called House of Sampoerna.  This was the factory and home of one of the big cigarette makers in Indo.  They have a lot of information on the family history and the cigarette business.  There is still a small factory on site and you can watch 3000 ladies making cigarettes.  They each have a small station to work at and to stay employed they must roll 325 cigarettes per hour.  You can watch them from an upper level and it really looks like you are watching a movie that is going a double speed.  There little hands are moving so fast it was incredible to watch.  You are not allowed to take pictures of the ladies and I was told that it was because some ladies did not want to be in pics but I think if some human rights people saw this plant and how cramped it was they might have a few issues.  There was a big mall just down from the hotel I was staying at and I went to check it out.  As you are walking down the street and see all the people trying to sell their goods and food it was crazy to all of a sudden see a big mall show up like you were in Canada.  When you go inside it is hard to tell that you are in Indo any more as all the stores have western names like Gap, Gucci and even a Wrangler store.  As I was walking through the mall I walked by a jewelry store and a girl yelled out “hey mister, I love you”, I just turned around and smiled.  All the other girls working in the store started to giggle, I calmly walked back to the store and kissed the girl on the forehead and walked away.  They all stood there in amazement without a sound, but now I think we might be married. Okay now that you have read that and are sitting there laughing, to tell you the truth I actually just walked away and never kissed the girl but thought I should and see their reaction but I did not have the guts to do it, maybe next time!!!   As I was walking back to the hotel I walked through a traditional market and saw one of the funniest things I have ever seen.  A becak driver was getting ready to set off and on the front of his bike was an older lady on one side of the seat and on the other side was a big cabinet.  Then on her lap was a tv and somehow there was also a few bags of fruit and vegetables.  Now here is the funny part, to keep everything in place it was all tied down with a rope including the lady.  She, the cabinet and tv were not going anywhere.  I watched as they left and thought that I hope they did not have to go very far.

One of my favorite places since I started traveling was the trip to Tanjung Putting National Park and seeing Orangutans.  When I got to Kumai I was met by my organizer (Harry) and my guide (Erwin) and they took me to my hotel for a day to relax before heading out.  Harry picked me up early the next morning and we were on the boat to the park by 9am. The boat was smaller than what I took when touring around Komodo but since I was the only one on it, there was lots of room.  During busy times they would take 4 people on the type of boat I was on.  I had a crew of 4 all to myself.  My guide (Erwin) was a very interesting character.  He is a non practicing Muslim that spoke very good English and we were able to have interesting chats about the world, Indo and religion as well as the park and the animal within it.  He has worked at the park for 11 years (7 as a park ranger, 2 as manager of hotel and 2 as a guide) and without him trip would not have been the same.  We had plenty of laughs and he was so good a spotting all kinds of animals.  The other 3 crew did not speak English but I got lots of smiles from them and they were always joking around.  The captain was Ade, who kept us afloat the whole time and helped out with other little tasks. The boat boy (Kadir) kept the boat amazingly clean and made sure I always had tea or snacks along the way.  When the rain would come he would have the tarps up so quickly and then taken down just a fast when it stopped then he would towel dry the entire deck so my feet stayed dry.  One of the best parts of the trip was the food I the chef (Ary) surprised me with every meal.  I call him a chef and not a cook because what he prepared could have been served in any 4 star restaurants but he was making it on a small boat with a tiny kitchen.  For one meal I had mini lobsters or what some might call gigantic shrimp along with chicken in an amazing sauce that I still have no idea what it was and lots of good vegetables.  He made sure I had tea all day long and at snack time instead of getting a couple of cookies he would send out 24 assorted cookies and fresh fruit.  This was some of the best eating I did in all of Indonesia.  The route to Tanjung Puting is a bunch of different rivers systems.  The main river out of Kumai is a dirty brown color and has some garbage on it and all the big ships as well.  We turned off that river and went down an equally brown looking river for about 2 hours until we got to the turn at the park.  Here there was a dramatic change in the color as the river went to a crystal clear black color.  I know it sounds different but the water gets its color from the tantuns in the trees and the reflections of the trees and clouds were amazing.  This is the water that we would use to shower and clean with and I had no problem with that.  There are also crocodiles along the river but we did not see any on the trip.  I sat at the very front of the boat with Erwin and started spotting Proboscis monkeys right away.  They fly around like crazy little kids swinging and leaping between trees with no worries.   In the afternoon we made it to Camp Leaky where I saw my first Orangutan on the walkway into the camp.   I will talk about the Orangutans in the next part because they deserve their own little story.  At the camp we went for a short trek and then made our way to a feeding area.  After the feeding we walked back to the boat and found a place along the river to stay the night.  The next morning we went back to Camp Leaky and did a 3 hour trek through the jungle.  Along the way we saw Gibbons, Proboscis monkeys, a very rare Maroon Launger, Silver Laungers and wild pigs, lots of wild pigs.  I then spent about an hour in the information center and watched a film about the area and the Orangutans.  We went back to the boat for lunch and then back to the feeding area.  After, it was back to the boat and to Camp 2 where we stayed the night.   Erwin took me on a night trek for about 1 hour to try and see snakes and spiders but we did not see anything along the way.  The next morning we saw another feeding and then went to a traditional village across from the park for a tour.  The village is pretty small and lives off of rice fields and palm oil plantations.  Our last stop was to camp one a one last feeding before heading back to Kumai.

The food might have been amazing on the trip but the highlight ad the reason I went was to see Orangutans.  These animals are absolutely incredible.  Their genes are 95% the same as humans and how the act is so similar to us I was amazed.  The facial expressions and how use their arms and legs you can see why some may call them human.  They are bigger than what I expected and the average arm span if I would compare to me I would make it to their wrists and then their hands and fingers are twice my size.  Camp Leaky was started back in 1975 by a Canadian woman that wanted to help orphan Orangutans get back into the wild.  Many of the mother Orangutans were been killed by humans and since a baby requires complete contact with the mother until about 6 or 7 they would stand no chance alone in the wild.  When they first started, they took in the babies and tried to be their mothers and show them all the things they would need to learn about the wild.  The Orangutans got adapted to humans and in the long run they found out they were doing more harm than good.  It is not like they meant to do that but over time they found out that some were taking human disease in the wild and spreading it throughout the wilt population.  This ended up killing many Orangutans and forced the changes that you see today.  There has not been human contact in the area now for many years and what I saw I would consider being wild Orangutans.  Some are still very happy around humans but they are the older ones that still grew up while there was lots of human contact.  On our way out to the feeding we were lucky enough to come across Tom.  Tom is the dominate male in the area of King.  He had to fight the previous dominate male to get the area and now Tom has to defend it against any males that might want part of his territory.  Tom controls about a 2 square km area and roams around it all having sex with his females and defending the area from other males.  Tom was a huge animal and was nice enough to stay around so that I could get a few pics of him.  Erwin said that lots of times you can go 10-12 days without seeing and that we were very lucky.  The feedings were not at all what I expected.  I thought more of a zoo mentality and feeding them by had but that did not happen.  At a feeding they would put some (and I mean not very many) bananas on a platform and then just observe which ever ones would show up.  There are 5000 Orangutans in the area and on the first day 10 showed up but not all took bananas.  Some I think just show up for the social atmosphere of the other Orangutans as most pay no attention to the humans that are watching them.  One of the strangest ones to see was a mother that was crossed eyed.  I had to ask if they ever saw her run into a tree while swinging and was told that it had not happened.  The 2nd feeding I went to was the best and very entertaining.  At first there were lots of visitors but most of them left within half an hour and soon I was the only person there besides Erwin.  We ended up having 15 Orangutans show up and what was neat was all 15 were different than the 10 that we saw on the first day.  One Female that showed called Princess got some bananas and then came and sat right beside me to eat them.  It was so cool how we looked at each other and were checking each other out.  Princess had a 1 year old holding on to her and she would feed it as well.  She also had a 5 year old with her that roamed around on its own but stayed pretty close to Princess.  Another female showed up with a 6 year old and the two kids started to play fight with each other.  It was so funny watching these tow play fight and it reminded me of fighting with my brothers as I grew up.  They were having so much fun tossing each other around and swatting each other.  The only difference between them and fighting with my brothers is that Orangutans bite and we would never do that, well maybe Rodney!!!  I have a video of it and when I get a better internet connection I will try to add it, I would suggest you take a look because it is so funny.  I was kinda expecting a bunch of Orangutans to show up to be feed but they do not.  There is plenty of fruit in the forest for them to survive and they really have no need for getting easy food.  At this point they just do the feeding for the tourists and the tourist industry.  When we went to Station 2 for the feeding on day 3 only 6 Orangutans showed up and they left most of the bananas behind.  Our last stop at station 1 we had no Orangutans show up at all.  I was actually happy to see that as it really does show that these animals can do just fine without us messing with them.  When I watched the video on them it was neat to see how they act in the wild and what they learn.  As the young are attached to their mothers they learn exactly what tree ripens and what time of year it has ripe fruit.  As they go out on their own they will know exactly where to go to get food at any time of year.  The biggest predator they have is humans and our destruction of their habitat.  The area in and around the national park has been logged and now that is the biggest threat to them.  They have been able to stop most of the illegal logging in the park but what is left is a lot of bare land.  Since the soil is mostly sand it is very hard to replant new forests because it will take 100’s of years for them to come back.  It is sad to see but things seem to be getting better and that is good because these animals deserve better.  The whole experience was amazing and I am so glad that I took the time to get to this remote part of Indonesia to see it.

