A Travellerspoint blog

Tiger Tiger burning bright......

Hunting the World's favourite animal in Ranthambore National park

sunny 35 °C

As the train rattled along the tracks heading into the night, the lights of the big Indian cities were left far us behind and the stations became fewer and further between... often little more than a rough collection of small buildings at the side of the rails. Despite the unsociable time of the morning we sat at the window watching the beautiful Indian countryside roll by lit by the light of the train, staring intently at each station name to ensure that we didn't miss our stop.

Having arrived safely in Sawai Madhapur, a nothing town in the middle of nowhere we needed sustinance to get us through to the hotel. Thankfully there was a little kiosk open at 3am so we tried to buy snacks. Unfortunately there were more rats and mice than you have ever seen in your life. At no point while being served where there less than two in plain sight. Including on the food. Just the sealed pack of biscuits please.

After a little bit of early morning toing an froing and an annoyingly full hotel we found somewhere to stop. TV, Air Con and a balcony bigger than most of our other rooms. Nice. We settled down to sleep to get some rest for the next 3 days we would have here. Our plan was to relax away from the hectic life of the city, catch some sun and spend as much time as possible in the park.

Our first morning we confirmed our place on the early morning safari to the national park the following day. Left with sometime to kill, a nice shop owner offered to take us in his jeep to the old fort inside the national park. So we happily agreed.
The fort is somewhat of a relic, but is massive in scale and the extensive walls afford wonderful views of the national park. We saw Crocodiles in the lake below, and an army of our favourite Langur monkeys. Back to being off the foreignor tourist trail we were bombarded by requests for photos from curious school children... we happily obliged (most of the time). I could have spent days there, a beautiful wonderful place.

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Our first safari left in the wee small hours of the morning, and with no little excitement and a belly full of Chai we set off in our large jeep/truck known locally as a Canter. The Ranthambore park is one of the best places to see wild Tigers in the World, but you really need lady luck on your side... particularly with the lush monsoon foliage. The park is divided into 5 sectors and a limited number of safaris are permitted per day. From everyone we had spoken to, no-one had seen a Tiger... hmmm. The park is sensational and while we saw Chital and Sambar deer in large numbers, alongside the ubiquitous monkeys and a closer view of a Crocodile... alas despite a few paw prints.... there was no Tiger.

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Undettered we returned to the booking office to queue Indian style (basically queuing with no method, rhyme or reason) to book another place for the next day. When we arrived the following afternoon we were a little dissapointed as we were on a truck with only Indian tourists and a lot of young kids. Not a problem but they tend to be more excitable than us stiff upper lipped foreigners and we were worried they might scare off the wildlife. Nevertheless, we head off again with pride of place at the front of the Canter and saw the same glut of deer, along with many peacocks, a few huge vultures and real crocodile close ups. But still no Tiger.

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That was until... our guide saw a paw print and we set off like a bat out of hell through the park. Racing along down tiny paths we finally stopped at a river crossing, but the trail had gone cold. Fearing the worst as we were due to leave the park very soon we retraced our path, and the guide told us that judging by the tracks a Tiger had crossed just behind us a few minutes ago. Off we shot again, getting faster and faster until the young boy at the front (my new hero) spotted a Tigress just inside the treeline about 10ft away. Magical, one fleeting glance right at us and then it slinked off into the jungle. My blurred picture was taken though and we had seen it.

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With barely time to catch our breath, the driver set off again down the road in front of the Tiger in the hope it might return from the trees. We stopped, waited, and then in what seemed like slow motion she came from around the corner, padding towards us as clear as day. We were like kids at Christmas, a pure goosebump moment as she walked towards us. Job done, Tiger spotted... and a memory for a lifetime!!!!

Posted by Andy-Janie 09:21 Archived in India Comments (0)

The push through Pushkar to Agra

sunny 34 °C

Limping slightly from the lingering trauma of the Camel ride, we rest up for the day to weigh up the remainder of the trip. We realise with more than a hint of regret that our time in India is ticking by and we must begin to make our way East towards Delhi and home. Of course we still plan to stuff our time with as much to see as possible so our plan is to stop in Pushkar in Eastern Rajasthan to break up the long journey to Agra to visit the mighty Taj Mahal

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Pushkar is a much loved stop on the hippy trail accross India, famed for being a great place to do well... nothing. It is a tiny town set around a lake, full of little temples, cafes and guesthouses and is a very important sacred town for Hindus from across India. The result is a town that seems full of tourists and pilgrims doing very little. After the hectic ride that travelling in India can be, this can actually be a very welcome thing. For us however, it was really a chance to wander and enjoy the little shops and some great restaurants and to catch our breath before we head on to Agra. Not the worst place in the World, but just a bit.... muh. Did see a snake charmer though, so that was one iconic tourist item checked off the list.

