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By this Author: niscratz

Beautiful Bali :)

Week 3 with Cushla :)

View Indonesia (Jul-Aug 2013) on niscratz's travel map.

We arrived in Bali from Gili Meno at a town called Amed on the east coast of the island. Our destination was Tulamben, the next town up the coast, for some diving on the famous wreck of the U.S.S. Liberty (or the U.S.A.T. Liberty, according to wikipedia!). We were diving with Liberty Dive Resort, which had come recommended by an English couple we met diving in Flores, but stayed at Puri Madha Resort as their accommodation was half the price! We had just two nights in Tulamben as I had a flight to catch.. I can assure you, two nights is not long enough! To make the most of my time there, I did a night dive on the wreck the day we arrived – it was fab! There was this one big grouper that followed us around for a lot of the dive – he was trying to hunt in my torchlight! One of the fish he almost ate was very cute, so I made sure he didn't get to eat that guy, but the rest of them I let him off – that's nature! And the kills made for some nice video footage ;) I also saw this really cool slipper lobster – I'd never seen as big a one before! There were also some bumphead parrotfish, settling down for the night, and I saw some soft coral spawning (at least, that's what I assume it was doing), which is also something I'd never seen before. So, it was a very successful first dive.

The Liberty was a cargo ship that was torpedoed by the Japanese in 1942 during the second world war. It was beached on Bali, but then due to an eruption of one of the nearby volcanoes in 1963, the wreck slid back into the sea and is now literally just off the coast – you can easily swim to it. It makes it a very easy shore dive (altho' getting in and out isn't the easiest cos of all the rocks and the reasonably sized waves). On our only full day in the area, both myself and Cushla got up at the crack of dawn to do a dawn dive on the wreck. Later in the morning I went to the coral garden with my guide and had one of the best ever, no, definitely the best ever muck dive I've had! My guide was SUPER! He was very good at finding the small stuff and I saw heaps of things. I wanted to see a ghost pipe-fish – I saw about eight of them, two different species! I saw lots of micro-crustaceans hiding in anemones and feather stars and I saw lots of nudis. It really was a FANTASTIC dive – I can't wait to sort thro' the photos! That afternoon I was going to do another couple of dives, but then I realised that this was my last day in paradise – my last day to sit in the sun by the sea and soak up the rays (cos I do that so well lol!). And so I didn't bother diving that afternoon, instead I spent my time reading and relaxing. The following morning we again got up very early, this time while it was still dark, the idea being to get into the water before the sun rose so that we could see the school of bumphead parrotfish waking up... Boy was it worth it! There was a good 20 of them in the school – some really big! And we got there just as they were rousing themselves and starting to swim off into the blue or wherever it is they go during the day. It was a real wow – not quite as wow as the mantas in Komodo, but still a wow. We continued that dive in the muck a little, and then onto the wreck. With Liberty Diver Resort, everyone gets their own private guide at no extra cost, so I always got to say where I wanted to go, and when my guide found me something worth photographing, I could stay as long as I wanted to try to get that perfect shot (of course, I generally didn't do so well and really really wanted a decent underwater camera with a super macro lens on it!). For our second dive that day, as we had time for it, I went to a site between the coral garden and the wreck that was also pretty much a muck dive and was also really cool, and finished off on the wreck. And then it was over... That was my last dive in Indonesia :( How sad :( I must say thanks here to Liane whom I met on Hoga, who told me not to bother diving on Gili, but to wait until Bali (and she works on Gili!) - she was right – diving on Bali is great :)

That afternoon we headed for Ubud in the centre of the southern part of the island. I have to say, my idea of Bali was always that it would be too touristy, and so I was going to try to avoid going there at all, apart from to use its airport. I tend to avoid tourists when I can. And my two brief encounters with Kuta back that up – it's too touristy and not a nice place to hang out. However, on the drive between Amed and Tulamben, and then from Tulamben to Ubud, I realised that Bali is another stunning Indonesian paradise, of lush green vegetation, paddy fields, beautiful blue skies and seas, and lovely mountains. You just have to get out of the southern part of the island, which is really touristy, to get into the smaller beautiful areas to appreciate it :) Bali is another one to go back to as I hardly saw any of it, and I believe there's a lot more diving to be done there!

Anyways, I digress... Ubud was our next destination, but I was only staying there one night before flying onto Jakarta. Cushla however was spending a week there to do yoga. Ubud is kinda touristy. Apparently because of the book 'Eat, Pray, Love', a lot of Americans now go to Ubud searching for – well, as I've neither read the book nor watched the film, I don't know exactly what it is they think they're going to find there, but in any case that's not important – the point is they go there and now the place is busier than it used be. I wandered the long street near our guest house and found a lot of lovely shops – I could have spent a fortune there. Fortunately for my wallet, I had no space left in my bag and a 20 kg limit, that had already been exceeded, on my flight to Jakarta! I did do a little bit of shopping there however, and a lot of eating of really good food. The place is heaven for those on yoga/health food buzzes. There are a few restaurants with really delicious organic food, the sort that is not even difficult to find in the Europe, and that makes you feel really healthy after you eat it. I really enjoyed my 24 hours in Ubud! But then it was over: beautiful Bali became no more than a memory when I flew to Jakarta the following day, and I had to say bye to Cushla – who knows where we'll next meet, or when..