When I got back to Kumai I was sitting in an internet café getting updated on all my emails and stuff and a guy started to chat with me.  He was teaching an English class later in the day and asked if I would be interested in attending to help the students.  As you know, I am not much of a teacher in that was but thought what the heck.  He picked me up at 2:30 and took me to his class.  The students were about 12-14 years old and very surprised when I showed up.  I was introduced to them and then they all introduced themselves to me.    It was only a class of 8 kids and that was good.   I did not have to teach any ABC’s or stuff like that, all the teacher wanted was for them to have a conversation in English to help them learn new words and how we communicate.  They asked lots of different questions and I got to find out lots about them as well.  We talked for about 1 hour and then they all wanted a picture.  I got a group pic with all the kids and then was on my way.  I am so glad that I did this as well as it is not something I would normally do and it was quite rewarding.

My time in Yogyakarta has been really fun.  I have found a lot more tourists in this area and I have been able to chat with lots of different people.  I toured some Buddhist Temples in the area and I am just starting to figure out some of the Buddhist culture.  I will learn a lot more as I head to other places in South East Asia.  While I was touring the Sultans house I was able to see a group of traditional musicians play.  It was very different music and nice to listen to.  I also went to the bird market where I saw a lady carry a tray of little birds that we colored every color you can think of.  She would not allow me to take a pic but it totally reminded me of Easter and all the colored eggs except these were live birds. While tour around the city I ran right into the middle of Yogyakartas version of the Calgary Stampede.  They had a bunch of rides and vendors selling all kinds of stuff and even some stages that had traditional music and dance.  The only thing i did not find was a rodeo and chuckwagons.

I could probably write more stuff but this is getting very long again and will be too much for one blog.  Thanks to all of you for reading and taking in my adventures.

Take care all,


PS: A couple of birthday wishes to go out this time.  One to my cousin Brenda, I am loving our skype chat that we have.  2nd one goes out to my brother Rodney who is turning 40 on Jan. 23rd.  He is having a big party in red Deer to celebrate and I hope all of you can attend and celebrate with him.  Have a drink for me, I wish I could be there.

The outside painted wall of the jail in Surabaya

THe shopping mall in SurabayaWar memorial in Surabaya

Interesting grafitti at the war memorial, or was it grafitti???

The black river in Tanjung Puting Natioanal Park

Tom, the dominate male at Tanjung Puting

Me and a female OrangutanThis Orangutan is about 5-6 years oldPrincess, one of my favorite pics

Me on the boat heading to station 2, look at the difference in the waterJust hanging aroundOne of my meals on the boat, yes all that food was for me and no I did not eat it all

The kids from the english class in KumaiMe at a Buddhist Temple

A Budha statue

Musicians playing at the Sultans House

Me riding the becak in Yogyakarta

A Buddhist Temple In PrambananYogyakarta’s version of the Calgary Stampede


A new year has begun – 2010

January 1st, 2010

Hello all,

When I wrote last I was in Mataram, Lombok, Indonesia.  10 days have passed and now it is time to update you on my adventures.  I left Mataram and took a bus to a town called Sengigi where I booked into a hotel and met 3 people from Edmonton.  I decided to go for a walk and see if I could get something booked for the next few days.  I went to many different travel shops but ended up going back to the first guy I had talked to because he was very nice.  By the time I was finished I had the next 7 days booked and had spent plenty of money.  The guy was so nice that he also took my shoe that had started coming apart and was going to get it fixed while I was out at the Gili Islands and have it ready for my trek.  The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent relaxing and I did go on the internet for a while.

The next morning I was picked up at 8:30 and bussed to Bangsal harbor for a boat ride to Gili Trawangan.  They put a lot of people on the boat and most of them were tourists.  I meet a couple of guys from Ireland and Scotland while on the boat.  It took about 40mintutes to get to the island and once I hopped off I had a bunch of locals asking if I needed accommodation.  I was told before going that it might be hard to find a place to stay because of the holiday season but that turned out to be very untrue.  I ended up getting a very nice place I little away from the beach for only 100,000 which was a good price for this island.  After getting settled in I decided to go for a walk and see what the island was all about.  It is known for its diving and snorkeling and it is also a bit of a party island.  There were tons of restaurants and dive shops with so many choices of activities. On the way I saw the People I had met earlier with a few more that had made it earlier and I chatted with them for a bit.  We decided to try and book a snorkeling trip together so that we could get a better price.  We found a really cool place that rents out a big pirate ship with everything you need for the day and the crew.  It was more expensive than the rest but it also looked to be the most fun.  We booked the tour for 2 days later and then chilled out for the afternoon.  The beach is great and clean in most spots and that is where I hung out.  In the evening I had a nice supper and then met the group for a couple of drinks at one of the bars.  They have what they call Jamaican Rum but it is made locally in Indonesia and does not taste anything like Jamaican rum.  It is actually quite bad but the vodka (again local) was ok.  We ended up leaving the bar to go to a bigger bar with more people and dancing.  It was an ok place but I was getting really tired and left at about 1 in the morning.  The next day was all about chilling out.  I had slept in till very late and spent the day on the beach and napping.  I really did nothing all day.  The place I am staying is on local power which does not run all the time so the room gets really hot with no fan on.  It seems that each area gets some power at certain times of the day and then later on in the evening everyone gets it.  The island is all about the tourists and they are so many of them which is different than what I saw in the eastern parts of Indonesia.  My final day on Gili Trawangan was spent on a pirate ship sailing around all the Gili islands and snorkeling.  We had a crew of 7 people to take of us for the day and they did a fabulous job.  Our first stop was just off Gili T and the snorkel was average.  The fish were great but the coral was very damaged and most of it looked dead.  Our guide in the water did a good job of explaining lots of fish and other stuff in the water.  Near the end we saw a turtle and followed it for a bit.  Back on the boat and morning tea was served with some fresh fruit and we had the music blaring out some great tunes.  Our next stop was at Gili Meno and the snorkel here was about the same as the first one.  We spent a little more time in the water here but the coral was still really damaged.  Once we got back on the boat we were served a great lunch while making it to our last snorkel spot.  After some rest and good conversation we got back in the water at Gili Air and this is what I came to see.  The coral here was very much alive and looking awesome.  A lot more fish, turtles, sea snakes, clams and on and on.  We stayed in the water a long time here and even swam to Gili Air and sat on the beach for a bit.  Our snorkel guide was great at showing all there was to see and made for a great day.  It took about 1 hr to get back to Gili T and by the time we got there everyone was really exhausted.  We decided to meet up later for some dinner and a few drinks.  I went back to my room and had a much needed nap.  We met up at around 8pm for dinner but no one was really in the mood for drinks.  After dinner I headed back to the room and chilled out before falling asleep.