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Our plan to head onwards from Pushkar meant that we took the overnight bus leaving in the early evening. India being India, this of course actually meant that we left in the late evening and spent much of the remaining time waiting and then rushing to catch the bus as the misinformation trail of where we must go and what time we must be there wound backwards and forwards. Our eventual overnight bus, with a double bed set up where the luggage racks would usually be, was spacious and luxurious, but only if you like the idea of sleeping in a hot and dusty coffin.

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A remarkably restful(ish) sleep got us in to Agra at 5am, where after another round of negotiations with the local rickshaw drivers, we managed to find a nice enough hotel to stop. We were hungry and thirsty and so decided to have breakfast on the ubiquitous roof top restaurant (all the Rajasthani hotels seem to have them), and enjoyed a breathtaking view of the sun rising over the majestic sight of the Taj Mahal. It really is as impressive as it looks in pictures. Some places just don't let you down. Janie being the energetic soul that she is, suggested that we push on through and beat the crowds by going to see the Taj before we caught up on last nights sleep. So bleary eyed, yet showered and cleaned up we wandered down to see what we could see.

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The heaving throng of tourists was somewhat of an eye opener to us, as we had really been in the minority by some way over most of the last 2 months. Nice to share around some of the attention, but strange to feel like such a total tourist.

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Janie's plan was indeed excellent as arriving at opening time allowed us to take some of the classic photos and to see the Taj Mahal itself in relative calm. It is such a massive imposing structure, that going inside is somewhat surprising as it is in fact pretty empty and plain. The exterior carvings and precious stones are just magnificent, but the lure of sleep and the growing crowds meant that we soon disappeared for the relative safety of the hotel room. By chance the train we wanted to catch to Ranthambore national park was leaving that evening over night, and was arriving in the wee small hours of the next day. The few hours of sleep that we were able to grab would have to do because we were off to see if we could fulfill a dream of mine to find the ever elusive Tiger!!!!!!!!!

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Posted by Andy-Janie 02:51 Archived in India Comments (0)

Twelve Camel toes in a row

sunny 40 °C

Oh the joy of camel riding in the desert... OOOOoooHHHHH the PAIN of camel riding in the desert... We've been in Jaisalmer for the last 4 days, only 100km East of Pakistan. We traveled in that remote part of the country to do a camel safari in the desert. Besides the beautiful live-in fort, there's not much more that attracts tourists here. The landscape is bleak but compelling: sand, sandstone carved houses and more sand. After spending the first day wondering around the fort's walls and admiring the great views, we set out in our private jeep for our private
safari.

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Although we were told when booking that 3 English folks would be joining us, we later realised that was a catch phrase to get us to book (when 4 different agencies also had three English tourists booked). Apparently that trick works for them although I would of been more excited if they had told me three monkeys dressed in tuxedos were coming but I guess it's for the best...I was less disappointed.

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Our jeep led us deeper into the desert where we stopped for a quick look in a local village to watch the sunrise. We then went to meet our guide along with our camels. I'm not sure which of the two were more enthusiastic to see us the camels or our guide who without saying hello started cooking breakfast. After eating we set out into the quiet and peaceful landscape. As the day progressed, we felt the sun getting stronger by the minute. We spent a big part of the afternoon hiding from the sun under a lonely tree whilst catching up on some reading. The second half of the day we rid to our camp where we would sleep amidst the sand dunes and the desert beetles.
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If there's anything more creepy than a 2 inch black beetle that has a fascination for humans try picturing a 2 inch black dung beetle that has a fascination for humans. That's right, DUNG beetles! They make feces into balls and roll them around to later feed from them. LOVELY...