I had less than 48 hours in Jakarta before my flight back to Paris. I stayed at a really nice hostel, run by an Irish guy, David, and his Indonesian wife. I didn't happen upon it by chance, myself and David have a mutual Irish friend who lives near me in France. It was on her recommendation that I stayed at Six Degrees Backpackers. I didn't regret it. The hostel was well-located, within walking distance of the CBD. And there was a really interesting crowd staying there, including an American who was in Jakarta to do field work for his PhD. My ears immediately pricked up as he told me what his thesis was about and I wondered would it be possible to join him for some field work the following day. I'd no plans for Jakarta, other than a tiny bit of shopping that I got done in a couple of hours. I figured all the historical stuff in the old part of the town could wait – it'd been there for years; it'd be there for a few more. But helping this guy out with fieldwork was probably a once-only opportunity. His thesis, in social science/geography, is looking at the links between rubbish build-up (due to disorganised urban sprawl, especially by poorer migrants to the city) in the rivers, its effect on the flow rate of the river and flooding (the intensity and frequency of flooding in Jakarta has been increasing in recent years). It sounded really intersting and the field work consisted of measuring rubbish/sludge depths at several sites on the main river in Jakarta. He had, sadly, finished his field work for this trip (I should point out that he's based in a university in Singapore and so doesn't travel too far to his field site), but he did have to go back to one of his field sites where a local grass roots NGO operates from to drop back some equipment – they store it for him. So he said I could come with him if I liked.. So, in the morning I wandered to the CBD, past a lot of very big old colonial gated houses, some with security guards outside, to a massive big shopping centre full of the wealthier of Jakarta's people. And in the afternoon I was far away from that, both geographically and wealth-wise, in a neighbourhood that had a lot of much poorer people in it living in slums. Not all of the houses were slums however, as Zack explained, when people migrate to Jakarta, they move into the kampong where the rest of their people are, be they Javanese, Balinese, Papuan etc.. So people cluster by where they come from and not by how big and fancy a house they can afford. Anyways, it was a very interesting day for me all in all.

At 4 am the following morning I had to get up to be at the airport in time for my flight to Paris. Funnily, at the airport I met one of the diving bosses from Hoga with his wife! They were on the same flight as me as far as Dubai! And that was it – the end of my two month trip to Indonesia. Since arriving back in France, I know for sure that once this academic year is over, and my contract at the university is finished, I'll be leaving France and (probably) heading for SE Asia once again, with a one-way ticket.. And I can't wait!

Posted by niscratz 12:04 Archived in Indonesia Tagged bali jakarta indonesia tulamben ubud Comments (0)

The Volcano and the Island..

Week two with Cushla :)

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A title like that is a little ambiguous in a country that's full of islands and volcanoes, but after Flores we spent a fabulous three days on one volcano, followed by a much needed four days chilling out on a very sleepy island. From Flores we'd to fly back to Bali as there are no direct flights between Flores and Lombok (there are boats, and boat-bus combos, but they take a lot longer and we didn't want to spend our time travelling as we didn't have enough of it). We ended up spending yet another night in Kuta (on Bali). This time however, our accommodation was on the beach and the waves were big, beautiful and inviting when we arrived. So we spent sunset playing in the waves. The following morning we were up at the crack of dawn to get a bus to Padangbai, on the east coast of Bali, to catch a boat to Lombok. We arrived in Senggigi (on Lombok) and found ourselves a driver to take us to Senaru, where we were going to organise our trek up the volcano. Public transport in Senggigi is not easy to organise, unless of course you have a lot of time and can go by bemo (the small public mini-vans that travel relatively short distances but can be joined together to travel long distances). But we really wanted to begin our trek the following day, so we didn't have lots of time to spend travelling. The first stop with our driver was a toilet-stop, which very conveniently was in a travel agents... One minute we're on our own doing it our own way, next minute the smooth-talking tour operator has us paying for our trek, our accommodation that night in Senaru, our transport to and from Senaru, our boat to Gili Meno after the trek, our accommodation on Gili Meno and our boat back to Bali – WOW! That's way more advance paying than either of us would ever normally do, but it really did sound like a good deal (fortunately as it turned out, it was!). Everything was locked in, apart from the date that we would leave Gili Meno for Bali – that was open and all we had to do was call him one day in advance of when we wanted to leave.. Being locked in to stuff like that is not my style, nor is it Cushlas, but luckily it all worked out and it was easy – we didn't have to worry about organising or paying for anything for the following week. So we headed for Senaru and got ourselves ready for the trek.

The trek we did was a three day/two night trek in Gunung Rinjani National Park. Rinjani is Indonesia's second highest volcano and, as Indonesia is sitting on the Pacific Ring of Fire, this, like most others in the country I guess, volcano is still active – it has erupted twice in the past thirty years. There are a number of different trek options on the volcano, but we chose to begin in Sembalun and finish in Senaru. On the positive side, this meant that our ascent was going to be less taxing than had we gone in the other direction as Sembalun is at a higher altitude than Senaru. It also meant that we were going to hit the hot pools after we'd tried for the summit, rather than the other way round, which seemed a far better way of doing things in my mind. However, the route from Sembalun to the crater rim is thro' a savannah landscape, whereas from Senaru to the rim it's thro' jungle – so we weren't going to have any shade from the sun on our first day.