I was up early the next morning as my boat left Gili T at 7am.  When I got back to Bengsal harbor I was met by my organizer who had my hiking shoe with him and all sewn together.  He got me transportation to a town called Senaru which is the start to the trek up Gurung Rinjani (the 2nd highest peak in Indonesia).  I was dropped off at the trekking center and the stored my big backpack there and I only took my daypack with whatever I thought I would need.  3 other trekkers had started out earlier in the day and I would meet up with them along the trail.  I started my trek at 10am and it was supposed to take about 7 hours to get to the crater rim where we would spend the night.  The climb was very steep for most of it and a lot of hard work but the guide took a nice pace.  There are 7 stops along the way and we ended up catching up to the others at the 4th one where they were waiting for lunch.    I met Christie from the UK and Ann and Arnu from Spain.  While we were eating a rain storm hit and it was coming down in buckets.  We ended up waiting there for about 2 hours for the rain to stop but it finally did and we were able to start trekking again. I was surprised that with so much rain that the track was not all that wet or slippery.  The guide said that the rain was really late this season so the ground is really dry and soaked it up easily.  He also said that they will only do treks for about another 2 weeks and then stop until May because the track will get really dangerous once more rain comes.  We ended up getting to the crater rim just after 6pm and the sun was setting.  We set up the tents and the porters started to make dinner.  You could tell that a lot of people had been at the top because there was lots of garbage all over the place.  The view to the crater lake below was awesome and once it got dark you could see the lava from the volcano exploding inside.  It has not erupted since the 60’s and from where we were it all looked pretty safe.  There were lots of wild dogs in the area as well and one of them took my shoe I left in front of the tent.  It took about 10 minutes of looking before we found it a little ways away.  We got our dinner and ate in the dark but for where we were it was really good and they fed us so much.  It was actually Christmas eve that evening and we sat around the fire for a while chatting about the special place we were at.  After a long day I was very tired and we all went to bed at around 9pm.  The very thin mat that we had to sleep on was not comfortable and I was up for a lot of the night.  I would fall asleep for a while then wake up from some pain.  Even though it was not the best sleep it was amazing to watch the sun rise on Christmas morning at the top of the mountain/volcano.  We had breakfast and packed up camp and got ready to go.  The other 3 were doing a 3 day trek and I was only doing 2 days, so we said our goodbyes and they headed off in a different direction with the guide and 1 porter.  Myself and the other porter made our way down the mountain fairly quickly and were at the bottom by noon.   By the time I got down my legs we very sore and my one knee was aching.  Going downhill is quick but it can hurt a lot more that going up.  I waited about 1 hour for my transport back to Mataram and after about a 2hour ride I was in Mataram for the rest of Christmas day.  I stayed again at Oka homestay but Mariom was not around.  I walked to the mall and most of the shops were open as this is a Muslim community so they do not celebrate Christmas.  I checked my email and caught up on Facebook for about 1 hour and then had some dinner.  No turkey, stuffing of potatoes to be found here so I had Nasi Goering (Fried Rice) instead.  These are the times when you really miss family and friends but I really love what I am doing and it is just one of the things I have to deal with.  I got back to the homestay and realized how exhausted I was.  I was in bed early and thought I would read for a bit but I think I may have read 2 pages before the eyes would not focus and I just fell asleep.

I was up early and off to the internet for a skype call with my family.  It was great to see everyone at home except Rod who had to work up in Fort Mac.  We chatted for about 1 ½ hours and then they had to go because their dinner was ready.  All the kids were asked to look up some information on Indonesia and come up with an idea of what they would want for a Christmas present from here.  After my chat I called my uncles and aunts as well as my godchild Nadean.  I missed her 18th birthday on the 23rd so I really wanted to chat with her.  Chris and Tara were also online and I chatted with them and the kids for a bit too.  It felt so good to talk with so many people at home, it made my Christmas!!!  I had to get back to the homestay for my pick at 11am.  I was heading for Bali and needed to make the boat by noon.  It is a good thing that everything runs a little late here cause my ride was late and we did not get to the boat until 5 after 12.  The boat was still there and ended up not leaving until about 12:30.  It took about 5 hours to cross to Bali and I met a few people while on the boat.  Bali is a pretty big island with many towns and cities to stay in.  I had talked with some others before and decided to stay in Ubud in central Bali.  It is touristy but not as bad as Kuta and the other towns to the south.  It is also more central to take day trips from.  I walked up the main road looking for somewhere to stay and ended up at a really nice homestay for only 60,000.  The room included a western toilet, shower, hot water and a really good breakfast.  I have been in Ubud for the past 5 days and hope to leave tomorrow and continue on my adventure.  While I was trekking at Gurung Rinjani my camera stopped working so I did not get any pics but the others I was with said they would send me some.  My camera that I got back from Mom and Dad is also not working and has the same problem as it did before.  I guess I will have to send it back to Canada for a 2nd time to get fixed.  This all leads to my first day in Ubud.  I went walking looking for a camera and some much needed new clothes.  Even though this is a tourist area I was having a very hard time finding a camera and the clothes were very expensive here.  I went back to the home stay a little disappointed but the lady running the place offered me a ride to Denpasar where everything is cheaper.  It was an interesting drive in and everything looked a lot different than everything else I have seen in Indonesia.  Bali is almost all Hindu culture and there are temples everywhere.  Lots of colorful shops with paintings and stone carvings are along the roadside.  Once we got into Denpasar you could tell we were in the big city.  Our first stop was at a camera store and I was able to get a new camera for a good price as well as some sd cards to send some pics home.  From there we went to a big outlet mall and I was able to get some new short pants and a few t-shirts.  We headed back to Ubud with me taking pictures the whole way and testing out my new camera.  We got back at 5:30 and Ketut (my home stay host) had booked me to see a show that started at 7:30.  I got cleaned up and started walking to the show stopping for a quick dinner along the way.  The show was a Fire and Trance show and the story was based on a Hindu love story.  The costumes were amazing and the singing great.  At the end of the show the lit up a bunch of coconut husks and a man walked over them with his bare feet.  After you could get pictures with the group and the guy that did the fire walking and his feet were all black. After the show I walked back and got on the internet for a little bit and then to bed.

Ketut had me booked on a Temple tour the next morning and I got picked up at 9:15.  There were 3 others on the tour 2 from France that spoke very little English and 1 from Columbia that spoke French and English.  It was a fun group and saw a lot of temples.  Now if you do not know what a Hindu temple is then let me explain as best I can.  It is not like a church and you do not enter a temple.  Most homes will have a temple in them and then there are much bigger public temples.  It is a place for prayer and reflection.  Most are set in garden areas and are very beautiful.  The design and sculptures on and in them are amazing works of art.  We started off at the Elephant temple but I could not find any elephants there, which was a bit strange.  Lots of stone carvings though and about 30 different temples though out the area.  Next was the Mount temple and similar to the first.  The next 2 temples were nicer than the first 2 (Rocky temple and Holy Spring temple) with nicer garden areas and more design to the big temples.  After that we changed the pace a bit and went to a coffee and spice plantation.  This was really cool to see especially since I spent so many years in the spice business.  They had 5 spices laid out for us to see if we knew what they were and I went 5 for 5 but they were pretty easy ones (cloves, pepper, vanilla, cinnamon and turmeric).  We got to taste fresh coffee and some teas and they also have a lot of fruit that is growing there.  I could have stayed there for longer but we had to go on.  Our next stop was at Mount/Lake Batur where we had lunch.  The clouds had started to roll in by that time and we did not have a very good view but got to see a little bit.  Lunch was a buffet style and since it was 2pm we were all very hungry. As we ate the rain started and it stayed around for most of our drive back to Ubud.  One last stop on the way back was at a large rice terrace which was amazing to see.  On the way back we started discussing doing another tour together the next day and by the time we got back we had it all planned out and hired the same driver to take us.  Once we got back I chilled out for a bit then went for dinner and put my pics on the computer.

We were heading to the north part of Bali today so we had an early start.   I got picked up at 8am and then we had to get the others (Herve, Fredo and Sandra).  Our first stop today was at Lake Bratan and the Ulun Danu Temple.  This was better than all the temples we saw the day before.  With it set in a botanical garden and along the lake, the area was so peaceful and inviting.  Lots of people were around but you could not really tell because it was so big.  We spent an hour here but could have spent all day.  Our next stop was at the twin lakes (Tambungan & Buyan) and the surrounding mountains.  It was a quick stop and then we were off to Munduk.  Here we hiked a 1km trail that lead to a waterfall.  Sandra and I were the only 2 to go into the waterfall and damn was it cold.  The force of the wind at the bottom made it very difficult to even stand but we were able to get some pics from Fredo.  From Munduk we went to Banjar and the hot springs.  It reminded me a bit of Radium but looked very different.  It was a public pool and had lots of locals and tourist in it.  It was nice to stand below the flowing water and have it massage my shoulders.  After about ½ hour in the pool we dried off and made our way to Lovina Beach for lunch.  This was one of the places I really wanted to go because my Aunt Lovina back In Bow Island.  I thought if there was a place named after her I just had to go.  I would like to say it was the nicest beach I have ever seen but that is not the case.  It was more like a fishing community and the beach was loaded with fishing boats.  We had lunch at a restaurant along the beach then I took a short walk along the black sand.  I was able to get a picture of a sign for my aunt and I know she will like that.  It started to rain again (always in the mid afternoon) so we started to make our way back to Ubud.  We got back at around 6pm and had a great day.   I stuck to what seems to be my evening routine of dinner and an hour of internet and then bed.

