A Yeti Lands in Indonesia

Bali 2014

Bali 2014

Though I spent almost 6 weeks there, I can’t say that I loved Indonesia. (Keeping in mind that I only visited four of the reported 18,307 island that make up the archipelago.)

Things started off poorly, and I was stuck in the airport for several hours upon landing. Not the fault of anyone, but still it colored the experience. It only got worse with two nights in Kuta/Legain–”a more wretched hive of scum and villainy” you will not find. I even love backpacker ghettos–have defended Khao San and Thamel and Pham Ngu Lao and Pahar Ganj to many backpackers. But we’re talking 12 year girls offering their bodies, men selling not just hash and viagra but coke and crystal, whores on motorbikes grabbing at your body and begging you to come back to their rooms and, well, you get the idea.

So before long I was in Ubud, the cultural centre of Bali famous as an arts and crafts hub. I had high hopes here, and I did end up spending 3 weeks here. But it was over-expensive, full of dishonest people, touts and ripoff artists and just far less pleasant than similar cities like Luang Prabang or Chiang Mai.

On the other hand, there were a lot of great veggie restaurants, the rice fields made for pleasant ambles, and the scattered temples beyond beautiful.

Bali Temples

Bali Temples

After Ubud I visited Amed, which was by far my favorite place in Indonesia. It’s on the verge of becoming overdeveloped (hotels are being built everywhere) but it remains quiet and full of charm. There are great black sand beaches and really fantastic snorkelling, beautiful coastline just made to drive a moto around, and above it all looms Mt. Agung, a striking volcano. Amed is a great little town and if I go back to Indonesia I’ll spend more time here for sure.

Amed Bay

Amed Bay

The next stop was for a visa extension in Mataram, the capital of Lombok and city of half-a-million people but you’d never guess it was half that. It feels like a small town, with very few foreign tourists, and highlighted by a mall full of knock-off electronics and people smoking everywhere. It felt safe, to me, but I was warned both by the dude selling sweet potatoes and a clerk at 7-11 to “be careful” at night, so perhaps there is a dark side. There isn’t much to do here (apart from renewing your visa) but nearby is the jewel of Lombok tourism.

Senggigi is considered the tourist hub of all Lombok, and it’s a good base to climb Mount Rinjani. (Which I did not climb, as it was quite expensive, and none of the people I talked to thought it was worth it.) It was off-season when I was there, but it was really quiet and quite small and uneventful. It’s also the gateway to the infamous Gili islands.

Of the tree islands, I chose Gili T kind of for no reason. It is pretty, and there are loads of conveniences like Irish bars and you can walk around the entire island in an hour. It well deserves its fame. But it’s far smaller and less pretty than, say, Ko Phagnan or Langkawi. And … again, it’s quite expensive and fairly low-level hedonistic.

Gili T

Gili T

The food was mostly fantastic, with lots of vegan options almost everywhere. If it is possible to die from eating too much tempeh I would not be here to write this now. Big meals were possible for a few dollars, and things like peanut sauce and spinach and green beans were available everywhere.

Nasi Campur

Nasi Campur

In short, although there is a lot to like about Bali and Lombok and the Gillis, they are undeservedly more expensive and more touristic than similar areas in SE Asia. I don’t think I’ll be back anytime soon, but for those traveling as couples or friends (on a more generous budget than mine) a great time is still possible.

Annapurna Base Camp – Day 5 Himalaya to Pokhara

I was on the trail by 6:30 and I just walked all day. The climb up from Bamboo wasn’t as hard as I’d feared.  The one up into Chomrong was worse, but after some small breather breaks I stopped at the top and scarfed a piece of apple pie.

Back in the Valley

Back in the Valley

From there, I considered stopping at the town with hot springs, but it wasn’t even noon and so on I pressed.

Hard Day at Work

Hard Day at Work

Somewhat to my surprise, I was in Pokhara by 7 pm that night.  Got a room at the Kiwi guesthouse and was back in time to see the New Year’s parade the next day.

Baby goats

Baby goats

In all, I love the AC and was glad to have finally done it.  I had the time and energy and probably should have down the circuit as well, but this was a nice little coda hike to the big one in March.

Annapurna Base Camp – Day 4 MBC to EBC to Himalaya

Some janky extra charges put yesterday at a 2000 rupee day, very expensive for a trail day.  But I was super warm all night.  I woke up at 5:30, stepped outside and carefully considered my options, then dove back under my covers for another 45 minutes.