Anyways, the trek was fan-frickin'-tastic! I really enjoyed it. It was very tough physically, especially as I'm far less fit than I used be due to a serious lack of regular exercise – something I must remedy now! But the amazing scenery and the different landscapes really made it all worth it. Trekking in Gunung Rinjani N.P. is not allowed without a guide and porters. So everybody who goes up pays for a package which includes a local guide, some local porters (depending on how many trekkers are in the group) aswell as food and camping equipment. The porters carry a ridiculous 60 kg each over one shoulder! And most of them wear flip-flops and practically run up and down the volcano! There were eight trekkers in our group: a French couple, a Spanish-Basque couple, two Italians (who live in Australia) and the two of us. We got a good group – everyone was lovely and we had a good laugh together. Four porters were necessary to carry the tents, sleeping bags, camping mats, food, cooking equipment etc.

The first day we climbed about 1300 m from Sembalun to the crater rim (2639 m). Here is a 360° view from that evening. There we set up camp for the night. It was ridiculously windy on the rim and so it quite difficult to sleep that night. The paper thin camping mats didn't help! But the sunset was fabulous! And the views of the crater lake down below us (when the clouds parted) were fab too. We were woken at stupid o'clock in the morning to get up to climb to the summit in time for sunrise. The summit is at 3726 m – so we had a good 1000 m climb to do in the dark. The full moon was out when we were doing it, so often we didn't need our head lamps. But it was a dangerous walk – along the rim of a volcano, in the dark, with the still very strong wind blowing about! We had hoped the wind would die down during the night, but unfortunately that wasn't to be. The climb to the summit was absolutely freezing! Cushla even brought her sleeping bag with her so that when we reached the summit, she could wrap herself in it! I hadn't brought any proper trekking gear with me (apart from my boots), as I'd so little space with all the diving gear, so I'd borrowed a jacket, hat and gloves from the trekking company we went with. The jacket however could have fit two of me into it it was so big! I don't think that made me any colder tho' (than I would have been had I had my own gear), because the Basque couple were avid trekkers and had come prepared, and they were freezing too! Sadly we didn't actually make the summit that morning. We figure about fifteen people made it to the top – there were about 70 or so who tried. We made it maybe three-quarters of the way. By that stage the sun had begun to rise and we were frozen, so we just huddled behind a big rock for shelter while trying to enjoy the sunrise, before making our way back down to camp for breakfast. Part of what made it a tough climb is that the terrain is like sand – you sink into it and it's often a case of three steps forward, two back. It's filthy black volcanic sand, and so with the wind blowing it all about, by the time we got back to camp we were filthy (we hadn't started out squeaky clean of course - we had gotten pretty dirty the previous day too)! I had decided not to wear my contacts after the first day as I didn't want to get another eye infection trying to put them in and take them out with filthy fingers! That same terrain made the descent from the summit quite easy in my opinion – it was like soft snow, so you could really almost run down sections of the track, especially as the wind was behind us. There were sections, however, where you had to be very careful as the track was very narrow with a steep drop into the crater on one side, and a fairly steep slope down the volcano side on the other side. There were some parts on the way down, that I wondered how I'd managed on the way up – but it was dark, so I guess I just hadn't really noticed, and had just concentrated on the small circle of light made by my head lamp.

After breakfast we headed down into the crater to have lunch beside the crater lake (at 2000 m). There were hot pools nearby too, so we had a soak in those before lunch. Our camp that night was back up on the crater rim (a different spot to the previous night but also at 2600 m) and it was in a sheltered spot, so the wind (which was still blowing) didn't affect our nights sleep. The following day, our last, we began our descent into Senaru. It was pretty tough – the descent to the lake the previous day had left some of my lesser-used muscles in a sorry state, and my knees weren't much better. I did a lot of slow sideways walking to get down in one piece. It was a 2000 m descent from 2641 m to 650 m. Most of it was thro' jungle, which was lovely. I saw so many different species of fern on the upper part of the track. One of the Italians was a geologist, and he was as interested in the flora of the area as I was, so we spent our descent pointing out new plants to each other. I wish I'd taken photos of all the fern species – I swear I'd have at least 15 to show! And all from one small area. There were some lovely flowers too as we got lower and back to more tropical temperatures.

One thing about Rinjani that was different to a lot of the other treks I've done, was that there were a lot of Indonesians also doing the trek. The volcano is sacred to Hindus, Balinese and Sasaks, so people go on pilgrimages to it. I passed a few elderly gents walking up barefoot!!! I'm not sure whether there's a link between the Indonesians climbing and camping on the volcano and the fact that there is rubbish EVERYWHERE up there, but I'm pretty sure that most people I know would take their rubbish down with them. It is the one big downside to the beauty of the volcano. The first evening while we were sitting on the rim before the sun set, we noticed all these things floating in the air over the lake – at first they looked like birds, then they looked like the kites you see flying in Bali. Then we realised they were plastic bags, just being blown around on the thermals in the evening – disgusting, and such a pity. And speaking of rubbish, there are no buildings of any sort on the volcano, apart from a few open-sided shelters, and so toilets are also a bit of an issue. Most of the groups (there were a lot of groups apart from our up there, each with their own set of guides and porters etc) had a “toilet tent”, which consisted of a hole in the ground, dug when we arrived, surrounded by a 4-sided open-topped tent about 5 foot tall. In the morning when we left the camp, the guide would fill in the hole again (altho' generally it was already full at that point and it was more a case of covering it over). Neither our guide nor our porters used the toilet, it was only for us. They just found a bush somewhere to hide behind. So you can probably begin to imagine the amount of human waste and toilet paper, as well as the rest of the rubbish lying around up there. It really is something that something should be done about. It's a national park after all.