The next morning I was feeling a bit lazy so I stayed in bed till lat.  I finally got my but in gear and I went walking to the Monkey Forest.  It was a few kms from the home stay and took about an hour to get there.  It was a really cool place with monkeys everywhere.  The monkeys are not afraid of people and come right up to you.  I had one jump on my back and try to get into my daypack.  You can feed them if you want but I chose not to.  The forest itself is nice to walk around with huge trees everywhere and some stone carvings as well.  I stopped part way thru and had some lunch until the afternoon rain hit.  I scrambled away from where I was and to a shelter along the way.  I was the only one in the shelter for a bout ½ hour and then some monkeys came and joined me.  Soon there were at least 20 monkeys hanging around and one even tried to pee on me.  I got tired of waiting for the rain to stop so I started walking back to the home stay.  It did not take long before I was totally soaked but it was fun to walk in the rain.  I got asked a bunch if I wanted a taxi but since I was already wet it just did not make much sense.  When I got back I dried off and the Ketut set up a massage for me.  It cost 50,000 for a 1 hour relaxation massage and it was nice to work out some of the kinks that had formed.  After that Ketut had set up for me to get a haircut from her neighbor and that cost 20,000.  One thing I do have to say is how nice the Hindu people are.  I have asked plenty of questions and they are always willing to answer them truthfully.  It is so much different than when I was in the eastern part of Indonesia.  I am not saying that they were not nice but it is just different here. The Balinese are always willing to help you with any problem or question.  I stuck with my evening routine again of dinner, internet and sleep.

The next morning (New Years Eve & Nicholas’ birthday) was relaxed again.  I went for a walk through the local market and there were tons of gifts for cheap but I refrained and just walked around.  They are always trying to sell you stuff and saying “cheap, cheap”  but I just smile and say “tidak” (mean no).  The afternoon rains came early so I decided to do some early internet time and chat with some people back home.  I got to talk to Roy and Boyd on skype and a few others on Facebook.  I sent off a few emails and got a few from Kirsten and Emerson now that they have their own email addresses.  I headed back to the home stay after about 2 hours online and chilled out for a while.  In the evening I decided to treat myself to a nice dinner at one of the nicer restaurants near my home stay.  I had a nice carafe of Aussie red wine and great steak.  I finished it off with an awesome chocolate cake that went great with the red wine.  From there I was told by Ketut of the place to be for New Years Eve and made my way there.  The open air bar was right beside where the street party was going on.  It was supposed to cost 50,000 to get in but for some reason they did not charge me.  I got a beer (yes a beer as there was no other choice) and sat at a table.  I was joined by some locals for a little while and then by a Dutch couple.  We had a nice conversation and brought in the New Year together.  They had fireworks on the street and we had the perfect view of it.  I had a nice evening and ended back at the home stay at about 1:30.

I slept in on New Years Day and did not accomplish much but getting this blog written.  I did talk to Mom and Dad in the afternoon which was nice although I think I could have timed it better as Team Canada was near the end of their game with the US and dad had to miss that.

Tomorrow I will look at moving on from Bali as I want to get to Kalimantan.  It is one of only a few places left where Orangu-tans are in the wild.  I want to do a jungle tour there and so I will make plans to head that way via Java.

I hope you all had a fantastic Christmas and a great New Years.

Cheers to everyone,


Me on the pirate ship

Hammock on the pirate ship

Me going for a swim

Fire show in Ubud

Mount Temple

Rocky Temple

Holy Spring Temple

Roasting coffee at the plantation

Me at a rice terrace

Rice fields and Mt Batur in background

Nice houses above rice fields

Me at the Ulun Danu Temple

Gardens at Ulun Danu Temple

Munduk Waterfall

Me in Munduk waterfall

Sign at Lovina Beach

Monkey with her babyA very tired monkey

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Indonesia – The first 2 weeks