I was out by 6:30, leaving my backpack and only bringing a bottle of water.  At that hour, I had the trail largely to myself and I made good time, getting to ABC in less than an hour.

The views were very nice–a little underwhelming after EBC, sure, but quite lovely.  Met up with some BBC musicians I had met the last night and walked down with them for some time.  Cool to have new people to talk to, and they had lots of great stories.  Plus I hadn’t had a chance to charge my toons for days so with no audiobooks or music I have to entertain myself the old-fashioned way–actual human interaction.

It usually rained or snowed by 4, with it beginning around noon yesterday.  But today it started snowing at 10 am, while we were still at MBC.  (I would later learn that 2000 rupees–20 bucks–went missing from an inside pocket–but I didn’t think to check.)  The snow was coming down and while hiking kept me warm, I didn’t really have a waterproof jacket.  My thermals were good but also my pjs and I didn’t want them to get wet.

Stopped for lunch in the same town I ate in yesterday and met the UK/Irish and Filipino trekkers from day 1.  They were stopped for the day and still on their way up, so after a brief catchup I said goodbye and headed out into what had become a white-out snowstorm.

I walked down as far as the town of Himalaya, but it was snowing hard and foggy and even the trail was hard to find at times.  Few people were out, and those that were weren’t only wearing a light windbreaker.  Rumors of no beds in the next couple towns helped me decide and I got a room with a Polish couple and a cool lit major linguist from the south of England.

Best of all, met an American scifi fan from Houston who was in Nepal for a grand total of 8 days.  Great night of chats but all of us were in bed by 8.

 

 

 

Annapurna Base Camp – Day 3 Bamboo to MBC

Had a great night sleep–not too cold not too warm and no funky dreams.  Had a semi-sleep in until 7:30 am as it’s only a 5 hour day today.  (Though gaining 1300 meters elevation.)  It’s chilly this morning and I began hiking in my jacket.

Forest in the AM

Forest in the AM

Either the past few days are catching up with me or the hiking is harder or perhaps both, but from the town of Dovan I stop being faster than the map times and end up much slower.  The hiking is quite nice, as it begins in a mossy forest ringing with bird songs.  I stopped for lunch in Durali for an epic plate of fried rice that only took about 10 minutes to come out (laser fast for Nepali lodge times) and missed a brief rainstorm.  Met a cool dude from Osaka who had lived in Madrid for 7 years and a burly Czech couple who likewise waited out the rain.

Another day, another Valley

Another day, another Valley

It was cold–I put on my jacket at lunch and never took it back off.  It took some climbing after Durali–600 meters in 2 hours.  It hailed for the first hour and then finally decided to start snowing.  Went through some avalanche chutes where dumbass hikers stopped for photos.  Listening to (and finished) an audio book of Brave New World.  Such a sweet book.  People worry about the nightmares of Orwell so much that they sometimes forget that the world of Huxley is already here.

Hey Oh!  Snow!

Hey Oh! Snow!

The snow was heavier and heavier, and I reached MBC just before 2, where I scored another dorm room for 150 rupees where I would end up being the only person there.  The room had BIG warm sweaty buffalo kind of blankets and I grabbed two of them.

We were high enough that everything was majorly expensive, but stopping early you sometimes need to order a big pot of hot lemon and buy an overpriced canister of pringles to sit and watch the snow come down.  Met lots of cool hikers and played a huge game of Asshole with a bunch of Dutch and Brits.  Ate an improbably good dahl baat for 550 rupees and was in bed 10 minutes before 8.  Getting up early to get to Annapurna Base Camp tomorrow.

MBC in the distance

MBC in the distance

TOWN: MBC
HEIGHT: 3700 meters
GUESTHOUSE: Machupuchare GH 150/room
DAILY BUDGET: 1000 rupes

Annapurna Base Camp – Day 2 Tolka to Bamboo

Oh man, I always do this when I walk by myself. I just walk too far, and for too long. I left Tolka just after 7, walked all day and made it to Bamboo at a quarter to 4.

Early Morning Views

Early Morning Views

Today was hiking through lots of flat, lots of up, lots of down, lots of everything, with killer mountain views for the first couple of hours. In general, the views were pleasant but hardly overwhelming.

