Sunday, July 5, 2009

Bali and Malaysia, part 4

Day 11: Durians

Tired from last night, we wander about the world's largest bird park in KL's Lake Gardens and later the Museum of Islamic Arts. Although the Lebanese lunch buffet is clearly the highlight of the museum, the exhibition is quite impressive and interesting. I was especially impressed by the collection of Arabian calligraphy in different styles and from different times and places.

We go back to the same place for dinner where I am offered a piece of disgusting Durian. I can no longer contain my curiosity, so against better knowledge I try it. It is quite an interesting taste sensation. I would say that the base taste is very close to onions that have spent about a year rotting in the bottom of a much too humid fridge, but there are other elements in there too. It also tastes of honey, almonds and cream. It would taste quite nice if it wasn't for the overpoweringly disgusting taste of rotten onions. I think you have to be insane to enjoy this horrible fruit. That almost the entire Malaysian population seem to not only enjoy it, but to love it, and to eat kilos of it every day during the season, makes me feel a little uneasy about being in this country. Apart from obviously being complete maniacs, the people are really friendly and relaxed here though.

Day 12: KL to Perhentian Kecil

I get up very early and spend the day flying to Kota Bharu in the North East of the Malaysian penninsula and then moving on to the small island (Kecil) of the Perhentians. It's a small tropical island without cars or big hotels, that reminds me of the way Gili Trawangan was ten years ago.

Day 13: Temple of the Sea

I join the morning dive for the famous dive spot Temple of the Sea, which is a big coral boomie. We don't get to see the whale shark that was spotted outside the Perhentians just a day ago, but it is a fantastic dive nonetheless. The visibility is possibly the best I have ever seen. We could easily see the bottom 20 metres below where the boat stopped for us to jump in. There's lots of fish and stuff to, like black anemone fish, boxfish, angelfish, groupers, batfish, squid, huge pufferfish and a very well camouflaged scorpion fish.

In the afternoon I walk to the wind- and solar powerplant that lies on top of a hill in the North of the island. From the powerplant, where the view of the island is great, there is a huge staircase zig-zagging down to a jetty next below so I walk down and dive in for a nice swim. I meet a French guy there who is staying at the hostel D'lagoon that lies nearby, totally isolated from the rest of the island. It seems like a really good place and if I ever come back that is where I will stay.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Bali and Malaysia, part 3

Day 6: Surfing and fever

Klaus leaves for Sydney and I head down to the beach and rent a surfboard. The surf is quite bad, probably no more than 3 ft, but I have some fun. In the evening I don't have so much I am attacked by some kind of evil mix of fever and sunstroke. Later, I realise that I have caught some stomach bug and I spend the next two days being sick.

Day 9: KL

I wake up feeling hungry. What a great feeling! The rest of the day is pretty much spent booking, taking and leaving our flight from Bali to Kuala Lumpur, where we arrive sometime after 10 pm. Lucky for us, this is surely not too late for a meal, but the middle of prime time of KL's brilliant night markets. One of the biggest turn out to be only a few hundred metres from our hostel. Our hostel, called "Classic Inn Budget Hotel" or some generic name like that, turns out to be a brilliant place as well; really friendly staff and a great place to meet fellow travellers. Anyway, the night market is a fantastic and chaotic sight. A thick swarm of people are walking around or stitting down eating at simple plastic tables covering most of a wide street lined with a swarm of open air restaurants where another swarm of people are frying crabs, frogs, chickens and noodles and about a hundred other things. All of this exists in a beautiful and chaotic mess. As for the smells, the mix is even more beautifully messy, if possible. The smell of roast chicken, fish and fried spices is mixed with that of exhaust fumes and the rotten smell of those disgusting durian fruits.

Day 10: Drifting around in KL

During the impressive hostel breakfast I make aquaintances with Alberto the Mexican and Scottish Chris. This duo, who are in fact having their last couple of beers as I eat my breakfast, is quite entertaining and we have a long talk about diving, Scottish rock groups and whether it is a good idea to sneak into Petronas Twin Towers impersonating a mysterious Mr. White and his photographer, as Alberto suggests. The reson for this idea is that we are much too late to grab one of the few daily tickets to go up to the viewing deck of the towers' bridge, issued at 8.30 each morning. Me and Ali decide against it, in favour of just heading up the KL Tower.

Having consumed the view of the city from the KL Tower, we drift around Little India, the Colonial Quarters and Chinatown. However, we move at a snail pace and have to stop several times to cool down from the tormential sun. The first stop is in great Indian vegetarian restaurant where we are served way too much food on pieces of banana leaf, to be eaten with the right hand. The second stop is in some famous mosque, the third is the most desperate one where we run straing in to the first open building nearby that turns out to be a library, and the fourth is in the not-so-special Central Market.

A strange event occurs to us on our way home. A woman of heavy stature, possibly transvestite, stops her car and offers a ride, wavinve wildly and tells us to get in. We decline and walk on. When we over an hour later get out of the monorail station and cross the street heading for ou hostel, the very same woman drives by and honks her horn desperately, but this time she cannot stop. This mildly mysterious event was never explained, but it scared Ali frightfully for reasons that I do not fully understand. He tells me that he still has reoccuring nightmares about it, but hopefully he will recover one day and look back at this day as a happy one.