December 19th, 2009

Hello all, it has been over 2 weeks since I wrote in the blog last and I really need to do it more often.  It is hard to go back so far and remember everything that has happened.  Good thing I have my journal to remind me.
I was very excited to get to Indonesia.  I really had no idea what to expect and so everything is going to be new and with tons of adventure.  The bus ride from Dili to Kupang takes 10 hours with plenty of stops along the way for food and bathroom breaks.  Most of the trip was pretty quiet and I sat in my seat and read for most of the time.  Crossing the border was an interesting process.  We got to Motoain on the Timor Leste side and we had to grab all our stuff and walk across the border. Once we got to the other side there was a hoard of people that swarmed me trying to get me to exchange money with them.  It was so crazy and I just told them all Tidak (No in Indonesian) and go away.  Since Timor Leste uses the USD and Indonesia uses the Rupiah they figure everyone needs money, but I was prepared for this and had some already with me.  They were giving and exchange rate of 1USD = 9000RP.  In the next town we stopped at they were giving 1USD = 9250RP and most banks ATM I get 1USD = 9400RP.  All this works out to be 1CAD = 9000RP. Okay enough about the money.  They have a long building at the border with 3 rooms and you have to go through all 3.  The first one is where they inspect your Visa and make sure it is valid.  From there you go to door #2 and this is where they inspect your luggage.  I was asked to open my backpack and they barely looked at was inside and then asked about my daypack.  I only undid one of the zippers and they say the computer and said ok and told me to move on.  I had a third small bag and they did not even look at it.  I thought it was going to be a lot harder than this. Now on to door #3 and I got my passport stamped and I was on my way.  The whole process to 5 minutes and every time I walked out of a door the same guys were still trying to get me to exchange money.  I was shuffled off to another bus, different than the first one and when everyone was back on we were on our way.  It was cloudy for most of the day and it rained some as well, so it was not great for taking pictures but I got a few.  The bus dropped me off close to my hotel for the night a place called Lavalon.  I got my room which was not much but all I really needed for 40,000RP.  They also had a bar just down the street and I knew that there was free internet there and I could get updated and it was also the place for tourist information.  Edwin who was running the place was not that helpful and his internet was down because of the rain so I made my way back to the hotel and just chilled out.  I was pretty tired from the bus ride anyway.  The next morning I got some breakfast (came with the room) and decided to walk around the town a bit.  I went up the main street for a long while and finally turned around and made my way back.  About the only thing I got accomplished was getting an Indonesian SIM card for my phone.  On the way back I stopped and picked up my computer and headed to Lavalon Bar for some internet time.  I was online for most of the afternoon making plans and chatting with whoever wanted to talk.  I also chatted with Edwin about what there was to do in Kupang and area and he told me that Kupang was just a stop over for most people and there is really nothing to do.  It would be best to make my way to the island of Flores where they have much nicer scenery and things to do. There was a boat the next day to Ende, Flores and I decided that I would take it.  There was a French lady staying at the hotel as well and she wanted to go on it as well.  The next morning I was up at 7am and the boat did not leave until 1pm so I lots of time to get ready.  We were told to be at the terminal at noon to get our tickets.  We decided to take a beno (local bus) cause we had lots of time.  Annie negotiated the deal for us and said that it would be 3000 each, which sounded really cheap.  It took the bemo forever to get us to the terminal as it dropped off a ton of others first.  When we got there and Annie gave them 3000 and they said no it was 30,000 which made more sense.  Annie would not accept paying 30000 and just gave them 3000 which they threw back out the window at her.  We started walking away and they tried to grab Annies bag but she had a tight grip on it.  We went to the window and got our tickets and one of the personnel there asked about the bemo.  We told him the story and he told us to just get on the boat and not to worry.  My ticket initially cost 93,000 but when the ticket guys came around we were sitting in what was considered 1st class and had to pay another 20000.  Annie again refused to pay so she went to the back of the boat and got a mat to sleep on.  This boat was nothing special and there were lots of bugs but again it was comfortable and all I needed.  It was not very full so I could spread out over about 5 seats and make myself a nice bed.  This was going to be an overnight boat ride and we would arrive in Ende at 7am.  Once we were on our way I made my way back to the kitchen area and asked for my dinner, they asked for my ticket which I did not have cause the ticket guys took it and now I could not get any dinner.  There was a nice man by my seat that asked me why I came back with no dinner and I told him the story and he gave me his ticket and said that he brought enough food for himself.  It was so nice of him and I thanked him and he gave me a big smile.  Dinner was okay and after I continued to read.  We had a really nice sunset to watch and even tuna jumping along side of the boat.  It started to get late and I was feeling tired so I tried to sleep.  I did quite well even with walking a few times during the night but felt rested when I got up a 6am.  We made it to Ende at 8am and when I got off the boat I was bombarded again by locals who wanted to give me a ride.  They were all asking to much money and finally agreed to pay 20,000 to get to the bus terminal.  The driver took me to the wrong place and all the drivers around there told me there were no more local busses for the day.  I knew they were lying but still needed a ride because I wanted to make it Moni that day.  I paid too much for the transport I got but oh well not much I could do at that point.  The ride was okay except for the lady beside me throwing up for half the trip.  They do not stop for this either, they just hand you a little plastic bag and when you are finished you throw it out the window.  Yes I know it sounds disgusting but that is what happens here.  One thing I noticed right away was the amount of garbage all over the place, it seems that they just throw everything on the side of the road.  I made it to Moni in good time and was dropped off at Sylvesters Homestay.  It was a fairly clean room and came cheap.  I was early enough to get a few things done as well.  I got an ojek (motorbike) ride to Mt. Kelimutu.  This was the main reason for coming toMoni and it did not disappoint.  The easy walk up the mountain was enjoyable and at the top you could look down on 3 different crater lakes.  The area was created by a huge volcano many years ago and since then the water color in each crater has been changing.  Scientists’ believe it is due to the different minerals in each lake.   The locals tell a different story.  Originally the lakes were blue, green and red.   2 are now almost the same turquoise color and the other black.  The locals believe that when someone dies their spirit goes to the lakes and if they have been good they go to the green and blue lakes and bad spirits go to the black one. It is up to everyone to make up their own mind on what to believe, all I know is that it was a cool sight to see.  After heading back to the hotel I was asked if I wanted to see a custom village by the manager of the hotel.  I said sure and the 2 of us were off on the bemo again.  We drove south out of Moni for about 1/2 hour and then stopped at a village.  There was only one traditional house here but it looked pretty neat.  From there we continued south for a long time and ended up at a village called NgGila.  There were plenty of traditional houses here and I was able to among them and take some pics.  I tried to talk to some but they did not understand any English so I just smiled and they smiled back.  The village is right on the coast and high above it so the views are spectacular.  After walking around the village we made our way back to Moni for some relaxing.
I was able to get everything completed in Moni that I wanted to the next day I headed back west for a town called Bajawa.  It was a 7 hour bus ride that was non-eventful except for when we almost hit another bus on a narrow bridge that showed up suddenly around a corner.  Everything was ok but it freaked a girl out that was near the front.  I was sitting at the back reading my booked and missed it all, which is probably a good thing.  We got into Bajawa and I booked in to a hotel called Edelweis.  It was a nice place but expensive (125,000) for what I was getting. Just to give you an idea almost all of the places here have squat toilets and bucket showers and I am quickly getting used to them.  Edelwies had a western toilet but no flushing, you had to pour water down to flush.  I pretty much chilled out for the rest of the day after the long bus ride but did meet a Dutch couple (Jacqueline & Paul).  We had discussed going trekking together the next day and found a local guide that could take us. It was early to bed so that I was ready for a good hike the next day.
We were picked up by our guide (Philip) and his driver and taken to the local market.  Philip picked out a bunch of fresh fruit and snacks for our hike and then I expected that we would have to pay but it was all included in our price.  We drove out of the city and to the starting point of the hike.  Our hike for the day went through volcanic rock areas, forest, jungle and garden areas.  We saw wild horses but no other animals along the way.  The amount of fruit and crops was amazing.  We saw mango, coconut, passion fruit, orange, vanilla, macadamia, ginger, corn, tomato, pepper, breadfruit and some others that I just cannot remember.  Philip was very informative about all the nature stuff and gave us lots stories about the culture of the people out here.  He runs an NGO (Non government organization) that is working with the villages to make their lives easier.   The villages we plan to go to are all part of it and just recently got a water system put in so they did not have to walk miles each day to get it as well as solar power.  The first story that Philip told us about was how the people came here from India and China to form the Indonesian people.  Before they got here there were aboriginal people here but they were displaced by the Indonesians and now very few aboriginals are still here.  After about 6 hours of hiking we made it to the village of Watu.  The entire village is made of traditional homes and the chief (Nicholas) gave us a tour around.  After the tour and some fun with the kids we were asked to sit on the porch of one of the homes for some food and drink.  The drink in these parts is called Arak, which is basically moonshine made from palm wine that they make from palm trees.  Arak is very, very strong to say the least and does not taste that good.  After 2 shots of the stuff I was already feeling the effects and declined to take any more.  I drank my water and was happy with that.  Several other men joined us and the women prepared the meal.  We talked as best we could and they had as many questions for us as we did for them.  They consider themselves catholic but also live by the practices taught to them from their elders.  It is a very different catholic than what I know and I think they mix the 2 practices as they see fit.  One strange part is they believe in 2 gods, the catholic god or what I understood as the sky god and an earth god that takes care of earthly things like their crops and stuff.  They did not understand me and my situation.  At 41 and not married with a bunch of kids, did not register with them and did not make sense.  They kept asking me “who keeps me warm at night” and then offered me one of their women.  I quickly declined the offer and they continued to ask.  They seem to have a lack of respect for women and they are only there to serve the men of the village.  They have to cook, clean, take care of the children and the gardens.  In their culture as people grow older it is the kids who take care of the elders as well.  If I had no kids who would take care of me when I got older?  They do not understand the western way of saving up retirement funds and taking care of ourselves.  This does not mean I want to be alone when I am older it just shows the cultural difference to the west.  The women in the village also chew what is called Betel nut.  It is the same idea as chewing tobacco but has some different effects.  I never tried any but was told it makes your head bigger, whatever that means.  The nut itself is red and thus it makes their lips red and when they smile it just is not that appealing.  The disgusting part is when they spit, which is also red and they will do it almost anywhere.  The stuff cannot be good for their gums and teeth or at least they gums and teeth I saw.  After some more conversation we were very tired and it was time for bed.  We said our goodnights and when I went to shake the chiefs had he would not shake mine.  I think I offended him when I did not drink any more Arak and turned down his offer of a woman.  I was alright with that and headed off to bed.  Our stop at the toilet included getting rid of a scorpion first so that we could go without getting bit by it.
In the morning we were given breakfast and Arak if we wanted it but we all turned it down this time.  When we left we gave Nicholas some books and pens for the kids and this time he shook my hand.  Still lots of things I would like to understand but it is sometimes hard to get the information from the people and guides.  Philip has been good but I still have a lot of questions for him.  Once we started on our way for day 2 of hiking Philip told us another story.  The people out here are called Ngada people and they live by 4 principles of life.  1. Be nice  2. Work hard  3. No gossip  4. No trouble (which includes fighting, stealing or anything like that).  They make sense to me and an easy way to live but I still trying to see how it all fits.  They are nice people but how they treat their women just does not seems that nice, the women work hard for sure and themen to when there is a project on the go but other times they just seem to sit around.  The no gossip I like, can you imagine the magazines that would not exist if we had no gossip. The no trouble covers a lot and makes sense.  If they people live by these principles then all is good but if they do not them they are removed from the tribe and that means forever.  On our hike we stopped at the next village (Mighilewa) and we could see a noticeable difference.  Everything seemed to be a little more strict here and in line.  Philip told us that Watu to an easy approach to life and this village followed more rules and the wiseman from here spoke for all 3 villages.  It is where the school for the area is and we sat in the chairs and had a short lesson trying to learn the numbers in Indonesian.  The chief here was a woman but we were told that she has very little power and the wiseman made most of the decisions.  From here we walked to the last village (Jere) and they were in the process of building an ancestor house.  The house is built when someone dies so that the spirit has somewhere to go.  They are built exactly the same every time with 7 panels across the front, one is the door and 3 on each side that are the same size.  While they are building the home a pig is sacrificed every day and since they had done the sacrifice already we were required to stay and have some of the food.  They bbqed the pork and served it with some rice and it was very good.  Philip must have told them that we did not want any Arak because it was there but never opened or offered.  After the food we made our way out of the village too many smiling faces and handshakes.  We walked down the rest of the hillside and actually I ran parts of it with 2 kids that came with us. I was in my hikers and the kids in flip flops but they were still faster than me by a long shot.  I almost fell once when I tripped slightly on a rock and thought it was better to slow down and not kill myself.  We were picked up at the bottom of the hill by the driver and drove along the ocean for a while.  We stopped at a black beach and went for a swim.  It was very refreshing and some of the locals joined us.  We had 2 gentlemen join us for the ride back to Bajawa and again I got the same questions as before about been single.  This man was also catholic but he had 4 wives and 9 kids.  He was married in the Catholic Church to his first wife and the others he got married to in the village.  I am thinking that he must be a very busy man to keep them all happy and he pretty much said as much.  We got back to Bajawa in the late afternoon and Philip invited us to his house for supper and some drinks.  We chilled out for a few hours and then got picked up by his driver.  We stopped to pick up a few beers and pop and headed to Philips.  It is very difficult to find hard liquor in these villages, they mostly drink Bintang (beer) and Arak.  We had a great evening with Philp and his other guests with lots more questions from both sides.  There were some interesting discussions but really hard to communicate because they speak very little English.