That afternoon, when we'd reached Senaru at the foot of the volcano, it was straight on to Bangsal to catch our ferry to Gili Meno. Gili Meno is one of three small islands, collectively known as the Gili Islands (altho' Gili is the Indonesian word for a small island, so calling them the “small island islands” is kind of ridiculous!), off the north west coast of Lombok. Gili Trawangan is the party island on the west, Gili Meno is the quiet island in the middle, and Gili Air is the semi-party/semi-quiet island on the east. The French couple and the Italians were headed to Gili Air. So they stopped at Bangsal too. The Basque couple were on their way home, so they continued on to Senggigi to take the ferry back to Bali.

When we arrived on Gili Meno, we weren't able to go down steps easily. Going up was also difficult. Going from standing to sitting, or vice-versa was also a challenge (not to mention using squat toilets!). So we decided to stay there for as long as we could to allow our leg muscles to heal. Fortunately the island was flat, and walking on the flat was easy! We really didn't do a whole lot of anything on Gili Meno. We did a bit of swimming, a bit of snorkelling, lots of eating and lots of chilling. One day we hired bikes to cycle around the island (which you can walk around in two hours – it's not very big at all). There's a bird park on the island, originally set up to collect and sell on tropical birds, but as that is now illegal, it has become a sanctuary for certain bird species that are endangered in the wild. There are other birds there that are not endangered, and so certainly do not need to be there, says me – the fan of free animals. Some of the birds are stunning! But the cages are all a bit old and tired looking. The guy who owns it is trying to sell it. I'm not sure whether the birds come with it – a few of them are extremely valuable – probably moreso than the premises itself! We also visited this very small turtle hatchery, where they grow baby turtles until they reach eight months, and then release them around the island. Apparently you're nearly guaranteed to see a turtle when diving or snorkelling around the island – we didn't! In all we spent four days on Gili Meno, lazing around. It was difficult to leave – the island is a mini-paradise! Fortunately we left for another paradise: Bali :)

Posted by niscratz 07:07 Archived in Indonesia Tagged indonesia lombok rinjani gili_meno Comments (0)

Fabulous Flores

Week 1 with Cushla :)

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So, where did I leave ye...? At the end of my stint on Hoga I believe.. I left Hoga at the crack of dawn on a fine Wednesday morning, having had barely 3 hours sleep, and joined between 5 and 10 other dive staff on our journeys away from there. It began on one of our long, narrow dive boats and a very slow trip (cos of the relatively big waves – our boat was the only where most of the people didn't get a good soaking!) across the channel to the port on Kaledupa to meet the public fast ferry to Baubau via Wanci. Some people disembarked at Wanci for flights on to Makassar (note to self: that route is much faster!), but most of us went as far as Baubau, where we spent the night. It was Eid – the Muslim celebration at the end of Ramadan, so the town was as buzzing as it probably ever can be. The following day we all took the tiny propellor plane across the southern end of Sulawesi to Makassar, where we had to say more goodbyes. Finally there were just three of us that flew onto Bali that evening. And at the airport we all went our separate ways.

Cushla was waiting for me at Bali aiport, her flight having gotten in not so long before mine. And so we added another country to our list of random meeting places around the world. We spent the night in Kuta as it's cheap and close to the airport. It's also got lots of restaurants that serve western food – I was in heaven trying to decide what to eat after 3 weeks of rice and veggies (I exaggerate of course, slightly!). The following morning we flew to Labuan Bajo on the island of Flores. We almost missed our flight! As it was the end of Ramadan, alot of people were on the move, and the domestic departure terminal at Denpasar airport was chock a block. By the time our flight was due to take off, we still hadn't checked in! We were fast-tracked to the desk and rushed thro' everything and finally got on our flight about a half hour after it was supposed to have left, with about half of the other passengers: clearly (and fortunately) we weren't the only ones to have been caught out by the post-Ramadan rush.

It was motor-bike taxis from the airport in Labuan Bajo to our accommodation, with my massive dive bag in front at the driver's feet! Labuan Bajo turned out to be a lovely little place, in my opinion at least. Some people we met felt it was very dirty, but honestly, it had a lovely atmosphere to it and a stunning harbour, and the dirt (I didn't think it was that bad) didn't bother me at all.

So, Labuan Bajo is the gateway to Komodo National Park: an area full of islands between the larger islands of Flores (in the east) and Sumbawa (in the west). The area is probably most well-known due to the famous Komodo dragon – a massive monitor lizard found on the islands of Komodo and Rinca. But it's underwater attractions have been drawing a growing number of visitors to the area, with numbers of dive centres exploding in recent years. We had hoped to do a liveaboard diving trip in the park, but the popularity of the area was much greater than I had expected, and so our attempts at reserving a spot two months in advance were fruitless, at least with the dive centres that had been recommended to me by Ben, a friend of mine from Dive Safari Asia, who knows the area really well. August is of course high season in Indonesia, so advance bookings for almost everything are very necessary (which sucks as I hate advance booking things – what if you want to move on sooner/stay longer? Playing it by ear is the way I prefer to travel..). Fortunately, from Labuan Bajo you can reach almost all of the best sites Komodo N.P. has to offer on a day boat, and so we had booked into the very professional Divine Diving for three days of diving.