Anyway, in the evening we head back to the same night market for dinner, together with Alberto and Scott the Aussie. After feasting on crab, chicken fish and different stir fries, washed down with generous amounts of Tiger beer and coconuts with rum, we hit the town, or more precisely some place called the Beach Bar, where Jack Sparrow works as a bartender. By this I mean the actual Jack Sparrow and not just some guy dressed up like him.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Day 3: Diving at Nusa Penida

In the early morning, we hop on a boat with Klaus’s old diving colleague Peter, who is working for Tauch Terminal, which I can warmly recommend to anyone who wants to dive in Bali. After just 20 minutes of high speed pursuit off we reach a really good dive site off the coast outside the small island of Nusa Penida. This island used to be like a penal colony, where the old Balinese kingdom put many of their troublemakers and criminals, kind of like the Balinese version of Australia.

The first dive is completely brilliant, following quite a strong drift over almost a kilometre of a continuous colourful coral reef. The second one has much less current and I have time to have a look at some anemone fish and crazily coloured nudibranches. After the dives we spend the afternoon snorkelling on the Blue Lagoon again and then we head for Tulamben for the night. However, we only get as far as Candidasa which is a small and quite beautiful tourist resort some 15 minutes away. However, the beach is destroyed by concrete wave breakers since the previous natural wave breakers in the shape of coral reefs all have been destroyed by dynamite fishing. In the evening we eat a luxury dinner and watch a solitary Balinese folk dancer. She seems very bored and asks basically everybody to join her on stage in order to stand and look ridiculous next to her, which almost seems like an insult to the fine art of Balinese dancing to me. After a lot of insisting I join her for 10 minutes though. Nobody else dares to..

Day 4: Gunung Batur and Beduguhl

After the first sleep-in of the trip we head to the small but touristy village on the outer crater rim of Gunung Batur; Bali’s second-most holy mountain. The volcano looks really impressive from there and we can see the fresh black lava from the latest eruption in 2006 that destroyed several homes and all the roads leading up to the inner volcano itself. After lunch we bravely chose to take a road that is dashed in the map we are using, from the 1998 edition of Lonely Planet. At first the road is great and we think that a lot has happened with the infrastructure in the last ten years, which is true, but after an hour or so it is obvious why the road was dashed. Several hours on pot-holy dirt tracks later we reach Beduguhl; a popular lakeside weekend resort for Balinese people.

Day 5: The Conquering of Gunung Catur

After an early breakfast we head up the 2,200 m tall volcano Gunung Catur together with Anna from Atlanta, that we met on the hostel (no relation to Hannah Montana, or so she claims). We almost get lost but some school kids send us off in the right direction. Later it turns out they are just three of probably a hundred kids from a Denpasar school on a class trip, climbing the mountain together with us. We finally make it to the top and are rewarded by a feeling of grand achievement, but not, however, a view. One has to be up there at sunrise to see anything but white clouds over the lake below.

In the afternoon we slowly head back to Kuta through some incredibly dense traffic jams. We have dinner in a fantastic yet really cheap Chinese restaurant in Denpasar together with Peter and his family and then spend the evening in Kuta sampling different bartenders’ imaginative interpretations of advanced cocktails and dancing at the Bounty nightclub with the normal clientele of drunken Aussies.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Bali & Malaysia part 1

After two fantastic weeks in Bali and Malaysia, I am now in Kuala Lumpur International Airport, waiting for my flight to take me back home to Norway. I've written a kind of travel diary and I thought I should post it here in parts, so more will follow..

Day 0: Arrival (7 June 2009)
After a long and complicated series of flights (to utilise the super cheap tickets from London) I finally arrive late in the evening in Kuta, Bali, where my old friend Klaus is waiting. Klaus's friend Ali is also travelling with us and they have already spent two days on Bali when I arrive.

Kuta is pretty much the same as I remember it from last time I was there, ten years ago. It's full of drunk Australians and Western franchising stores (The Mc Donalds logo hovers over the view from the beach at night). The only exception is that mine and Linus's old hangout Sari Club no longer exists, since it was blown up by fundamentalists in 2002, taking 200 lives with it into the grave. Anyway, I don't mean to sound melancholic; it is really good to be back!

Day 1: Padangbai
After breakfast we head out of Kuta and Denpasar's traffic chaos with Klaus behind the wheel of our rented Toyota, in true Balinese rally stile. In Padangbai we check in to the simple but very cosy Sidha Karya homestay and discover that Klaus's old visit in 2002 is still in the guest book. They haven't had any visits for over a month which perhaps says something about how few tourists there have been for the last years here

We spend the afternoon snorkelling in Padanbai's Blue Lagoon; a fantastic coral reef just meters out from a beach. The reef is boiling with colourful fish such as needle fish, blue-spotted stingrays, a moray eel, parrotfish and many more that I don't have a clue about what they are called.

In the evening we discover that the other beach of the village is really destroyed. The whole forest of palm trees that surrounded it are gone and someone has started to build an ugly concrete hotel and a big wall closing in the whole beach. Later we hear that it is a Korean construction company and that they were stopped by the local guvernor, but too late to prevent the destruction. Quite a sad story.

Day 2: Padangbai & Tulamben
We start the day by driving up to Tulamben to dive on the wreck of the U.S.A.T Liberty. She was a American transport ship loaded with weapons and sunk by the Nipponese during the war. Klaus used to work as a dive instructor there several years ago so he really knows the site. We get two really good dives, although the visibility is a but murky, and have a look at the wreck and the myriads of fish.

In the evening we meet Camilla who turns out to be from Vallentuna, which is the countryside suburb of Täby, where I grew up. She has just been to Malaysia and gives a lot of advice where to go there. Some plans have formed and Ali has decided to stay in Asia for another week instead of going with Klaus to Sydney.