The next day was pretty much a chill out day.  I slept in and caught up on some internet stuff.  I went for lunch with Jacqueline and Paul and another girl Anouk (Dutch) who helped with the different NGO’s in the area.  We discussed the culture and the changes they are making.  I think that they will find it tough to accept western ways and not sure if they need to.  Anouk made the point that in the way they treat women they need to progress and I would agree with that.  Over the last few days I have seen so many cultural differences and have learnt so different ways to look at things, it has been interesting and fun.  One thing I have not talked about is how much fun it was to travel with Jacqueline and Paul, thay have been great fun and had many discussions along the way.  I have met lots of Dutch along my travels and they are so nice and friendly.  After lunch the 3 of us headed for what the locals called a waterfall.  We were not sure what to expect but it was a really cool place.  It was a waterfall/ hot spring/ sauna.  There were lots of locals there and even a group of nuns.   We headed a long way down and they sat in the waterfall just after the hot and cold streams came together, this way it was to not hot or cold.  It was like getting a great massage all over the body.  I found different spots so that I could get my back, shoulders and feet all massaged by the water.  We stayed there for a long while and by the time we left it was getting dark.  I took over an hour to get back to the hotel and then we decided to go for dinner.  We were not sure where we were going to go but then saw that the place next door had a band playing.  We had our dinner and listened to the band, who were friends of Philips and we had met some of them before.  After a while the one guy asked me if I wanted to come up and play with them, I said to start but they would not accept that.  I went up and they gave me a guitar and asked me what I wanted to play.  I told them anything that was easy cause I had not played in a long time again.  I started to play “Rock you like a hurricane” and they knew the song so that got played.  I started to play so blues riffs and next thing we are jamming away and just making things up as we go.  After that the bass player gave me his guitar and we jammed a little more.  I finally gave their guitars back but still sat with the band and played a bongo type drum for a few more songs.  It was a very fun night and we still got back to the hotel by midnight.  I did not book a bus early enough the previous day so I was about to have another chill day.  I really slept in and it felt great.  I got on the internet and had some great chats with some friends back home.  It was nice to catch up with them and find out some of the stuff going on there as they are all getting ready for Christmas.  Not a lot was accomplished today but still hung out with Jacqueline and Paul for parts of it.  They are headed in a different direction tomorrow and so we parted our ways that night after going and watching the band play again.
So you know where I am at, It is now the 11th of January and I have an early bus from Bajawa to Labuan Bajo.  The journey started at 7am and I got into LB at 6:30pm.  It was again a non-eventful ride and I actually read over 300 pages of another book.  I do not think I have ever read so much at one time.  When I got in I checked into the Gardena Hotel (150,000 per night) and got settled.  I went for a walk along the main street and found an ATM and a bunch of shops.  Labuan Bajo is on the far west coast of the island of Flores.  I was pretty tired from the bus ride so I got some dinner and then relaxed back at my room.
I slept in even though I went to bed early, I guess the bus ride took more out of me than I thought.  I went for a walk along main street and this time found a lot more things now that I was not walking in the dark.  I found 2 restaurants that offered free wifi and went back to the hotel to get my computer.  I spent a lot of the afternoon on the internet catching up with friends and sending emails to family to set up a few chats for the next day.  It was Saturday and I knew a few people that were going out to a place called Paradise Bar and one of the only places that served rum.  I got an odjek that evening to the bar and met up with some of the others I had seen over the past week on Flores.  I ordered a rum and was completely shocked when the bartender told me it cost 48,000RP.  A 1 liter Bintang costs 24,000 so I was totally caught off guard.  I had the one rum and then I had 1 Bintang even though beer never does me any good.  The band that was playing was not very good but we made our own fun and had some great conversations as well.  I headed back to the hotel around 1am and went to bed.  Labuan Bajo is a get away point on Flores and the only way to get to Kmomdo National park, so I spent Sunday looking for a tour that I liked and would fit for my travel plans.  I found a 4 day/3 night boat that would get me from LB to Lombok and take in all the sights.  After getting that booked I got on the internet again and had some great chats with my family and some friends.  Boyd even sent me some Christmas music for my mp3 player.  The rest of the day was spent chilling out and getting ready to leave the next morning.
I was really excited about the boat tour and up at 6:30 and at the office by 7:15 ready to go.  I was told to wait there until the others showed up, there were 7 others on the boat as well.  After waiting for over an hour they finally came and told me that the boat had been cancelled because the other 7 people had pulled out.  I was very disappointed and mad.  It was frustrating to get accurate information from them.  I left after another hour with nothing solved but I could not stay around any longer or I would have lost my mind.  After I had relaxed for a while I went back and they were already trying to find others that might want to go on the trip.  The only part I was really mad at was the fact that the others canceled the night before and if I was told I could have gone on another trip that was similar but only 2 days and then a different boat to Lombok.  There are not many travelers around right now so I knew it would be a few days before they would get enough for a boat to leave.  That afternoon I took a bemo (local bus) to a cave and walked around there for a while.  A lot of the cave had been destroyed but graffiti and garbage but deep inside it was still pretty cool. There was an awesome spider that I have never seen before that looked half spider half scorpion.  The rest of the day was spent chilling out and some on the internet and looking for people that wanted to go on a boat trip.
Finally on Wednesday morning the boat trip was on and I went to the office at 8:30.  I had to wait again and started to think that this was a repeat performance but then was taken to the boat.  There was only one other guy on the boat but they decided that was enough and we were on our way.  The other guy was named Steve as well, but I think he may have booked the wrong trip for him.  He was more of a birdwatcher than an adventure traveler, si it was going to be interesting to see how he handled it.  The boat left at about 10am and it took about 2 hours to get to the island of Rinka.  I had been told be some that this island was better than Komodo and was really looking forward to it.  As soon as we landed I could see about 10 monkeys hanging around on the beach and in the trees.  From there we walked to the admin office and signed in.  Under one of the buildings were 7 Komodo dragons just handing out.  We found out that they are actually feeding them and now they do not leave and hunt on their won and just wait for scraps.  It was kinda disappointing for my first sighting of komodo dragons.  We where then taken on a walk around the island and saw a buffalo and few komodos in there natural habitat.  The dragons were not as big as I thought they were going to be except for 2 that were under the building.  The walk took about 1 hour and then we were back on the boat.  We boated for 2 hours and got to a place called Red Beach for snorkeling.  They gave me a life ring to help me along and I got into the water and started swimming around.  The coral was absolutely incredible and so many fish.  It was similar to what I saw at Bounty Island in Fiji and way better than the Great Barrier Reef in Oz.  There were some many colors and formations I think I could have stayed there for hours but we only had about 40 minutes.  I had noticed that Steve was back on the boat and found out later that he did not enjoy it much and got back on the boat.  I can’t believe that I was the better swimmer of the 2 of us, I guess I must be getting more confident in the water.  There were some many different types of fish and even one that was shiny like a pearl.  Once I got back on the boat we went for about an hour and then stopped with a few other boats for the night.  It was nice to talk with some others and the group was doing the same tour as us but going the other way.  Once it got dark there was not much to do so I turned on my computer and ended up watching some Seinfeld episodes.
The next morning we were up at 6am and on our way to Komodo Island.  The entire island is part of Komodo National Park and there is a village of about 900 people there as well.  We got there at 7am and they were just starting to set up for the day.  They were getting a cruise ship in from Italy and expected a bunch of people around 9am.  We got our guide and started our walk and the scenery already was better than Rinka.  After about 5 minutes our guide spotted on and we had to run to catch up to it.  We only got to see a little of it before it ran into the trees, the run about 18km per hour.  We then continued our walk and Steve kept pointing out the birds, while I was looking more for the dragons and buffalo.  We spotte a herd of deer and all I could think about was Daryl Harvie hunting them.  We spotted another dragon on a hill and the guide went straight for it.  We climbed the hill and got right up to the dragon, I assumed it was safe because he was there but he had a stick with him (like that was going to stop a dragon) and I stuck close to him.  Steve did not climb the hill and waited below for us to come back.  We then continued and climbed another hill where we had a great view of the area and could see the cruise ship coming in.  We walked down the hill and at the bottom were 5 dragons hanging out by a water hole.  There were 2 that were at least 3.5 meters long and a baby one that was about 10months old.  We watched them for about 15 minutes and then proceeded back to our boat. The cruise ship tourists were been shuttled onto the island by the time we got back and were put into little groups to go off on their tours, it was great to have our tour done before they got there.  We traveled for about 2 hours and then stopped for lunch and a snorkel.  The snorkeling was not as nice as the first place cause most of the coral was dead but the fish were still great.  We got back on the boat and had a long ride ahead of us.  We were boating overnight and that afternoon and evening the waves were quite high and we were bouncing around a lot.  It is not a big boat so it was a bit scary but I was told before not to worry that the guys knew what they were doing and if they were not smiling then that was the time to worry.  Every time I looked at them they were smiling so that made me feel a little better.  The boat is very loud so I did not get much sleep, maybe 2 hours.  We stopped at about 7 in the morning for an early snorkel and it was pretty good.  They waved me over to a path and then took me to a crater lake about 10 minutes away.  It was very warm and had black sand all around it.  After the walk back I snorkeled back to the boat and we were on our way again.  We went for another 2 hours and got to an island called Moto where I snorkeled to the beach and then walked with a guide to an inland waterfall.  It was nice to get some fresh water on me instead of all the sea water and when we got back to the beach I asked if I could go back to the boat on the little canoe they were using.  Steve stayed on the boat for all of this and missed out on some great sights.  We then traveled for another 4 hours before putting down the anchor by some island for the night.  We got dinner and I could have gone snorkeling again but I passed as the current looked pretty strong.  We had 4 workers on the boat and only one spoke English and he only spoke a little bit.  I would have been great to communicate with them more but that just did not happen.  They knew I was having a good time and really that was all that mattered.  We went to bed early as we knew it was going to be an early start the next morning.
The roar of the engines woke me at 2:45am, I knew it was going to be an early start but I did not think this early.  I guess they wanted to get home for the weekend.  We got into Labuhan, Lombok at7am and I thanked the crew and hoped on a odjek to the bus terminal.  There is nothing in Labuhan so I wanted to get to Mataram.  After I got to the bus terminal I got a local bus to Mataram that took 4 hours.  The bus had 17 seats in it and 24 people, so it was a tight squeeze.  I got taken to the accommodation (Oka Homestay) and got booked in and relaxed for a bit. I met a Dutch lady (Mariom) that has been here for 2 months helping out at a project for kids.  I decided to go for a walk and see the Hindu temple in the area and even though I did not know what to expect, I was disappointed with what I saw.  I talked with a guy from India after the walk through and he said also that it was not very good and that I will see plenty of really nice ones in Bali and other places.  I walked back to the homestay and changed out of my long pants in shorts and walked in the other direction.  I was told there was a mall 10 minutes down the road.  The last time I was told about a mall it was just some shops all together so I did not have many expectations.  Next thing I see is a sign for McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut, it all looked so out of place.  The mall was huge and just like a big western mall.  I Walked around for a bit and then found and internet café near the back.  I was able to get all my pics uploaded on Facebook and send out a few emails. By the way, no I did not eat at any of the western places, Mariom and I went out to a side street café and ate there for dinner.  The rest of the night was spent writing this blog.  I am posting this on Sunday morning and then headed for a town called Sengigi about ½ hour away.  From there I plan to go to the Gili Islands for a few days and then to Bali for Christmas.  Not sure what to expect from Christmas there but I will let you all know how it turns out.  I hope to continue to learn more about this culture but there is one thing I need to say.  All the differences I saw in the villages are not the same as I travel west and to bigger centers.  There seems to be a more open society in the bigger centers and some of it is definitely got western influence.  I will try to get more from these people and see how different it is.  I am also going to start to see less of the Christian faith and more Muslims as I continue west.  I just keep learning and expanding myself as I go and all the time really enjoying myself.  I have so much to learn.
I guess that is all for now, so just I case I do not get another blog written before Christmas, Merry Christmas to all!!!