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The night came early, the sun having gone down and the moon not around left us to do nothing but lie on our mattress and look at the billions of stars in the perfectly clear sky. How romantic! One thing I failed to mention was that I wrapped myself completely, like a mummy, into my blanket being so paranoid that a beetle would crawl on me. Nevertheless, it was a great experience.

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The next morning was full of interesting surprises like: did you know you can get blisters and bruises on your bum? Andy and I didn't but it's very real. Having trouble moving from muscle pain, bruises and blisters we stumble our way to our beautiful camels for our return journey to Jaisalmer.

All in all, great experience. Will I do it again? Probably...if my memory allows me to forget the pain.

Posted by Andy-Janie 03:36 Archived in India Comments (1)

Topping up on our RajasThAN

Udaipur and Jodhpur

sunny 35 °C

A very long train and bus journey brought us to Udaipur, and what a welcome stop it proved to be. It is in the South of the state of Rajasthan, one of the only parts of the country to remain independent from the British. Almost every city in the state was a country in it's own right before unifying as part of India, and so it seems that each city has it's prerequisite palace and fort to visit and a style of their own.

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Udaipur is built around a magnificent lake and the old city is chocked full of palaces and magnificent old buildings to stay in. Every restaurant seem to be perched on a rooftop with each offering the best view of the city. The views truly were amazing, check out the sunset pictures to see! We spent our first day in the city wandering through the old palace, which is beautiful and now a museum with exhibits from the old Maharajas of the past.

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We really loved our time in the city, even if it did mean constantly jumping out of the way of the crazy motorbike riders or curious cows. The streets are so narrow we nearly lost our feet on timeless occasions. Overall though it is a very relaxing and romantic place to be, which was welcome following the big city life of Mumbai.

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We left by bus from Udaipur to our next stop, the city of Jodhpur (birthplace of the riding trousers). As was the case with Udaipur, Jodhpur has an absolute peach of a fort set on a mountain overlooking the city. It dominates everything by it's sheer bulk and size and it is no surprise that no army ever breached it's walls. The tour was fantastic and included a great audio guide to the history, with again phenomenal views of the city spread out below us. One lovely thing is the sheer blueness (if thats a word) of the buildings. As a tribute to the god Brahma, the buildings in Jodhpur are washed in blue which is very evident from the ramparts of the fort.

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The city itself is a bit overcrowded but feels like a real genuine Indian city, resplendent with the smell of spices and cooking competing with such filth and open sewers to make your nose twitch and your eyes water. Jodhpur was really intended as a quick stop for us, allowing us to see the fort and old market, while being a convenient place for us to head to Jaisalmer to take on the iconic camel safaris in the desert. We really loved it though!
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Posted by Andy-Janie 03:35 Archived in India Comments (0)

Magical Mumbai!?

sunny 32 °C

Truth be told, I am not sure what we expected from Mumbai. In my mind it evoked the images of Slum Dog and Shantaram as a fast paced, humdrum city full of beggars, gangsters and magic. It's fair to say we saw sizable helpings of most of that, though we never felt the truly edgy side of Mumbai that you often hear about.

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To be honest, our experience of it was a bit well.... muh. It's a big, noisy, dirty city without too many genuine sights... though seeing the Taj Mahal Palace hotel and the Gateway to India is very impressive. One thing it does allow is to catch up on some creature comfort foods... the waffle breakfast with maple syrup and homemade jams that we had was truly superb, even if it did cost more than any other meal we have had (by a long way too).

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As expected in big cities, our accomodation was small, overpriced and well... a bit crap. Again we paid more than anywhere else, but it did give us a great location in the heart of Colaba in the South of the city. We decided for the benefit of our sanity and wallets we would head out fairly soon, and so we spent just 2 days here wandering the streets and seeing the city. The actual architecture in the old area near to us is magnificent, with buildings to rival any European city, that hark back to the days of the British Raj while maintaining that little bit of Indian craziness we have come to love. We were there for the last day of the Ganesha festival where hundreds of idols of the deity are paraded around the city to loud music and what can only be described as paint powder fights. Pretty cool to see.

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After a last great meal (food was really good here) we set off for the train station to take the overnight train to Ahmdebad in Gujarat, where we would pick up another 7 hour bus ride to Rajasthan, "the land of the kings", and the lake city of Udaipur.