Our first day of diving was AMAZING! Our first dive was on what is definitely the most pristine coral reef I've ever dived on. It was healthy and colourful and there wasn't a patch of rock that didn't have something growing on it. The visibility was crystal clear and I just really do not have the words to describe how beautiful it was – I could have stayed down there for a long time. On our second dive that day we did a drift dive over some fairly boring terrain – mostly dead coral, along a transect known for the presence of feeding manta rays – they love the current. And we were not to be disappointed – we saw eight, yes, EIGHT manta rays on our dive – it was INCREDIBLE!! I was utterly speechless after the dive. We were so lucky! We saw a group of three, a group of two and three individuals. One of them swam right over me – the adrenalin was pumping something else as it was approaching – I was trying to sink myself as deep as the sea bed would allow in case it would...do something to me lol! I don't know what it would do, but they are such big creatures, that when they approach you like that, it's kinda scarey! In a good way :) Our third dive that day – well, it was a pretty normal dive, if I remember rightly – nothing spectacular about it compared with the previous two.

Unfortunately I had in fact begun to feel sick the day we travelled to Labuan Bajo. I put it down to a few nights of bad, short sleep beginning on my last night in Hoga (and my incredibly unresilient immune system, which seems to give up at all the most inopportune moments). So that first day of diving I had literally drugged myself up on a mixture of things to make sure I could clear my sinuses while underwater – something I would never do in the normal way of things, but I did not want to miss dives in Komodo. But that first day of diving, plus the night out that followed (with a great bunch of people we'd met on the boat), put paid to any hopes I'd had of diving on day two. Instead I spent the morning having a much-needed lie-in and the rest of the day being very sedentary. It was an unfortunate day to miss, as Cushla saw ten reef sharks on one of the sites they dived at that day – TEN!!! Suffice to say, Komodo N.P. is definitely a place to go diving to see pelagics – the currents in the area are very strong, and that's what attracts the big fish :)

I did dive on day three: there was another stunning reef dive followed by a great muck dive (where you look for the little stuff in the muck). The third dive of the day was a “dry dive” on Rinca Island, where we went dragon-hunting. We hiked about the island for maybe an hour or so, but we had seen all the dragons we were going to see before we left the information area. There were four dragons hanging about there (they get fed, altho' this is denied, by the park wardens), but as it was the afternoon, they were all siesta-ing and didn't look in the slightest bit threatening or amazing.. They looked half-dead to be honest, some of them even looked like their skin was hanging off their bodies. I think maybe early morning or late evening would be a better time to spot the dragons, as this is when they are more active.

As I was still unwell in the sinus/ear department, we decided to leave Labuan Bajo and travel further east into Flores. We had flights back to Bali booked, so we had 7 full days on Flores. On day 4 we travelled as far as Ruteng – a 4 hour drive on a very windy road. But the views were fabulous. I could see why the Portuguese had named the island as they did, because there were flowers of all sorts and colours all over the place. It really was beautiful, with the blue blue sky, the lush green vegetation and then all the smatterings of colourful flowers. Of course, (and this is where it all begins to get a bit ridiculous!), en route to Ruteng, something wierd started to happen to my left eye... It began to swell up and there were funny darting feelings inside it. It was horrible! When we arrived in Ruteng I took out my contact lense immediately (I was only wearing one as the other had been a bit funny the previous day, so I'd left it out that day). By evening time my eye was well and truly swollen, and by the following morning: well, I couldn't open either eye without using my fingers to prise my eyelids apart, they were so stuck together with green icky stuff. My right eye was still normal looking, but my left eye looked like it belonged to someone from Asia – it was so swollen and tiny and slanted looking. I was a little bit worried to tell the truth. I've never had eye problems before, so I didn't know what it could be. An infection of some sort for sure, but bacterial/parasitical/viral? My imagination was on over-drive and I could see myself going blind – that's a really bloody scarey thought! First thing that morning we went to the local hospital in Ruteng. I seemed to get ushered thro' all formalities very quickly despite the large number of people sitting around waiting. I had to pay a grand total of 10,000 Indonesia Rupiah (13,000 is approximately 1 euro) to see a doctor and I ended up with my own private translator, who laughed shyly as the doctor asked her to ask me questions. Anyways, in about 10 minutes I left the hospital with a prescription for antibiotics (my second course in 6 weeks – way to go Aoife!) and antibacterial (I assume) eye-drops as well as directions to the nearest pharmacy. There I paid a little bit more than a euro for the meds, and entertained the locals as Cushla put the drops in. From there we walked into the town centre to check it out, while I tried not to scratch my super-itchy eye (or to scratch it when Cushla wasn't looking, cos otherwise I'd get a scolding lol!).