BTW – there are tons of more pics on my Facebook page.
PS: I am going with some early birthday wishes this time.  1st off is my wonderful godchild Nadean on the 23rd of Dec. Next is my Aunt Audry who always writes on my blog and I appreciate it on the 25th, my cousin Lindsey is on the 29th and that beautiful boy that I have only seen in pictures, my newest nephew will turn 1 on Dec. 31st.  Happy Birthday to you all!!!

My bus to Indonesia

Me crossing the border to Indonesia

A home on the drive to Kupang, Indonesia

Sunset from Paradise Bar in Kupang

Ferry I was on from Kupang to EndeMe on an odjek (motorbike) to Mt. Kelimutu

Rice fields and scenery on the way to Mt. Kelimutu

One of the crater lakes at Mt. KelimutuLocal market in Bajawa, tons of fresh fruit hereChicken getting plucked for our dinner, yes it was yummyPhilip (guide), Paul and Jacqueline on trek

School in Mighilewa villageTraditional village of Jere

Me at the waterfall outside of BajawaSpider in cave near Labuan BajoMe on the boat trip to Komodo

Buffalo at Rinja Island

One of the workers on the boat to Lombok

Our guide at Komodo National Park

Large male Komodo Dragon, at least 3.5 meters long

Baby Komodo dragon, about 10 months old and 1 meter long

Boat I was on for trip from Labuan Bajo to Lombok


East Timor (Timor Leste) – The Country

December 1st, 2009

Hello all,

Well the last time I wrote, about a week ago, I had just finished an amazing trek south of Dili and was hitching everywhere.  Since then I have based myself in Dili and spent time in and around the area.  I hope to give you a better idea about the people and culture that exists in Dili.  I have spent my time the last few days in museums, cathedrals and government functions.  So I have been able to understand the people a lot better than before.

The people in East Timor or better known here as Timor Leste are called Timorese.  Back in the early years (like 2000 years ago) the area was populated by East Indian and Chinese cultures and some of these influences are still around (especially in the food).  In the early 1800’s the Dutch and the Portuguese came to the area and the Portuguese took over.  They ruled the area for a very long time, like they did with many areas in South East Asia.  The only time they did not rule it was during WWII when the Japanese had control until the end of the war.  The Portuguese then took over again but the Timorese people wanted independence.  Finally after many struggles with the Portuguese they got their independence on November 28, 1975.  Think about that, because it is not that long ago.  The unfortunate thing was that 9 days later they were invaded by Indonesia and they took over.  The Indonesians had help along the way to keep East Timor as a province of its country, help from the Americans, Aussies and UK.  The Indonesians fooled all these countries that they were aiding East Timor when in actual fact they were depriving them of many essential things.  After many protests the rest of the world heard their cries for help and the Indonesians were forced to leave in September of 1999 by the UN and the country declared independence once again.  This time the UN was sticking around to make sure all the corruption was gone.  The only bad part was that before the Indonesians left they burnt and destroyed about 80% of the buildings and killed at least 100,000 Timorese. Again, think of this fact, only 10 years ago they were still fighting for their rights!!! This is a fact that just amazes me.  10 years ago I would have been working for McCormick, living in a great house and having almost any luxury I wanted.  These people were still fighting just for freedom, really makes me appreciate what I have and what I am able to do.  What were you doing 10 years ago???  The UN handed the governing power back to East Timor in 2002 and it has been a pretty stable environment since, although there have been coup attempts even up to last year.  With all this fighting and influences from different areas I still find it hard to describe the Timor culture besides saying survivalistic.