Looming Mountains

Looming Mountains

Passed loads of people and took my first stop at Chomrrong for lunch (where my friends from last night were heading for today.) Met a cool couple from Wisconsin (the girl went to school with Gary Gygax’s son!), walked down a million stairs then right back up a steep climb. It began to rain so I ducked into a tea shop and met some Scots and an Englishman.

Deeper into the Valley

Deeper into the Valley

But I pressed on and then down some more steep stairs made it Bamboo, which I’d heard had a bad vibe and that it was hard to find a room. And it was! The first two places told me to sod off. Finally I found a found a dorm room at the last place in town for 150 rupees. And no one else came in, so I had the place to myself.

Typical Trail View

Typical Trail View

In all, I walked for 8 hours (with an hour stop for lunch and a few other mini-breaks). The LP trekking guide suggests 2 days, so I’m well ahead of schedule. Have already come 30 kilometers so far, which isn’t bad if you consider the elevation gains and losses and the 2.5 hours of non-trail climbing.

'Nother Trail Town

‘Nother Trail Town

Now I’m listening to some Americans girls flirt with some Ozzie guys (and they’re all drinking beer!) while thinking about dinner. Here has veggie curry with 3 chapatis for the same price as Daal Baht. Tempting.

Instead of renting sleeping bag, I bought a “-5″ small one. It’s more like +15, but most everywhere has blankets and there’s always the sleep-in-all-your clothes trick.

TOWN: Bamboo
HEIGHT: 2310 meters
GUESTHOUSE: Trekking GH and R 150/room
DAILY BUDGET: 1050

Annapurna Base Camp – Day 1 Pokhara to Tolka

Today was kind of a shit show.  Got caught by the talkative host and waiting for a friend means I didn’t get to the TIMS office until 9:30.  From there, the walk to the bus stop was over an hour (despite being told it was about 20 minutes).

But the bus took off right away and it was only 100 rupees to get to Pedi, the trail head.  Score.  30 minutes later they dropped me off on the side of the road.  I said goodbye to my friend, who was hiking further down the road, and jumped off.

Onto the bare side of the road.  No houses, no people, no nothing.  What was there to do but walk up the road a bit?  Walk up I did, for half an hour, finding shortcuts where I could take stone steps up the hills, but they always met the road.  Eventually I passed a few houses, but the people there didn’t give me a second look–kind of an unofficial gauge of being in the right place.

Terraces

Terraces

Finally I stopped for water (somehow left Pokhara without any. shitshow, I tell you!) and though they overcharged and I didn’t get any, I learned I should have gone DOWN from where the bus dropped me.  So I guess they just forget to tell me that we had already gone through my stop.

From there, it took me 1.5 hours to get to Pedi.  Climbed down maybe 400 meters, through some prickly bushes that felt like burning all day. Some girls tried to sell me strawberries for a dollar a berry and got mad at rich me for not giving poor them any money.  I showed them the holes in the shorts and shirts and my ripped backpack and they smiled and ran away.  Got some water in Pedi and then, by 12:30, found the trailhead.  Not exactly a perfect start.

New Shoes!

New Shoes!

I bought shoes yesterday and they did remarkably well but were nonetheless new and also a size too small.  The beginning of the hike was a hot, sweaty 300 meter climb and I had to go into full-on sweaty yeti mode.  I put on lots of sunscreen, but the top of my (recently shaved) head got quite sunburnt.  I stopped for a handful of breathers, but the climb wasn’t that tough and it felt good to be back on the trail.

Nice towns, good valley views: the trail looked a lot like the climb from Tatopani to Ghorepani on the Annapurna Circuit.  Which made sense once I considered how close that area must be.

The sometimes very well marked trail

The sometimes very well marked trail

After that first climb, there was lots of flat and I listened to a talk Noam Chomsky gave to MIT in 1995.  His warnings then seem ever more cogent, and I learnt the Dewey quote “Government is the shadow cast by big business.”  Also, paraphrasing, Chomsky said “The flaw with government is the possibility that it could be co-opted for democratic purposes.”  I felt too lucky to be able to hiking in the Himalayas while listening to Chomsky speak.  What a world we live in!

Typical Trail Town

Typical Trail Town

I had left my big pack behind and just very carefully packed my day bag.  There was some risk if the weather got bad, but my back is pretty sore and it was the way to go.  Even with my late start, I passed a dozen or so people.  But in large the trail felt more deserted than EBC.  For about an hour, I saw no one–no backpackers, no porters, no locals and I began to worry I was going the wrong way but lo-and-behold I stumbled into a town on the map and it was all good.