Posted by Andy-Janie 03:15 Archived in India Comments (0)

Happy in Hampi

sunny 35 °C

As the bus rolled in Hampi, I thought we had just arrived in the middle of a Hollywood set. To our right was a perfectly preserved 12th century temple, to our left, was another 12th century temple. In front of us, mountains were covered in gigantic rocks that looked like they were made of foam used in a scene from an old american western movie set in Alabama. Behind us, as far as the eye could see, were lush green mountains. We had been told that Hampi was a beautiful town and an absolute must on the tourist trail but neither of us expected it to be so grand and so spectacular. I've never heard or seen of any place like it.

We spent 3 days exploring the town itself and it's surroundings. In the town centre sits the highest temple of the area. It's so high compared to everything around that you can use it to orient yourself. Being still used by worshippers, the temple is busy at all times of day. We walked around amongst the locals feeling a bit in the way and like we were disturbing their holy visit. Nevertheless the temple's elephant was more than welcoming. We left the temple after having received an elephantastic blessing.

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Having recovered from our long night bus the previous night, we felt a little more energetic the next morning. We set out to visit further out temples and to hike up a nearby hill which overlooks Hampi. The views from the top were mind blowing.

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To see a little bit more of the area, we set out the following morning on our awesome indian style scooter. Hands up to Andy for driving amonsgt the crazy drivers, the goat herds and the odd rummaging cow. The surrounding area of Hampi is swamped with temples, it beats Athens, Rome or any European city I've visited. They are so common you stop paying attention to a temple which would be world renown if it was anywhere else in the world. I guess the economic's priciple of the effect of scarcity on prices and on demand applies here too.

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We loved having the scooter so much that we decided to keep it for another day. We were told that the monkey temple (Hanuman, a monkey Hindu god), was worth a visit. What we weren't told is that this temple was at the top of a hill and thousands of steps away from ground level! In the intense heat (35 celcius and sunny!) any physical effort is extremely demanding. Thankfully real monkeys were casually playing in the stairs and distracted us until we reached the top. Being rushed for time, having another night bus to catch, we hurried back down the mountain and through the crazy route we had taken to get there in the first place. That's right, I forgot to mention that after having gotten lost on the way, we managed to find our way accross the river on a coracle! That's right a CORACLE, a bowl shape 'boat' used in the 16th century! Oh India, you're so crazy! and we love you for it.

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Posted by Andy-Janie 23:03 Archived in India Comments (1)

A bit of a Goa

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So after the hassle of getting the tickets, the train journey to get to Goa was really not that bad. Quite an experience in fact to sleep on the train in India, gently rocked to sleep by the repetitive noise of the wheels on the tracks. In fact it is actually a rather serene experience compared to a lot of life here.

Before the train set off there were of course the obligatory hoards of people crowding around us at the station, but that has become par for the course in India. If there were to be an Olympic sport of staring, the Indians would win Gold medals every time. It's not that people seem to just look, they get right up close and gawp... personal space is an ethereal concept in India I think. If it is bad for me, it is truly epic for Janie. I guess the boys just find her prettier than me.

I digress... so from the main train station in Margao, we set off for the beach town of Palolem. Met with bright blues skies and soaring heat, we satisfied ourselves with 2 days on a lovely long sandy beach with just the cows and Indian tourists for company. Travelling in the monsoon offseason is a real joy in fact, as the crowds are much less and in most places Westerners are very few and far between. I am sure there are plenty of us here, but there are a billion locals so we kind of get lost in the crowd.

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It is fair to say that beaches in India are funny. Cows frequent them for a start, and so to do the Indian men in too tight, too wet underwear (spectacular, truly spectacular) who stroll up and down, eyeing and photographing the Western women in their bikinis. It's hard to be too annoyed really when it is so obviously a massive culture clash and we are in their country. The Indian women meanwhile sit out the madness in full traditional dress, broiling under the sun. Bizarre!

From the beach we were keen to sample some of Goa's colonial charms, as it was part of Portugal up until the 60's and so is a very different place to the rest of India. We headed to the relatively sleepy and charming capital, Panaji. It is a very pleasant city to stroll around and enjoy, so that is just what we did. On our first evening, we lived it up James Bond style and headed to the huge floating "Casino Royale" yaught for a night of decadence and gambling. We managed to eat, drink and be merry for a very small loss on the tables... all in all we just about called it a draw with the Casino.

