A Travellerspoint blog

Independent Day in Yogya

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I flew back to Jakarta from Kota Kinabalu. Arriving at the airport at 11pm proved to be a challenge since taxi drivers are relentlessly persuasive and overcharge by the thousands (rupiah). After attempting to get some ridiculously high quotes from a few drivers, I was extremely frustrated and sat down inside the 24-hour Mcdonald, ready to wait til sunrise for bus to the train station. Luckily, I met a few Spanish backpackers and one Japanese man in his 50s transiting like myself. We naturally striked up some very interesting conversation about different places and cultures after sharing a taxi to the domestic terminal. Before long, the sun was up. My airport friends left to take another flights.

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I got on the shuttle to Gambir train station, with my backpack, and went to the toilet. When I came out, my bus and my backpack was gone. My nervousness attracted the attention of a friendly local. With hand signal and broken English, we communicated perfectly and chased for my bus in the terminal after a night of no sleep and sore muscles from the Kinabalu climb one day ago. He accompanied me to Gambir station on the next bus and fortunately, my backpack was waiting for me. I thanked him with quick breakfast and got on the train to Yogya one more time.

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I arrived just in time for Indonesia's independent day ceremony. Every village and town had contests such as pole climbing and volleyball etc. Here, poles were lubricated with oil making climbing to the top almost impossible. Prizes were hanged at the top for the toughest locals. Volleyball games were played using instead a normal net, a solid plastic sheet, which prevent athletes from seeing each other. It was most hilarious to watch the two sides catching last minute balls coming down 'somewhere from the top'. I met up with my spanish airport friends and went to the concert outside kraton in yogya. Because of their foreign look, every young concert goers stares at them as we passed with curiosity.

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After a week in yogya, I took a train to Bandung, a city for shopping from people in Jakarka. I, of course, had no interest in shopping, but the volcano scenery in this area. I befriended a nice man who sat next to me on the train. He took me to the fanciest Chinese restaurant (in which the fish comes with a hook) for dinner with his uncle and dropped me off at my hotel in his new Honda.

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The next morning, I boarded a local bus to Ciwidey. After being approached by tens of sellers trying to make a living out of everything from bread to drinks to cigarettes to fruits to gadgets, we finally left the station with crawling speed out of the traffic jam in the city.

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I got off this extremely slow bus before Ciwidey and jumped on an ojek (motorbike) to go to Kawah Putih. Communicating with my broken Indonesian, he became my tour guide and photographer. We trekked around the beautiful turquoise lake in the crater, dangerously close to the bubbling lava until the smell of sulphur was too overwhelming and drove through the extensive tea plantation on the mountains at Rancobali. I must admit that there is something about riding in nature on a motorbike, the freedom with no glass window in between is addictive.

Back to the Bandung bus station, I was choked with pollution and crowded minibus. So I decided to stay another night and treated myself with a good dinner. Luckily, a brand new shopping centre called 'Paris van Java' was 10 minute walk away from my hotel. I searched desperately for what I came here for - sushi. After loading up at a great bakery called 'Breaktalk', I became the only customer at the only sushi restaurant and had the most delicious fried tofu, handroll and tuna sushi. Then watched 'The Mummy' for less than $3.

Posted by shinenyc 08:47 Archived in Indonesia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

The magic of Kinabalu

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Although I was feeling dizzy looking at the seemingly unlimited stretch of palm oil mountains in the back of his truck when the head of the NGO Organization raced through the winding roads from Sakau with his Toyota truck, we did arrive in Ranau in record time. I found a new guesthouse in this quiet town and watched the Olympic Opening ceremony in the tiny television at the restaurant while enjoying my noodle soup late at night.

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The next morning, after failing to negotiate a decent price for the minibus (because the bus driver thought I am Japanese) and waiting for it to get full, I arrived at Kinabalu National Park around 10. The quota for climbing Mt Kinabalu is 198 each day and I was lucky to register and climb on the same day after someone cancel and a bed in the lodge was found for the night.