Ruteng wasn't a very exciting place. I believe there are things to do outside the town, but you need a driver or a motorbike to get to them. We didn't have either that day, and we weren't particularly in the mood to go looking for them. So we just wandered. The second night we were there, we stayed at a convent!! It was so so clean and really cheap. It was always full – it's a popular place to stay in Ruteng, altho' to be fair it doesn't have that much competition! It was lovely to wake to the sound of nuns singing rather than the call to prayer from the minaret (but I'd still rather that no religion woke me at the crack of dawn!). I left Ruteng the following day, still wary about my eye and wanting to be closer to Bali where there are “decent” (western standard) hospitals – so I went back to Labuan Bajo where you're only a flight away from Bali. I had booked myself in for some more diving on days 6 and 7 of our week on Flores, but I had to cancel them on account of my eye (I was still coughing a very dry raspy cough too, so diving wouldn't have been a good idea whatever way you looked at it!). Cushla stayed in Ruteng until the last day, and I hung out in Labuan Bajo enjoying some me-time and some internet-time too. In the evenings I hung out with people I'd met at the dive centre. Somewhat surprisingly, Labuan Bajo is full of amazingly good restaurants – there are apparently a lot of Italians living in the area. And so each evening I went somewhere different with someone different and enjoyed the delicious food and the great company. On our 7th full day on Flores, Cushla came back and we got ready for our next destination: Lombok.

I have to say, I really took to Labuan Bajo and the diving in Komodo N.P., despite only having done 5 dives there! It's definitely on my list of places to go back to, and even tho' we often say that but never re-visit the places, something tells me this is one that I will return to.

At this point I am home again, and have begun uploading photos into my Indonesia album, but there are *a lot* more to go!

Posted by niscratz 09:20 Archived in Indonesia Tagged indonesia flores labuan_bajo ruteng komodo_n.p. divine_diving Comments (0)

Holy Hoga Batman - that was quick!

Week 4 with Opwall

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So, my third and final week on Hoga was much like the previous two. Life had a certain chilled-out island rhythm – it was easy to get up for 6 am breakfast most days. Putting together and taking apart my dive gear, as well as pulling on and off my wetsuit about 3 times a day had become the norm. Walking barefoot everywhere, apart from back to my hut, and frequently forgetting where I’d left my flip-flops (I never told you about the time I couldn’t find mine anywhere and wondered who on earth could have mistaken theirs for mine, only to discover that it was in fact me who had mistaken someone else’s for mine, and mine were back where I’d left them a couple of hours earlier, did I?!), making hot chocolate after the morning dive, mandiing before the sun set, mozzying up (the new verb to describe putting on mosquito repellent) first thing in the morning and directly after a mandi and wandering home thro’ the jungle by torchlight became a way of life that I had quickly grown accustomed to and grown to like. It seemed far too soon to be thinking about leaving already, after just 3 weeks.

During this final week I was again on science, as I had been my first week on Hoga. I had some fab dives at buoy 3 – I think this was my favourite science dive site. There was a turtle hanging about there that week, as well as a lone tuna and, of course, my favourite bat fish – I’m so disappointed that I never got a chance to fun dive with those guys – they’re so tame that on a couple of occasions they came up to me and sucked on my finger lol! My sucking my finger first didn’t do anything to increase the chances of them approaching me, despite what the German would have you believe ;). I don’t think I got the chance to go fun-diving during the week as I was mostly on the 9 and 1 dives, which left no time for fun-diving. But I had a fun snorkel one day with Magda, Catherine and the girls. Snorkeling in 5 mm with just 1 kg can be difficult – or rather, duck-diving can be. But it was beautiful and I managed to get some lovely photos nonetheless – my free-diving training came in useful for once ;) All of us staff who were leaving at the end of week 7 (this was the 7th week of the full 9 week Indonesian season on Hoga even tho’ it was just my 3rd) got to do a fun dive on the last day. Edd, our trusty dive leader, recommended we do a drift dive along the ridge to buoy 1. We all agreed that this sounded pretty good – the tides were such that we should have had a decent current. If any of us had over-profiled, there wasn’t much anyone could have done as we were all leaving the following morning. But the opportunity for over-profiling was certainly expected to be present. As it turns out, I’m not sure if it’s where we got dropped in, or just a lack of current overall (I think it was a mixture of both), we ended up doing a shallow (average 10 m) dive in no current at all. The beginning was pretty boring but as we got closer to buoy 1, it got better. I had had to convince myself to get in that afternoon as it left no time for gear to dry out before travelling, but I was convinced I’d miss something really good if I didn’t go – I probably would have too had I not gone!

As the end of week 7 marked the first of the big exoduses for the dive staff, we went out for dinner together one evening that week. Apart from the Opwall set-up, there is in fact a resort for tourists to stay at on Hoga. That’s where we went to eat chicken and chips and other “delicacies” that aren’t available at Opwall. It was a fun evening down our end of the table. For what was my final party night, the theme was evolution. We learned some dance routine (can’t remember what the link was), that we were supposed to do flash mob style during the meal – it kinda worked. But nothing ever came close to the Alice in Wonderland night. I managed to double my regular party night Bintang intake that week, and I stayed out til after 2 I think.. This was pretty good going for me, especially as I’d to be up for my boat at 6 the following morning!