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Unfortunately the next 3 days were raining fairly solidly (the downside of monsoon season), and we were unable to head off to Hampi while we waited on the bus which left on Saturday. Undeterred we visited the now abandoned site of the former capital, Old Goa. It was once at a time the most important city in the East, with a larger population than London and a trading importance similar to Rome (or so the guidebooks say). It is very impressive to see the huge cathedrals and churches that once dominated this area, though the great job they have done restoring and developing the area means it has lost part of it's charm. Seriously there is only so many churches you can see in a day too.

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Our final day in Goa was in the beach town of Candolim. From what we had heard it is the haunt of European package tourists, though the rain and off season time of year kept them away, and we were again left to a deserted beach with just the hulking shadow of a recked tanker off the coast, and a few stray dogs to keep us company.

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Our next destination was Hampi, an overnight journey on a sleeper bus away from the coast and into the heart of India. The bus journey made our previous train journey seem like the Orient express as the only creatures smiling on that hot, noisy and uncomfortable *$!*hole of a bus, were the hoards of Cockroaches that festooned the walls. When we arrived in Hampi though, the trip was so very very worth it.

Posted by Andy-Janie 04:43 Archived in India Comments (1)

Kerala, God's own country

(They say it, not me)

28 °C

Since arriving in India 12 days ago, we have been amazed by this beautiful country. The diversity of the single state we've been in, Kerala, is so impressive. India truly offers a sensory overload. It's smells, tastes, sounds, and looks are constantly stimulating your senses. And the food, oh the food! We can't seem to get enough curries, puratha (flat breads), masala chai (spiced tea), to name but a few of our most recent addictions.

So far, after arriving in the phenomenally named Thiruvananthapuram (try saying that after a long flight) we have already crammed in a multitude of memories into such a small space of time. We spent the first day acclimatising in the lovely zoo and eating in a number of charming local restaurants... our first Indian breakfast in a building shaped like a stretched cinnamon roll was pretty special. Getting used to the spices and chutneys early in the morning is taking a little getting used to though.

The city held little interest as it is just a typical Indian town, thronged with people and rickshaws... though a great experience we headed to the coast and the beautiful cliff-side town of Varkala where we realised something truly magical... Janie could have muesli with fruit and yoghurt for breakfast again, and that the tea in India is the best in the world and that it costs next to nothing. The long walks we enjoyed along the deserted coast watching the birds of prey soar past at head height was a lovely start to our Indian journey.

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We have since moved on to explore the tropical backwaters of Kerala on a gorgeous little houseboat accompanied by the best cook in town. We chugged along for a day and a night at about 2 or 3 mph with nothing to do but sit and watch the world go by and stuff our faces with amazing fresh cooked curries and tiger prawns. Great stuff!

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Not satisfied with this we wanted to go Jungle safari! After being cosied up with locals on a crowded bus through the winding roads of the tea plantations in the Western Ghats we arrived to Kumily and Periyar Tiger reserve. Kumily is famed for it's fragrant spice and tea shops, and an excellent barber who gave me a hair cut Indian style. From the town we had our own jeep with driver to go on jungle safari and we were fortunate to see rare lion-tailed macaques, huge indian bisons AND WILD ELEPHANTS (what an incredible experience)!! Alas the elusive Tiger, was just that... elusive. I will see one though, sometime... maybe....

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As we type this we are now a little further up the coast in Kochi, a beautifully(ish) preserved old British fort town. We have spent the last few days walking through Fort Kochi's colonial streets and being taking aback by a town where old meets new. Its crumbling faded history is very charming but it's time to move on, so we are awaiting a 15 hour train journey tonight all the way up the coast to Goa. It doesn't look far on the map, but its our first truly long train ride so the sleeper car should be an experience in itself. The bureaucracy in getting the ticket itself certainly was, but then isn't that one of the joys of India!

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Posted by Andy-Janie 01:46 Archived in India Comments (1)

Beautiful Bali

If Flores knocked us down, then Bali built us back up again.

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Make no mistakes, traveling in Indonesia is genuinely amazing, but it can be tough. 5 weeks had begun to take its toll and though Flores was incredibly beautiful and a wonderful few weeks, it is very basic in terms of transport, food, accommodation and medical facilities (no rabies vaccine for a month on the island). This of course is part of what makes it a magical place to be, but if you are not in top shape, it can be hard.