A River Runs Through It

A River Runs Through It

At 4:30 I reached Tolka.  This was 6.5 hours of walking but only 4 of it on the trail.  I felt great and it was light and I would have pushed on, but the lady running an inn was really nice.  Rooms are a dollar, showers and battery recharging are free.  Her son came into my room and we talked about the usual stuff (where are you from, what do you do, how do you like Nepal?) but as he left he admonished me not to get any more tattoos.

Met a cool UK/Irish couple and a pair of overburdened Filipinos.  We had great trail conversation about cameras and sleeping bags and all in all, despite le show de mierde, it was a good first day.

 TOWN:  Tolka
HEIGHT:  1790 meters
GUESTHOUSE:  Sunlight Tourist GH&R 100/room 
DAILY BUDGET: 760

Everest Base Camp – Day 21 Salleri to Kathmandu

I was out the door by 4:10 in the morning.  This was best case scenario, but in true Nepali fashion it was merely to drive backwards, half-an-hour to the last town on the trail, over a dark bumpy road.  3 guys got in and all sat in the middle row, with me.  The back and front were entirely empty but there we were, 4 men needlessly pressed together.

By 5 we moved on and gained/lost people.  Now there are 3 people in every layer, save for the middle where we have 4.  At a quarter to 7 we stopped for a tea break.  It was light and the roads were swarming with people walking on their daily business.  As a night owl, it’s always nice for me to be up early in the morning.  Still it had been almost 3 hours on the road and we had, what, 12? 15? more.  We climbed back into the jeep and listened to hours and hours of very loud filmi music.

At 8:30 we changed jeeps.  The only bit of excitement before that was the guy behind me spewing all over the place.  It took some time to get going, but we all got back into the same places and eventually rumbled back down the mountain.

But progress was very stop-and-go.  Even when we went, it was slow, over new roads and through dusty river valleys.  But mostly we stopped as serious construction was taking place.  Lots of new bridges were nearly built and the road was paved in many areas.  We avoided all those and snailed along as quickly as we could.

Construction

Stopped for a good daal baht with a great potato curry around noon.  I was hope that are within 6 hours of Kathmandu.  We leave and drive through a long river valley.  It’s beautiful in an entirely different way than the mountains, hundreds of people, goats, water buffalo, children playing and swimming, and just so much life everywhere.

Road Building

But there’s so much construction too.  After lunch, we stopped easily 10 times to see a dump truck slowly loaded with rocks and dirt from caterpillars.  Each break took 15-20 minutes as busses, cars, and motorcycles impatiently queued on the narrow roads.

A few times we found tarmac and sped up to heady heights of 20 or 30 kilometers an hour.  It would always devolve into crazy winding paths through villages or up mountains, though.  I am really enjoying the constantly changing landscape, and with the window rolled down I can ease out from the press of the crowd.

At 5:30 we stopped for tea and I got some fly-covered cold and no doubt quite old (but still quite grubbing) aloo and roti for 50 cents.  I’m starting to worry that we’ll get there late enough that finding a room could be a problem.  The dude who speaks a little English tells me we are 2.5-3 hours from Kathmandu now.

At 6:30 we stop for gas at the “Buddha Oil.”    One of the 4 dudes in the middle got out and though he was temporarily replaced by a man with a chicken, we ended up only having 3 guys in the middle from here on out.  Much better.

It started to look like Kathmandu around 7:30.  Some people get out but I stay in, waiting to see something familiar.  Eventually we are at the end of the line and I have to get a taxi back to Thamel.  The guy quoted 400 rupees to me, to which I responded with a “maybe 300?”  We weren’t that close though (always the worry) and it took over 20 minutes to drive back there.  (Though he pulled the whole “not-enough-change-trick to charge me 350 in the end.)

The best luck–even at 9 pm Shree Lal had a room! It was on the 5th floor, sure, and my long-awaited first hot shower was freezing.  But I got my stuff and back and had a huge thali for dinner.

In all, it took 17 hours to make the trip.  I looked up how close they were on the map and had to check several times, as it’s about 80 miles away.  Despite being up since 4 (impossible even for me to sleep on those bouncing jeeps) I stay up until 2 am and buy a plane ticket to Norway this night.  Stupid internet.

This is the end of the EBC hiking account.  Thanks for reading!