Pokhara – Saving lives, beautiful sunrises and a road trip

Where to begin with this one. I’ve had some ideas, then I had food not agreeing with me, which knocked me out for about 2 days (yay?! Suppose it had to happen at some point) and then I had, rather still have, pagoda and temple fatigue. But no excuses, on with the writing. My future self will thank me to have this to look back on.

Right, so we went to Pokhara in Nepal. We even extended our stay by a few days because we fell in love and wanted to do much more than we were physically and time-wise able to do. I don’t know if it is a competition thing, but everyone in Pokhara said that once you’ve seen the Himalayas there, you won’t enjoy Nagarkot. So we cancelled our stay there much to my disappointment cause I was supposed to cook with the hosts. But it was definitely worth exchanging that with our adventure in Pokhara.

Let’s start at the beginning. It took us a solid 10 hours from Kathmandu to Pokhara, yet it is a mere 200km so that should give you an idea about the roads. After the dust and hustle in Kathmandu, Pokhara is a nice change of scenery to arrive to. Arriving into the city, we saw some clouds in the distance only to realise it was the top of a friggin mountain in the Himalayas. Anyways, Pokhara is mainly for the active, though I would absolutely not mind just hopping from restaurant to café to restaurant, read a book, chill and watch people. It had a very relaxed mood about it with lots of diverse places catering for tourists. Basically, the tourist street was touristy but it wasn’t overwhelmingly much.

I realised I veered off again. Let’s get to the juicy bits. Mind you, it’s something I can say now cause it all ended well. In short, we saved 2 lives on our first proper day. With a paddle boat. On the lake. We were coming back from a little hike to the World Peace Pagoda (definitely recommend renting a boat and going up there as a half day trip) when we heard some yelling. We were the only ones on the lake that we could see as it had started raining (we had a deadline in our rental time) besides those people. The weather changed very dramatically, as it does in the mountains. So where there was only some light drizzle before, there were suddenly strong winds and therefore currents. Two guys struggled to get to their paddle boats cause of said currents and a third friend was trying to help but couldn’t. I don’t think we quite realised the urgency and just slowly paddled towards the bunch. Once closer, it sunk in, we picked up the life jackets from their paddle board, paddled against winds and waves, threw the jackets out to them and picked them up one by one. Phew!

Fast forward a day, the group of friends invited us for dinner to thank us, took us to drinks at their new favourite hotspot (Altitude Bar – convince them of getting more cosy lights) and we had a date with one of them, Nikil, to do a road trip on a Royal Enfield (husband’s dream). Considering they wanted to take us bungee jumping and paragliding, I felt this was a good choice. Though I am not certain my bum and back would have agreed with that 48 hours later.

Off we went on said road trip, first with no aim, then to Tatopani to enjoy a natural hot spring that turned into an overnight stay to give us all a break from propelling through rivers, mud and sand. As I said, for me it was a bit of a challenge (an understatement) but I knew my husband was a happy bunny and enjoyed “motocrossing it” on the roads. And the views weren’t so shabby along the way. Side note, if you know how to drive and enjoy off-roads, don’t be a passenger on the back.

Somewhere in between adventures, we also some some stunning sunrises over the Himalayas and did some smaller treks. The first sunrise was so stunning that we decided to go up to the Australian Camp overnight in a tent to have the mountains even closer. It was absolutely beautiful and worth doing. The hike up there isn’t that long, though I swear I felt like there were more stairs, steeper hills and an entirely different route to get to the camp the first time around. We did a trekking route with a guide cause we didn’t know anything, but with a bit of research and asking around it is totally doable on your own. Also, I find it’s always worth checking these days, if the place you’re staying at needs some breaking out off via kitchen fences and amusement park barbed wires in the early morning or if they’d open the front door for you. It saves you some adrenaline at 5am though I suppose you won’t need the gym or coffee after that.

More photos of our trip can be found on Flickr

Sunset at a Hindu and sunrise at a Buddhist temple

To say that the last two weeks have been a whirlwind of impressions, activities and interesting encounters would be an understatement. Every day there was something new to take in that hardly allowed me to make space for getting photos uploaded, let alone videos edited or writing blog posts to digest it all.

There was one afternoon, much needed, where I captured my thoughts on Wamena in Papua but I didn’t manage to wrap up Indonesia with the last destination – Yogyakarta and the temples we visited. I can’t believe that we’re off to another country, I absolutely loved Nepal, though more on that in future posts. Sitting on planes, thriving on 3 hour sleep, sugar and caffeine sure make a good foundation to get some brain cells on “paper”.