And so, having spent 3 weeks on Hoga with Opwall, would I do it again? Do I believe they do what they say on the box? Well, honestly, the jury is still out on that. I’d probably go back, but I’d rather it be for a longer time and from closer to the beginning. Honestly the dive staff, lovely as they all were, were full of cliques: those that knew each other from last year and previous years, those that were there from week 1 this year etc etc.. Each new set that arrived with each week that passed became the outer layer on the clique. Having said that, all of them were lovely when you made the effort – but you had to make the effort. Not with all of them of course, but with a fair few. On the contrary, the science staff were immediately friendly and there were no cliques whatsoever. I felt like I got on much more easily with them and had more in common with them than I did with maybe half of the dive staff. But I guess the simple fact is that I have worked for far longer as a scientist than as a divemaster, so maybe it’s not so surprising. That said, as the weeks progressed, social integration into the dive staff did too. But it would be easier to have arrived earlier and have been staying longer.. However, important and all as having a social life anywhere is, the bigger and more important question is do I think Opwall are worth my giving up my freetime and skills for at no cost.

Well, I’d have to say yes and no. Ultimately they say they’re all for marine conservation, but as they have no power within the Indonesian government, what they do can only be theoretical to a degree. They certainly do a lot of really good scientific research that gets published in peer-reviewed journals. And I imagine (altho’ I haven’t read any of the papers), that a fair amount of this work can help those who care learn and understand a lot about the degradation of tropical coral reefs (because those around Hoga show degradation since Opwall began monitoring them over 10 years ago) and so, by default, could be used to help manage marine conservation elsewhere (and there if they had any political power), but, as I said, not from a practical point of view. I found that a lot of the undergrads who were diving to gather data for dissertation projects were also doing interesting and fairly robust work – not all of them of course – some didn’t give a shite about what they were at, despite paying STG 3000 to spend 6 weeks there and paying all the travel costs on top of that – spoilt little rich kids I guess. Fortunately they were in the minority, and the majority of them were very serious about their work and their data. Some of them weren’t the best with their buoyancy however, and I wondered from time to time how much damage they did to the reefs while laying transects and using quadrats and was it worth it from the point of view of the reef for the data they got from it. I don’t think I’m in a position to answer that question however, not without seeing their results and what they do with them.

One thing that did rather bother me was the fact that one day at low tide I went walking along the beach towards the other resort. At a couple of points along the way the stench of human waste was very strong. It would seem that all the sewage from all 200+ westerners plus 100+ locals goes directly into the sea here. I’m sure there’s plenty of current running to dilute it sufficiently, but I do wonder did there really need to be that many people on the station. Those whose presence I would really question are the second level students, as I believe they get the least out of being at a working marine research station than the rest of us. They come to spend one week in the jungle, followed by one week at the marine site. The vast majority of them have no diving qualification, and so they spend most of their week at the marine site being trained to dive. The few who can already dive spend the week doing the coral reef ecology course. Sure, it’s an amazing experience for them all, and they’re seeing a living tropical coral reef, but I don’t think they’re aware of or exposed to much of the research that’s going on. I should point up that they maybe make up 20% of the westerners on the island each week, at a maximum. But I guess I question whether they really need to go there to do what they do – they can definitely do it all at Baubau. I’m going to repeat rumours now, which I probably shouldn’t do publicly online, but I will. At a staff meeting just before the busiest week we were told that it wasn’t even sure that there was enough accommodation for everybody that was going to be there (fact, not rumour). I believe (hearsay) that the push for extra people comes from the UK office, and that the powers that be on Hoga inform head office that there’s not enough space for all the extra second level students, but they get ignored.. I’m guessing dollar signs in someone’s eyes in the UK are the primary reason, or not wanting to disappoint/let down posh rich secondary schools (because it is certainly not your inner city school that can afford to do a 2 week biology field trip to Indonesia) that all of these schools come. Hoga wasn’t set up to cater for second level students, it’s happened as part of Opwall’s growth and development. I also don’t believe it happens at all of Opwalls sites, but Hoga is its flagship site, certainly in Asia, but also in the world I think, and so it’s the biggest. Some of the dive staff had worked with Opwall in Honduras last year and said the whole set-up is much smaller out there. Anyways, whatever the reason, I feel like Hoga was past its maximum capacity if it wants to its conservation name to be respected, certainly the stench from the sewage was a sign to me that there were too many people on the island. But, this is the first time I’ve ever done work like this – so I’d really have to go on expeditions with some other organizations before I could really draw any firm conclusions. In the meantime, the jury is certainly out whether or not I’d go back there. But I will definitely try to do more work like that with similar organizations in the future.. I have 9 months to do the research, and I now have some friends who have a lot more experience and contacts in the marine conservation world that I can get advice from. I think a potentially very interesting future would be to do volunteer (or paid in the ideal situation, but that would require a fair bit of voluntary work first I imagine) marine conservation work, preferably with a scientific side (if I went back to Hoga, I’d def like to be involved with the science as well as the diving side of things) as well as a diving side, and to use English teaching to make money in between conservation expeditions… Sound exciting??? I think so :) And SE Asia is definitely where I would head first.. So those of you who enjoy having me in western Europe, you should make the most of it over the next academic year, cos who knows where I’ll head when my contract in La Rochelle is up – and I will, of course, make the most of my proximity to you too x

And so Hoga came to an end, and 3 weeks of travelling with my dear Cushie Wushie began… But that’s for the next installment!

