This has been our philosophy since we waved goodbye to Jersey-town. We have never used the world-renowned Lonely Planet, mainly for that reason. It is world renowned. Why would you want to leave a western culture, fly halfway across the world and then use a western guide book that every other westerner is using, and therefore follow the western tourist trail around South East Asia It makes no sense to me. We travelled for a few days with some Yanks who wouldn’t even go for dinner without consulting their precious LP. Needless to say, our sightseeing partnership didn’t last long. Explore for Gods sake, we said. Losers plan it.
Each time we set foot on foreign soil, we follow one golden rule: just ask the locals. There are countless experiences that were only possible because we followed the advice of the indigenous. Arriving in Sumatra we had the name of a guest house, and that was it. But soon we were happily sauntering off to Bukit Lawang to explore jungle territory on the advice of a lovely Indonesian at Angel Guest House in Medan. Sumatra is very similar to India as it has a huge Muslim population, areas that are very poor, and it is considered courtesy for women to cover up. Now that is fine, but the 37 degree heat just makes you want to get naked. Regardless, we conformed to culture, kitted up in our only long-sleeved and legged attire and sweated our way into the rainforest.
I think that the people of Sumatra are the friendliest that I have yet encountered on this trip. They truly look after you. Of course, you need to be careful not to become too friendly with the locals or they will somehow come to believe that you wish to spend the rest of your years with them in holy matrimony (the men I mean). Still, very friendly.
Anyway, we had spent our first week in Sumatra trekking through the jungle looking like two sun-starved Mowglis. Our first sighting of the gigantic orange-furred beings called orangutans was unreal. A mother and a baby spotted us, and swung over to investigate who was in their jungle. They came about two metres from us, and then vanished back into the trees as quick as they had arrived. It was amazing. On our trek, we saw a total of twelve Orangutans, three Black Gibbons and a dozen Komodo Dragons, all wild in the forest. Trekking through the beautiful jungle, we sang along with the locals, drinking beer and playing cards underneath a canopy of stars as we set up camp for the night. It really was one of the best things I have ever done. Sleeping on the jungle floor, learning herbal remedies, watching swinging Orangs follow us through the jungle, and finally rafting down the Bukit Lawang rapids. RUBBER DINGHY RAPIDS, BRO. Ahh, yeah.
After a long bus ride, a short flight and a lot of sleep, I was floating around the underwater world like some kind of technofied mermaid. Stunning. My rubbish ear canals had prevailed and therefore I had proved my doctor wrong (which felt like I defied science), and I gained my Open Water certificate. If you have any kind of fear of the big blue, I urge you to go scuba diving. As soon as you see what lies below that creepy, mystical, dark layer of liquid, you suddenly feel safe. It’s only Nemo and his mates, after all. I’ve housed a horrible, yet clearly rational, fear of deep water ever since childhood (thanks to ?Jaws?). Even deep pools scared me (courtesy of James Bond). But since taking a tank down there, swimming around for a bit, floating and examining just how big them fishies actually are, I’m alright now. It’s kind of like when you learn that you can pick up jellyfish up with the palm of your hand. You’re not scared of them anymore because you know them. It?s the same with the sea, once you know it, you’re not afraid.
It was strange arriving in Bali and actually having a mirror again. I remember actually jumping back when I saw myself, who the HELL is that I thought. It’s amusing how the image of yourself you have in your head, and the actual reality of what you look like can be completely, COMPLETELY opposite sometimes.
Bali is swarming with Aussies. Literally. It is an honest pleasure to hear an English accent here. An unexpected surprise. A rare beauty. Not that I have a problem with Aussies, I don’t at all. In fact I’ve only actually encountered three Australians this whole trip. Well, until now. Bali has become very touristy and very Aussie, equivalent of our Costa del Sol holiday package deals, if you get what I mean. Of course there are the places you can visit where rice fields stretch for miles, and kids are all racing around trying to get their kites to fly in the limited Bali breeze (it’s a daily ritual). I swear none of these kids go to school. Look up, and you will see the aqua sky littered with kites of all different shapes and sizes. It makes them closer to God, they say. Anyway, we quickly left Kuta, home of the Bogins (look it up), and travelled up to a lovely little town called Ubud to visit the monkey reserve. This is essentially a beautiful place where you buy a bunch of bananas and monkeys suddenly sprout from every direction, pouncing at you, and climbing on your head, wrenching your hair out and generally abusing you until you reluctantly part with your $2 purchase, surrendering the whole bunch out of blind panic and fear, to one big fat daddy monkey that you just don’t want to mess with.
We floated across to the Gili Islands and embarked on a series of beach bum days which passed lazily, occasionally donning a mask to go and see some of the magnificent and humongous sea turtles which were sunbathing in the shallows. Chilling out with the locals, we soon realized that the Indonesians really do enjoy a group jamming session, and will whack out a guitar at any given point of the day expecting you to hold a tune to their plucking. It is funny how this is simply not something that us English folk do. Unless steaming drunk, or extraordinarily talented, we just don’t feel comfortable belting out a tune. Simply not our way, is it? I have to say, it took me and Niema a few beers and a serious consequence analysis before we parted with our dignity and let our inner Celine Dion out.
Maybe it’s because our English blood curdles as soon as we feel a cliché approaching. Campfire, guitar, group of people singing together? Sends ripples of mortification up my spine it does. So, I guess twas a shame the only songs we knew all the words to were Oasis. Ironic, huh.
So, back to the beach. Soon the dreaded check-my -bank-account time will arrive. Then the same process as before, I will fathom a new destination, and so shall begin the next article. I hope the weathers nice back home.