East Timor is 85% Catholic and this is very evident in all the statues in the area of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.  On the East end of Dili they have built a huge statue of Jesus and constructed and massive set of steps all the way up.  Along the way is the full “Ways of the Cross” and is very impressive.  Like most things in East Timor it is not complete yet and they are working to finish as quickly as they can.  East Timor moves like most of the rest of South East Asia which is slow paced.  Time is irrelevant here as most take a long lunch break (at least 2 hours) during the heat of the day.  One of the main things you see in East Timor and especially Dili is construction.  They have had to rebuild everything and that is exactly what they are doing.  It seems that they have some kind of construction on almost every roadway, if you think Alberta road construction is bad in the summer just come here.  They are almost finished a big Catholic Cathedral here and it looks amazing and will be a main gathering place for the Timorese. Lots of new embassies are going up and they have rebuilt most of the shops to a good enough standard.  In most of the government web sites and reports they tell you that East Timor is still is a huge struggle and that it is not safe to travel, but I have found that to be completely wrong.  The websites tell of refugee camps everywhere and I have still to see one.  The Timorese are always smiling and try to be as helpful as possible.  English is not widely spoken here; the national language is Tetun, with Bahasa Indonesian and Portuguese as well.  I have been learning some words in Tetun to be able to get by and the rest I use hand signs or whatever else I can think of.  Sometimes it is frustrating but I try to remember that I am in their country and all these learning experiences are really good for me.  At this point I can count to 10 in 5 different languages (English, French, German, Spanish and Tetun), and I plan to learn many more.

The people here are very proud of their fighting spirit and you can see it in many different ways but one of the neatest that I have seen is in their sidewalks.  I know that sounds funny but in most places here they do not have any, but where they have build them they are in colored bricks that are the same as their flag (Red, Yellow and Black).  Imagine walking down a sidewalk in Canada that was all Red and White!!!  After spending time in 2 museums (Chega which is in a jail & the Resistance museum) I got a better understanding of the struggles that I have already spoken about.  It showed some videos on the violence and places where the Timorese hid undergrond from the Indonesians.  I also got to go to the parliament building but not inside and I also took in the Independence Day ceremony at the Presidents Palace.  Whenever you take in these places you must wear long pants and proper shoes.  The Independence Day ceremony was very interesting.  It started at about 9am and had dignitaries from everywhere.  A full color guard was standing at attention during the whole 2 hours or so.  They were from the military, ambulance service, police, forest service and traditional warriors.  I saw 3 soldiers pass out because of the heat and felt sorry for them as they were standing out in the hot sun for a very long time.  After several speeches and a cool flag raising ceremony all the color guard marched past the President.  Then they promoted 2 Generals and the ceremony ended rather quickly.  No one waited for the President to depart, they just all got up and starting mingling with each other.

The day before is when I went to the Jesus statue and on my walk back I stopped off at a beach.  They have a beach on either side of the statue and they are called Jesus Beach 1 and Jesus Beach 2.  I was at Jesus Beach 1 but had my day pack with me and really had no where to put it.  I found a group on people that spoke English and asked if they minded if I left my pack by them while I went for a quick swim.  They were mostly Aussies and Kiwis and were really nice.  I walked into the water looking for a refreshing swim and it was so hot, like a hot tub at home.  It cooled off a bit when I got deeper but I did not want to go too far because crocodiles have been known to be near the area.  After I had a quick dip I went back to the group and had a great conversation with them.  I got invited to an event for Saturday afternoon with them called HASH.  First thing I thought of was a group of people doing drugs but as it turns out it is a group of expats that get together every week for a social walk or run.  There are HASH groups all over the world and if you would like to know more about them just look them up on the internet.  They picked me up on Saturday afternoon and took me to where everyone was meeting.  Each week they pick a different part of Dili to explore and some walk and others go for a run.  It takes about an hour to complete and we walked up the side of a steep cliff that gave us some great views and then through some of the outer communities.  It costs $5 to go and with that they give you water to start and then all the beer you want to drink after the run.  They have some fun introducing the new people to the group and then have some fun with others also in the group.  I met some really cool people and spent a lot of the walk talking with an American originally from Montana.  He is here working with the coffee growers of East Timor.  East Timor coffee is known as some of the best in the world and until recently had the biggest area of organic fields in the world.  Actually East Timor does not use any chemicals in any of its fields so the whole country is organic.  They are also big in the Fair Trade practices in the coffee industry.  I also meet a few Canadians during the event but most of them had been gone from Canada for at least 5 years and did not watch much that was going on at home.  I also got a ride back from the event from a nice UK couple and we stopped to take a picture of the sunset.  That night the government put on a huge fireworks display for Independence Day.  I was very surprised by it and say that it would put the nightly fireworks display at the Calgary Stampede to shame and I think the stampede puts on an awesome display.  I think the big difference was how close they were.  They basically shot them out right over us and some of the ground ones were right in front of us.  It lasted about 20 minutes and had a band playing music in the background as well.  They had a party before the fireworks and it kept going for quite a while into the night.  One thing that stood out as well was the amount of kids at the fireworks.  You see kids everywhere here as East Timor has the 2nd highest pregnancy rate in the world.  They are trying to educate the Timorese on family planning but it is a slow process.

Another thing I have been able to complete over the last few days is get my Visa for Indonesia.  I am planning to enter over land and so I must have a Visa before I get to the border.  If I was flying in I would get one on arrival.  I had to get the proper forms from the Indonesian Embassy and then fill them out along with a copy of my passport, a passport photo with red background and a letter stating why I wanted to enter the country.  It costs $45 to get a 30 day visa and the same price for a 60 day but with the 60 day you have to have a more detailed letter, I am getting the 60 day.  Once I had everything together I had to go to the embassy in the early morning to get on a list, I got there at 6:15 and was number 27.  Then I went back to the hostel for a nap and back to the embassy at 8:30 to wait for my turn.  Once I got called I got another number (40) and went inside and had to wait there.  Not sure how I went from 24 to 40 but at least I was in.  After about an hour I got called up and they review all my info and I was told to come back the next day at 3pm to pick up my visa.  I went back the next day and handed in my receipt and had to wait for another hour while they went through all the people there.  I got my passport with the stamp in it, it takes up a full page but looks impressive. I have 90 days from now to enter and then 60 when I get in.  Not that I am going to need 90 days to get in as I am leaving for there on Wednesday.

My expenses have dropped dramatically from Australia here.  I am paying $12US a night for a dorm room and most meals cost about $3.50.  Most of the attractions to see are free and I have walked to most of them.  Whenever I have had to take a taxi it is usually $2-3 to get across town. I have cooked some of my own meals as well so I would say that I am spending about $20US per day.  There is an internet café across the street that costs $1 per hour and I have used that to keep in contact with friends and family.

I started making my plans to head out of East Timor on Monday and now I will be taking a bus to Kupang (West Timor) on Wednesday.  The bus journey takes 12 hours and goes along the coast to the border and then inland through West Timor.  Once I enter West Timor I am officially in Indonesia.  Indonesia is a massive set of islands that are going to be very interesting to travel around, with another new language to learn, new religion to see (85% Muslim) and new adventures to seek out.

I guess that is about it for this time.  I hope you all have an idea now of what I have seen in East Timor.  I would recommend to anyone that is planning a trip to South East Asia to not miss this small part of it.  As they continue to rebuild and get more facilities for travelers I think this country will just prosper.  I do worry if the UN every decided to completely leave if the peace would stay or would some country around try to take it over again.  I would hope the world would not let this happen again.

Thanks to all, everyone take care,


PS: Can you believe that it is December already!!! That is crazy; you will all be getting ready for Christmas and the office parties that no one really wants to go to.  Still not sure where I will be for Christmas but since it will be in a Muslim nation I am guessing that there will not be a lot going on.  I will have to have my Christmas vicariously through all of you.

PPS: What the hell were the Riders doing taking a penalty with 5 seconds left??? What a way to lose!!

PPS: Happy Birthday goes out to my cousin Myron, thanks for everything you are doing for me while I am gone.  I truly appreciate it.

 Freedom Statue in the center of Dili

 New Catholic Cathedral in process of been built

Jesus Beach 2 from the top of the Jesus statueJesus Statue at east end of Dili

 Sunset in Dili after HASH walkColor Guard for Independence Day ceremony, the group in front are traditional warriors

 Flag raising ceremony

 Soldiers marching

 Sidewalk in Dili, same colors as the flag

 View of scenery around Dili from the top of the hill climbed during HASH walk

 Fireworks from Independence Day