After Wamena, Yogyakarta (or Yogya as preferred by the locals) was a welcome and uplifting surprise. It has a bit of an independent status and staying in Kraton, the Sultan’s city, was fabulous. We loved our Airbnb and the host (Ifa ; I can highly recommend it. Staying in that area makes everything somewhat of a walking distance and there are great places to discover culturally and food-wise.

We only planned 3 days for Yogya, which for me wasn’t enough to explore, but we got the absolute highlights in there.

Getting to the centre from the airport

If you’re feeling adventurous, get the local bus. We got the 1A to Tasman Pintar, which stops opposite the post office and is right around the corner of one of the Kraton entrances/the foot of Marlioboro Street. The ticket was only IDR 3,500 per person and the ride took about 40 minutes (though I suppose traffic can impact that a little).

Rent a scooter

We hired one for 3 days and got a discount. In total it was IDR 180,000. We fuelled up for about IDR 35,000 over the three days and we drove to both main temples and one of the beaches in the south. There is a tourist area (Jalan Prawirotaman) with lots of restaurants offering western inspired food and there are a lot of scooter rental places.

Prambanan Temple

We did both temples independently as much as we could, i.e. we didn’t book any special tours or guides. Prambanan Temple is known to for great sunsets, so that’s what we did. It took us just under an hour by scooter. I suppose it helps having a I-want-to-be first-at-every-crossing driver, so it’s best to plan about an hour. There is parking on site for a fee. Not sure what happened but the people at the ticket counter gave us a huge discount when we left. Maybe it was because we were literally the last tourists to leave the grounds.

Entry is a bit steep compared to the general price-value ration in Indonesia, but also cheaper than other touristy things we’ve done on other islands before. The prices tend to change, not sure based on what, so best to check in a current leaflet or at a tourist info centre. We paid IDR 362,500 per person.

By the way, the Prambanan Temple is the whole complex. It is a collection of quite a few temples and the main one everyone is swooning over is actually called Roro temple. There are also 3 other smaller ones and the Sewu Temple was rather stunning as well.

Borobudur Temple

If the sunrise is something you want to experience standing with a few hundred of other tourists on top of the stupa of Borobudur, there is only one way to do it. Manohara hotel has monopoly over providing the experience though I have to say it was worth it. We got up at 3.20am as it’s a bit of a longer drive than to Prambanan to get there. Still, we made it in a little over an hour and arrived at 4.45am in time for our torches and badges. Note to any future travellers, check the location for entry; it’s not the one that pops up on google maps.

The ticket per person was IDR 450,000. You’ll have to bring a passport (we had copies on our phones) and you’ll get some decent snacks and drinks after you’re done doing the rounds of the temple, and also a little souvenir.

Regardless of the many tourists popping up in your photo shots, the view is absolutely stunning. Colours changed by the minute, the two mountains (volcanoes) in the distance looked majestic and the fog far below made it all look mysterious and jungle-like. It’s worth going around the upper levels to see the intricate carvings and stories being told.

Food

A typical local dish to try is godek. It’s some kind of pulled jackfruit cookies in something delicious with rice and usually duck or chicken with a black egg. If you don’t eat meat, just ask for it to be served without.

Milas Vegetarian is a bit off the beaten path but once there, a lot of happy tourist faces await you. Shouldn’t deter you, cause it is actually really nice in both the atmosphere, place and food. For us it was a nice dinner out compared to cheaper options on other evenings.

Talking about cheaper options, Avocado within Kraton is a nice little Warung type place. They have a short menu or noodles and rice, some fried vegetables and we’d like to think it was actually prepared by the Mama of the house. Very delicious.

We were lucky to have access to a kitchen, so we also cooked at home. The supermarket Super Indo is good for fresh fruit and veg and anything else you might fancy.

If you fancy having a look at photos, check out my Flickr, or have a watch of the video below I did of our time in Yogya.

Venturing to the middle of Papua

One of the things we wanted to do is see a little bit of Papua and it’s people, so we flew to Wamena. It is only accessible by plane, the road from Jayapura was given up on after a landslide several years back.

I have been pondering for the last weeks how to attempt to write this post. So far, it was my least favourite place. Though this was the place I was most excited to see mainly because it’s advertised as being able to see traditional village, the original Papuan tribes and possibly interact with them.

What I ended up experiencing, was a city with clear separations between the Papuans and the “yellow” people, Indonesians that came mainly from Java. The atmosphere was eery, it seemed every Papuan was eating betel nut, and a giant white cross comparable to a control centre is overlooking the city.

It became clear that most Papuans don’t like the situation. A situation where the other Indonesians organise the city and life for them, running businesses, making the money, and also, where tourists come to visit local villages and to meet the “real” Papuans. We, like probably many other tourists, wanted to visit a local village, but were forbidden entry by some locals. I am not sure whether that was because we were tourists or whether there was an issue with our guide. We couldn’t get a clear answer.