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My guide was a young friendly muslim. We walked 4.5 km from the headquarter office to the main gate before I got a chance to have my breakfast, the lunch bag included in the package. The first few kilometer was gently sloped and I was able to catch up with most other hikers. The last km proved to be a bit more challenging with increasing steepness. I took my time and finally arrived at the rest house restaurant at 3100m (6km) where buffet were served to crowds of hungry climbers. We checked into our lodge and slept early, hoping for a good start early next morning for sunrise.

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I slept only for two hours. It might be my anxiety or constant footsteps from people going into the toilet opposite our room. Nevertheless, I unwillingly got dressed in layers of thermals and start climbing with my guide at 2:30am. Going up hundred of stone steps in the cold night is not the most pleasant thing for the legs, but with hikers in front and behind me, I was not about to give up although the climb got rougher by the minutes. We used ropes to pull ourselves up the rock surface in the last km. Since I did not pack any gloves, by this time, my fingers were so cold that they were about to break off from my hands. It was at this point that I truly appreciate the encouragement from my guide who took my hands into his, warm them up and almost pulled me through the steep last 200m to the submit (4095m, 8.7 km).

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The view was magnificent at the submit of Mt Kinabalu. Although clouds had dimmed the sunrise, the surrounding peaks and rock surfaces are truly memorizing. It almost looks like the surface of another planet. Everyone took their opportunities for photos. I was overjoyed and really glad that the ascent was over.

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After almost 30 minute at the submit, I finally start descending. The smooth rock surfaces prove to be quite easy to go down compared to going up. The peaks now reflected the early sun ray and demands more respect. We arrived at the rest house after almost two hours of descent and had a very much deserved breakfast. Then continued to go down another 6 km back to the main gate during when I had some wonderful conversation with my guide about everything from Muslim to pop culture.

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Suddenly the rain started coming down when we are almost back at the headquarter, it is a rain forest after all. My knees and feet needed rest, not wetness. I said goodbye to my wonderful guide. Without him, I would probably still be climbing and cursing somewhere on the trail. It must be the magic of Mt Kinabalu and friendliness of my guide that had made this climb possible.

I braved the rain and waited for the bus outside the entrance of the national park to Kota Kinabalu.

Posted by shinenyc 09:12 Archived in Malaysia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Dream comes true

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Crossing the border from Tarakan in East Kilimantan, Indonesia to Tawau, Malaysia by speedboat only took a few hours, but the scenery on the road sides are dramatically different. Here in Sabah, palm oil plantations cover not just small hills but mountains stretched as far as the eye can see. I took another bus from Tawau to Lahad Datu, a town closest to a few wildlife reserves in this area.

Understandably, most tour packages in this region are not catered to single traveller that show up without reservation. After inquiring about some 2 day 1 night tour into these wildlife reserves and getting ridiculously expensive quotes from two different travel agencies, I decided to try my luck at a research office. To my surprise, I was allowed by a very nice manager at the local Department of Forestry to camp next the river at the Taliwas Conservation area which used to be logged 30 years ago, about 45 minute from Lahad Datu.

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For the next two days, I trekked with a ranger in the secondary forest nearby and spotted a wild male orangutan making a nest high on the tree, bite by the fighty fire ants, saw the rare marble cat in our night safari drive and helped to plant trees. I've befriended the hospitable manager's family who invited me for dinners and played with his young son, Aedan.

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From Lahad Datu, I took a bus that dropped me off at a junction and another shared taxi with a few plantation workers on a dusty roads to the village of Sukau, a beautiful village along Sungai Kinabatagan. Due to the abundance of palm oil plantation in this area, most wildlife nowadays are trapped in a very narrow stretch of secondary forest by this mighty river in East Sabah. In recent years, the acidic level of the river was risen dramatically by fertilizer from nearby mountains and mountains of plantation and the water level was risen by abandoned logs on the river bottom. Fortunately, local conservation teams and NGOs are working hard to save the last piece of land by replanting native trees and protecting the remaining wildlife population.

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From the moment I watched the Borneo Elephant show on Animal Planet, I was determined to come to this part of the world to further understand this unique specie. I decided to try my luck, again, by talking to a local NGOs headed by a french couple doing research on orangutans and was introduced to a master student who is working on these elephants. For the couple days, a dedicated research student took me to track for her collared female, Belina, and her family in the forest. I exchanged my notes with her on animal behavior and had a wonderful time with her conservation team. Her valuable information allowed me to have a much deeper understanding on the conflict between human and elephants, for my own studies. My dream had come true.