Posted by niscratz 02:11 Archived in Indonesia Comments (2)

And over the Hoga hump... already!

week 3 with Opwall

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So, week 2 on Hoga began superbly with a staff fun dive on ridge 1 early the first morning, where my camera began doing something funny that it’s never done before (I’d just been speaking about viruses on the computers in the computer room the evening before and thought that maybe the SD card had picked up something funny), and in my efforts to work out what was going on, I paid no attention to what depth I was at and over-profiled by a half metre! This happened in the first five minutes of the dive, and so I spent the dive pissed off that my camera wasn’t working and that I’d over-profiled and would be in trouble cos of that and not really enjoying the beauty of the ridge at all until towards the end of the dive.. As it turned out, the camera was fine, but the one of the buttons in the housing needed fixing – it was sticking in the pressed in position which, with the added water pressure, prevented the camera from working. It has since been fixed (Thanks Jon C) and it now looks like one of the others is going, but I don’t know yet if it’s one that will prevent the camera from working or not – I’d like to not have to fix it til I get back to France…

My punishment for over-profiling (by 50 cm) was that my fun-diving rights were taken away for the week, and I was put on coffee bitch duty (with one of the others who wasn’t sure exactly what she’d done to deserve it) at the DCHQ – this meant it was our duty to make sure that there were always clean cups and spoons and an ample supply of water, coffee, tea etc for the week. I wasn’t impressed – I can’t actually remember the last time someone punished me for something.. It was a bit like being back at school or being a child again. But rules are rules, and out here they’re there for a reason.. If I ever come back I’ll know how to put an alarm on my dive computer to warn me when I’m getting close!

In the end, it wasn’t a bad week to be banned from fun diving as it was the busiest week in the history of Hoga, with about 220 or so people on the island. I can’t remember how many thousand tanks were filled nor how many boats went out, but it was busy and there wasn’t a whole heap of time for fun diving. I also joined the relatively large group of divers with outer ear infections that week, and so the fewer dives the better, to allow that to clear up. So you could say it all worked out for the best..

The ear infection cleared itself up pretty easily – I caught it early as so many people had or had had one, I was aware of the symptoms. The prime suspect for these ear infections is the mandi water that we use to wash with. Most of the divers dive regularly in tropical waters without getting ear infections, so the mandi water is the only big difference in their daily lives. As the mandi water containers get refilled fairly regularly, but are never emptied, there is no doubt a very interesting microcosm exists at the bottom of the containers. The trick is not to disturb the bottom waters, and not to get any water into your ears, and to rinse them well with filtered water if you do.. Unfortunately, without a bit of research, this will never be more than just a theory, but it’s the theory that the medic believed.

We also lost out on a half day’s worth of diving because of a swarm of blue bottles that were washed in.

During week 2, I was on a school’s open water referral course – this was kids who were supposed to have done all their theory and confined water work back in England, and had only their open water work left to do. Fortunately our group were pretty good and had remembered most of what they were supposed to do, and they pretty much sailed thro’ the four open-water dives. At the end of the week I ended up leading some CRE (Coral Reef Ecology) snorkels for the school kids who couldn’t hack the OW dives. This was quite interesting as I hadn’t done the CRE course myself, so I ended up showing them the stuff I knew more than the stuff I was supposed to show them (as I wasn’t so good at Identifying it!). I have to say, this was one of the most rewarding things I did during the 4 weeks that I worked with Opwall as these kids had never seen a tropical coral reef before, and they were so amazed by it and couldn’t believe that brain coral is called brain coral cos it actually resembles a brain etc.. Their enthusiasm made me see the reef thro’ their eyes – as if I’d never seen one before. Sometimes I forget how beautiful everything is.

During this week we also had a half day out of the water due to an emergency evacuation of one of the school kids who had inhaled some seawater during an OW skill and appeared to be developing pulmonary edema. She was evacuated by boat and plane to the hospital in Makassar, with one of the medics, one of the head dive staff and one of her teachers. At the end of the day she was fine, but no doubt thanks to the efforts of the two medics on Hoga and to her instructor who got her out of the water and to the clinic asap. We were kept out of the water while the medics were busy with her as they couldn’t have dealt with another problem (or rather, didn’t need another one!). I think this may also have been the week where some people for stung by the bluebottles, but all my weeks have merged into one at this point, so I don’t really remember..

I do remember that the party night theme was International Stereotypes, and the science group did really really well – the dive staff kind of sucked that week.. We did a beach clean-up on de-gas day, where we went to a beach that had been cleaned two weeks previously and did it again. But we weren’t cleaning the entire beach. Instead we had sections 5 m wide and as long as the beach was from the sea to the top. In these sections we collected all the rubbish, categorised it into 5 categories, and counted how many bits of rubbish were in each category. To the edges of the 5 m section were two 1 m sections, thebuffer zones. We collected all the rubbish in these secions too, but we didn’t categorise or count it. When we got back to base, we weighed all the bags. The data is being collated and will be sent to the Indonesian government at the end of the season to show how much rubbish accumulates on the beach in a 2 week period. Obviously the same sections are being cleaned each time. There was an incredible amount of rubbish on the beach, all of it washed up by the tide as nobody lives near the particular beach. It was difficult however, for me to clean just within those limits and to leave stuff that was just outside them – but that’s how the survey works.

And so, as my memory sucks, I’m going to stop there and publish this so at least ye’ve something to read, even if it’s not very exciting at all..

Posted by niscratz 20:55 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

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