A bit of history, Papua used to be under Dutch rule and then annexed by Indonesia in 1969. Before that, the Dutch started a transmigration programme to move people from densely populated areas of the country to less populated areas, such as Papua and West Papua. This programme was only ended three years ago. Missionaries were also busy converting Papuans from animism or other beliefs to Christianity, and a geologist found the biggest gold mine (there’s also a load of copper) to date near Puncak Jaya, the Grasberg Mine. Naturally, it’s run by an American company you’ll have never heard of that also happens to deal with Petroleum.

You can imagine that the local, indigenous people wouldn’t be too happy about the situation and I suppose every white person coming to town wanting to visit the locals is just a reminder of their situation. If you google Papua, you’ll find that in recent news this sentiment was confirmed.

After our failed attempt to visit a traditional village, we ventured to Jiwika by hitchhiking there. A minibus of teenagers, some drunk likely escaping the Sunday rituals, dropped us off at Jiwika. It’s the hotspot for white people to see a traditional village with the locals wearing traditional outfits. Suddenly, local women surrounded us, first wearing tops, then none to resemble their past cultural lives. They have a mummy in the village to be whipped out any time a tourist comes, though we politely declined. We read about a saltwater well, Air Garam, which included a hike. The online world recommended hiring a local woman as a guide, so we did after some negotiating.

Though the video below doesn’t show it, it wasn’t the best of experiences going up to the wells and have the woman show us how they originally got salt. It was not at all about getting to know their culture, but more about the money. It was a running theme throughout our stay, at the same time, it is also a conflict and contradiction for the locals. They don’t want to be taken advantage of, but they need the money, so they “sell” their culture to a point where it feels like you need to buy air to breathe as well.

It is such a shame that the current situation is like this and I wish I had a better experience and feeling leaving Wamena. It’s infuriating and sad, really.

Waigeo – Seeing the bird of paradise and discovering underwater beauty

It’s been a while, hasn’t it. We’re now on our way to Nepal and there is still so much to share about our last few weeks in Indonesia. I haven’t written or posted anything cause, one, of non-existent or very slow internet, and two, I have been focusing on getting the videos done instead. It always takes longer than you think and as I have limited tools to get it done, it just takes more time than it usually would, if I had a laptop, unlimited storage space, internet, etc.

But here we are, on our way to Nepal, with so many thoughts and images in my head from the recent weeks. Our stay on Waigeo, to date, is still my favourite despite being at the height of a cold there. It was just dreamy. The food was amazing, the people were friendly, the sounds of exotic birds in the morning added to the jungle feeling, the beach and water was just stunning. Did I mention the food? We didn’t realise that when booking on Raja Ampat Homestay, that it was full board. It makes sense because you’re not close to anything really to quickly grab something, let alone have a kitchen available to cook yourself. Though I did get to cook on the last night with Christine, the owner, in their kitchen.

Cooking with Christine at Warimpurem Homestay

We stayed at Warimpurem Homestay, about 30 minutes drive away from Waisai, where all the boats and ferry arrive and some leave for the other islands. The airport doesn’t seem to work anymore, a local said that flights were unreliable and people ended up going by ferries in the end. It only takes 2 hours from Sorong, so it’s quite alright considering the time you’d have to wait at the airport.

Sunset at Warimpurem Homestay, Waigeo, West Papua

Back to the homestay. It was basic, clean and everything you needed. The day slows down here, starting with the sounds of birds and waves. Eventually, we strolled over to the common dining/dozing-off-on-a-hammock area where we had breakfast and pondered what we’d do next. The first day we picked up our lost luggage at the harbour on a scooter driving over bumpy roads (I think people’s bums here become conditioned at a young age. I’m afraid mine will not get used to the pain) and learning that Sundays here really are Sundays. Everything was more or less closed and we could only fuel up with an overpriced bottle from a street vendor. The second day we went on a hike early morning (read before sunrise) to see the Red Bird of Paradise, which only exists on Waigeo, and the Wilson’s Bird of Paradise. On the third day, we went snorkelling around islands nearby and I got a sunburn on me bum. On the last day we explored the local village. Our stay there honestly felt so much longer than four full days. It was the right kind of activity-relaxation-ratio considering I also tried to get over a cold.

Saporkren Village, Waigeo, West Papua

What also helped with slowing down was one of their cats, Manis. I called her Meryll, cause her meowing reminded me of one. She rendered us immobile by wanting to snuggle or sleep on our laps all the time.

When in Labuan Bajo

We spent 10 days in around Labuan Bajo and though we are no experts for every little corner of the town like some expats working in dive centres, we did get to try enough to have some recommendations, should you ever decide to visit this place.