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Posted by shinenyc 21:42 Archived in Malaysia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Meet the Old Borneo

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Two long bus rides later, I went back to Banjarmasin. A town full of old coal trucks, Banjarmasin can feel suffocated during daytime. I decided to escape to the nearby Loksado area for a day of trekking to get some fresh air.

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To save money, me and my 50-year-old senior trekking guide, took yellow minibus taxi, then changed to long-distance minibus, then another truck, all packed with passengers, to get out to the mountains. By the time I reached Loksado, I had inhaled a few tons of exhaust fume which made my coughing and sinus much worse.

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We started trekking from Loksado village on a trail, also used by the villager's motorbikes, for little more than two hours, finally reaching a small village with an old empty longhouse. Another 30 minute later took us to another village, then the supposedly famous waterfall. My guide, Alexander, was excited to show me their treasure, while I was a bit disappointed at the height of this fall. I, however, pretended to be quite glad that we made it and refused to walk out on the slippery log for photos because of my shoes. Alexander assured my safety so I braved myself but almost fell into the roaring river after my shoes slipped. Luckily, I was saved by my guide and avoided a tragedy.

We motorbiked through the secondary forest back to the Loksado village and had tea with some elders. Since the sun was about to set, we each took an ojec through the winding roads in the mountains back to Kandalgan. It was quite an exhilarating feeling speeding up and down these limestone hills. Another three hours of torturing inhalation of exhaust later, I was never so glad to reach my hotel room for a hot shower.

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The next day, I took an overnight bus to Balikpapan with a New Zealand couple. Here we changed a few minibuses from the outskirt of Samarinda, to Tenggarone, to Kota Bungai, where we took a boat to the village of Muara Muntai along the mighty Sungai Makaham.

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Muara Muntai is a relatively clean, beautifully-constructed and organized village on a swampy island with wide broadwalk and satellite next to almost every house. Some houses are as elaborated as large houses on land. We checked in a simple losmen for $5 a night.

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After breakfast and morning walk, we took a cez across Danau (Lake) Jampung to the first Dayak village on the Mahakam called Tanjung Isuy. After checking into another losmen with beautiful view, we went for a walk and were invited by the local to the first night of the Ceremony for the Dead celebration.

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Traditional ceremonies were always quite boring to be honest, especially after a few hours of mourning songs. Luckily, besides the 'singers' on one side of the longhouse, there are also a large number of very young children playing chess in the middle and another group of men gambling on the far end. Each oblivious of the other group.The highlight of the ceremony is the dancing or the circling of the skull box seven times by men and women separately. I joined in to the action, learned some new steps and was glad to finally retreat back to my room for the night.

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Next morning, we rode along Sungai Ohong, a tributary off Sungai Mahakam, into another village called Moncong. While most exposed land were logged and farmed in the beginning, after an hour, our cez slowly took us into a territory with thick forest and large trees where kingfishers, herons, monitor lizards and proboscis monkeys roam freely. This is how I always imagine Borneo, at least the images on TV, not the polluted towns and plantations. Our cez driver, Yani, skillfully navigated through fallen logs over the next few hours while we enjoy the wildlife Borneo was so famous for.

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On our return trip, the sky turned dark and the daily downpour began. Our boat kept moving along the narrow river with millions of raindrops hitting the river surface - a true rainforest river experience, I told myself and then dozed off shortly after with the soothing sound of rain.

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Posted by shinenyc 05:17 Archived in Indonesia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

The King and I

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15 hours, 150 small towns, 1500 villages and 15000 potholes later, I finally arrived at Pangkanlanbun at 3am. This is the gateway town for Tanjung Puting National Park where the famous Camp Leakey Orangutan Rehabitation Centre is located in south Kilimantan.

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After all the sitting, I decided to find the police station in town for the letter I needed for the park permit, instead of hiring an ojec (motorbike taxi). I need to photocopy my visa but most of the fotocopy shops in town has no power at mid-day. I kept walking quite aimlessly on a large road until the large police station appeared on my right. A small fotocopy shops had a small line of people. I made my copy and was directed to a room where the park letter can be obtained. After 20 min, I obtained my letter from a friendly policeman.