Let me digress and highlight this. A short journey in Flores from Waiterang beach to Maumere, takes just over an hour or so by public bus and costs about 30 cents or 25p. It is a real local experience, fitting 22 people into a minibus intended for 12 with music so loud that the bolted on speakers under the seat are pumping out sound so distorted with bass that it actually moves your hair and makes your ears bleed (ok the bleeding part is not true). Of course AC is an open window, but thats ok you get what you pay for and it is fun and a real experience and frankly part of the reason we wanted to come in the first place. When not feeling well though, it starts to feel a little brutal and why a week in the luxury of Bali was a blessing from the Hindu gods.........

Arriving in Bali, as a contrast to Flores travel, was a walk in the park. A journey from the airport to the town of Ubud takes just over an hour in a brand new modern taxi with AC and no music, but of course costs about 300 times more than the Flores local bus. Again you get what you pay for, and Bali has luxury in abundance.

I think if I am honest I was not overly excited by being in Bali because I wanted to see the real Indonesia and was scared it would feel like Ibiza in Asia. So very very wrong (though we steered clear of the drunk Aussie resorts) We really have seen another true and very different side of Indonesia and have loved every minute of it. Being in Bali was a little holiday for us. We decided to spend 5 days in the cultural heart of the island, Ubud. It is a lovely lush little city surrounded by impossibly green rice fields and stunning Hindu temples. The shopping is amazing (just ask Janie) and the restaurants are beautiful, contemporary and just what we needed after the rice and noodle diet of the last 5 weeks. Rest assured we gorged ourselves!!

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Our days really consisted of wandering around the town, we saw traditional dance, jungle temples and a host of friendly(ish) monkeys in the sacred monkey forest. Our hotel was cheap but very nice and had a lovely little swimming pool where we could relax and while away the lazy evenings until the sun went down. Not too shabby for Janie and Andy!

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By the end of the week, we were well fed, well rested, energised and ready to take on the mighty subcontinent as we headed to the unknown and India.....................

Posted by Andy-Janie 00:00 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

sunny 30 °C

"Bajawa, what are you spending 2 days in Bajawa for?" we got asked by a long legged Austrian. Most people travel through Flores to get to Moni, the town from which you can visit Kelimutu volcano. Even to my surprise, Bajawa turned out to be one of my favorite destinations so far on our trip. The first day, we got motorbikes up a nearby volcano (it's seems like every respectable town has its own volcano in Indonesia) to see its crater lakes. To Andy's great dismay, we never quite figured out where we were meant to view them from. Nevertheless, it was nice to get out of the city and get some fresh air.

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The following day, we set out to visit local traditional villages around the city, what we were there for. It was brilliant! I tired out our guide by asking a million questions and asking him to show me what every local fruit/vegetable/spice looked like and where it grew. That's my definition of a great day. We went to villages so remote they only got electricity 6 months ago. Most locals earn a living growing crops which they sell to the market in Bajawa others weave ikats used for local clothing or for carrying a newborn or as tablecloths. At the end of the day, we rode back to town on the top of the bus, greeted by the ever present cries of "Hello Mister" we waved to locals as if we were celebrities. Small town Indonesians have to be the some of the friendliest people I've even met.

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Our next stop in Flores was Moni. I wish I could describe to you how beautiful the crater lakes where but unfortunately, volcanoes seem not to want to show themselves to us. We spent three days in Moni, it rained every day and Andy got bitten by a dog on the way to use the outdoor bathroom at the restaurant... It was time to leave.

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At that point Waiterang (a subburb of Flores' capital city, Maumere) sounded like a dream come true. We spent 4 days on the beach to compensate for Moni's rain. Our accommodation was basic but friendly. We didn't do much except read and try to sort out Andy's rabies vaccination plan.

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With only 5 days left in Indonesia, we flew to Bali. It took us an hour to cover more distance than we had in our 36 hours boat-bus-taxi-bus-ferry-bus-ferry adventure. Ah... the joys of modern travel!

p.s. We are currently in Changi airport (Singapore). Just another example of how well kept things are here, a guy is polishing every single leaf of the plants behind me... Oh Singapore!

Posted by Andy-Janie 03:25 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

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