I admit, we could have eaten out more, gone snorkelling every day, stayed in a bustling hostel meeting plenty of other backpackers. But we didn’t. This was the first destination of our six months long travel adventure so we have to watch it a little. It is easy to get overexcited and want to try it all or get sucked in by all the delicious restaurants attracting all the tourists.

We had a budget and with that in mind, we planned a little around the things we really wanted to do whilst here and what we could probably give a miss.

Choosing the diving centre – Divers Paradise Komodo

Obviously, one of the main reasons for coming to Labuan Bajo was snorkelling and seeing the Komodo dragons, so we were hardly not going to go on a boat trip. I recommend going to a few of the shops to ask for a couple of different options of trips to get an idea for prices and feel of the people selling the trips. I think it is important to feel like they know what they’re doing and it’s not just a touristy thing where they drop you off and you have to fend for yourself.

We booked our trips with the Divers Paradise Komodo. They were a little cheaper than most, but they were professional and knowledgable, made us feel welcome, were conscious about the environment and impact of plastic and tourists, and made the best banana pancakes for breakfast and popcorn when you returned from your day trip. If budget is really tight or you’re short on time, make it a half day snorkelling and half day visiting the dragons. We did that a) because we wanted to see the dragons, b) didn’t want to spend a whole day on an island in sun burning weather and c) to give the snorkelling a test with this dive centre to see, if we liked it. Like it we did, so we booked another full day snorkelling tour. Even though everyone else was diving, we were well taken care of by our snorkeler guides and sometimes even got to see more of the underwater universe than divers did.

For the half day snorkel/half day trek, we paid per person:

  • IDR 500,000 for the snorkel/trek
  • National Park fee: IDR 165,000
  • Ranger (local guide) fee: IDR 115,000 (this varies day by day though)

Discovering the surroundings

Rent a scooter, if you’re staying a bit outside of Labuan Bajo or think that you will want to explore more than the city on foot.

A scooter for a day should costs IDR 75,000. If you’re renting for longer, I’m sure you could negotiate a better daily rate. In fact, we should have done that for our stay a bit north of Labuan Bajo.

Cunca Wulang and Cunca Rami are well worth a visit. You’d need a day for each of these unless you’re taking off at sunrise. Getting to Cunca Wulang is a little easier on the bum and on the arms for the person at the helm of the scooter. It also involves a jump of a rock, if it tickles your fancy. With anything worth seeing, there is local guide fee. We formed an impromptu group with two other couples and got a cheaper rate per person. It wasn’t cheap, but well worth it. We paid IDR 94,000 per person. I think it should only be IDR 50,000 but they are hard to negotiate with.

Cunca Rami isn’t too much further but, man, it’s a journey, alright. It says it’s 7km from the main road but it took us just as long to get there as it took us from Labuan Bajo. It paid off with a great local guide showing us all the trees and fruits on the way there and inviting us to his Sunday family lunch. We paid IDR 50,000 for the local guide and IDR 50,000 per person for the waterfall entry. We also gave a little to the local guide afterwards as a thank you for the free food. We felt it was right but may not be expected.

Food places in Labuan Bajo

Again, since we are on a budget for our longer trip, we didn’t have the luxury to go out every day and explore every restaurant created for backpackers and tourists. But we still tried a few and here are the places we recommend:

  • Warung Mama – cheap place, great local food, popular with young people and backpackers. Recommend anything vegetable, traditional rice, fried noodles and tempeh.
  • Warung Blue Corner – similar price range as Warung Mama. Great homemade local food. Recommend fried noodles.
  • Bajo Taco – Mexican inspired. Nice mocktails, great burrito. Brilliant view for the sunset over the harbour, though right next to a mosque and may be a little loud during sunset and dinner.
  • Happy Banana – Japanese and healthy fusion food. Most expensive of the four places, but worth as a treat. Good, if you want to have more vegetables and something closer to western food. Recommend, the vegan wrap, juicy quinoa burger, vegan dumplings, and any of the desserts. Coconut coffee also very delicious. Great atmosphere too, friendly staff and lots of cosy corners to sit and relax.

On days we didn’t go out and eat somewhere, we turned to instant noodles. It’s the most convenient life saver, if you are hungry, need to save money and just want to chill in your room/on your terrace. Also, if you have access to hot water, try making your own with the Asian noodles, instant flavoured sauces, some vegetables, chilli and sweet and sour sauce. The latter two are sometimes provided in homestays.

I definitely recommend staying in Labuan Bajo, if you’re not after a beach holiday. There are places that are not directly on the main street and are quite nice and being in the town makes it way easier to go on trips either organised or by yourself.

More photos from our time in Indonesia