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My next stop is the park office. I kept walking in midday sun on the large road. 15...30...45 min... Finally after almost 5km, I reached the road lead off a traffic circle where the park office is supposed to locate. Once I walked inside the office and stated my purpose of coming, I saw surprising look on many faces. 'Why did you come by yourself?', Inten, a friendly officer asked me. Later, I realized that most tourists obtained their permits from their tour guide or agency. I ended up befriended and met up with Inten a few times.

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After a few arrangements, I finally found a local guide from Kumai, Andy, who took me and two Holland couples in a Klotek into the park. I then find homestay at the village of Tanjung Harapin for less than what the Lonely Planet rate include three huge meals of mie goreng and nasi. We headed off the next day to visit the much anticipated Camp Leakey.

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When my cek, motorized canoe, arrived at the pier, a mother orangutan with a baby and her young son was entertaining the tourists who were having lunch on their klotoks. I sat down with Andy with a glass of Nescafe in our hand. The mother orangutan wasted no time to come over and took Andy's glass, then finished mine tasty drink as well.

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After registering with the camp officer, we started trekking in the forest behind the camp. I asked if Andy can locate Kusasi, the legendary orangutan king who ruled this area for over 10 years, the longest reign of any orangutan. Kusasi's mother was murdered when he was a baby. He was sold to someone in Kumai. Luckily, the new endangered specie was enacted in time and he was brought back to Camp Leakey when he was under 3.

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While most orangutan babies seek human care at this age, Kusasi disappeared into the jungle and reappeared more than one and half year later at camp. No one knows how an orangutan at this young age can survive by himself in the dangerous jungle environment without any guidance. Once he returned to camp, Kusasi continued to refuse human contact but followed the dominant female orangutan as his adopted mom although she had never completely accepted him. He was expalled by her after her new baby was borned a few years later.

Alone again, Kusasi's strong determination to be on top enable him to climb up in rank and after increasing his hormone level and obtain his cheekpals, he began fighting off fellow males with brutal forces and ruled his territories with fear during the most devastating 10 years in Borneo current history. Behind his toughness, he also showed a tender side with his female and mated with all of them during his reign. Unfortunately, the great fire of Borneo in 1997 slowly forced male orangutans from other territories into the national park and this created great challenges Kusasi. Over 30, Kusasi braved his kingdom for as long as he could but was finally took over by Tom, the current ruler.

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Andy, who is the oldest guides in the park, grew up watching Kusasi. He made the familiar call while we trekked. Fifteen minute later, I could not believe my eyes. The old king appeared in the trees only a few metres from us, almost oblivious to our presence, searching for termite nest in the ground. He continued while we watched patiently. After 15 minutes, I asked Andy if it is possible to give him the apple in my bag, a rather insignificant offering to the king. Andy agreed and gave my apple to Kusasi.

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After finishing the apple, Kusasi slowly moved forward to closeby the trail where we are. Only a metre away from him, I can see that the once mighty king now has wounds on the lips, half-bitten ears, cut off finger and large incision on the forehead which he constantly touches, as if to ask us for help and welcome us to his home. Like an old man, Kusasi started yearning after playing host for another 10 minutes. Andy and I understandably said farewell and moved on. My brief encounter with Kusasi was a tremendously humbling experience.

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Feeding time started around 2pm. Over 30 tourists crowded in front of the feeding table for the 'eating show' with cameras of all sorts. Numerous orangutans show up, mostly nursing mothers with babies. While I enjoyed watching their behavior interacting with each other, I could not help but felt uncomfortable with this setup. However, the fact is that these human care orangutans can never be completely wild because of the continue logging and destruction of their habitat.

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Over a long conservation with a volunteer at the camp, I realized that there are currently over 300 orphans residing at a small and overcrowded centre in Pangkalanbun. Are we finally going to realize our selfishness and greed when this magnificent specie becomes extinct in 10 to 20 years?

Posted by shinenyc 02:44 Archived in Indonesia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

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