THE PERKS OF (SOMETIMES) BEING A SOLO-TRAVELLER

When I was twenty, I really, REALLY, wanted to go to Paris. I’d been there before with a friend and had loved it and here I was, seeing these train-tickets on a massive sale and nobody wanted to come with me!

I felt lonely for a bit, but then my travelling-streak won out and I just went to Paris for the weekend. Completely on my own. For the first time ever.

The experience was transformative. I finally realised I wanted to travel, because I WANT TO TRAVEL, not because other people had told me I was the type of person who’d like to travel – yes, my rebellious side knows some ridiculous moments.

The trip was great and amazing and made me hungry for more! Paris will do that to you.

I’ve travelled some places on my own since then and each time people have asked me if it wasn’t scary to go travelling alone – especially as a white female. Now to me, neither my skin colour nor my gender have anything to do with whether or not I should go travelling on my own (other than maybe how I behave in certain places). To me, being a woman – white or otherwise – should NEVER EVER be a consideration if you want to go travelling.

So for everyone out there who is thinking about embarking on a solo-trip I wanted to tell you about the 3 absolute amazing perks that come with travelling alone every once in a while.

1. Doing what you want to do, when exactly you want to do it

Never before had I had this whole stretch of time where I was not accountable to someone else, not even to someone I loved. I didn’t have to ask whether or not the other person wanted to go to the Louvre or would rather see the Eiffel tower. Would they mind if I sat down for a long lunch or went to the ballet? Would the other person also enjoy looking at Monet’s paintings, or do they greatly dislike the impressionists – or even museums in general?

Every single moment of every single day I only had to answer one question: what do I want to do right now. No explanations, no compromises, no nothing. If I want it, that is enough to go out and do it.

This freedom is intoxicating and addictive. How could I ever go back to keeping other people’s likes and dislikes and energies and expectations in mind?

Of course I did, but for those few days, for the first time ever, I felt what it was like to be truly free and responsible for my own happiness. I can’t help but want that feeling again. Perhaps it is the thing I long for the most on random rainy Wednesday afternoons at my job. The freedom to not do what I should do, but only what I want to do.

2. Discovering who you are without any pre-set expectations

Going out by yourself for a while in a new environment with new people can teach you something about yourself. I always knew I was a chatty know-it-all who likes books and new discoveries and new people. But going travelling on my own has taught me that there are plenty of times where I don’t like to chat. I don’t always like to meet new people and at some point I have had enough of books and new places.

I discovered I quite enjoy alone and quiet times to reflect. I am kinder than I thought I was, enjoying to take care of people who are lonely or unsure of what to do and I am tougher and harder than I thought, not caring as much about what annoying people think of me and no longer afraid to just let these people not like me if that is the consequence.

I’ve again seen that I am very opinionated – as this blog surely shows-, but enjoy seeing new viewpoints if I have enough calm in me to discover it. I am restless at times, but constant travel makes me weary. I am an extravert with introverted tendencies.

All in all, I am what I am and travelling solo may or may not have changed that. But one thing is certain: I learned many of these things – or was reinforced in my knowledge – because I could discover it without the fear of disappointing other people’s expectations.

3. Becoming more confident

Perhaps the most important thing solo-travelling has given me is more confidence. When there is nobody else who can pick up the slack, you are confronted with the innate ability we all have to take care of ourselves. Sure, some of us may be more prosperous than others, but in the end, we all have what it takes to survive in this world, both physically and mentally.

However, solo travelling has given me confidence beyond merely being capable of surviving on my own in different countries/cities (I am definitely not capable of surviving in the wilderness for any extended amount of time!).

I’ve learned I can make new friends – who don’t think I am a total weirdo (at least not in a negative way). I have learned to trust my own feelings because I only had to ask “what do I want”. I’ve grown confident in communicating with anybody in any languages – nothing like a stoic Chinese woman blankly staring at your well-intentioned dictionary and refusing to budge to teach you a thing or two about how to communicate when you speak no communal language!

Moreover, I have grown confident I can be on my own. I am strong enough to be my own companion and to be enough. I am enough – if I want to be, or if I need to be.

Want to become more confident? Take the scary plunge and get out of your comfort zone and just go on that solo-journey. You will not be disappointed!

Writing this has made me realize I haven’t been out travelling without a companion (be it with my best friend or my boyfriend) in a long time. It would explain why I am starting to get the itch to go exploring on my own again and hoping Erik will go on a city-trip with his friends sometime soon, so I have a good reason for again stretching my solo-travelling muscles! Time to start planning!

5 THINGS TO DO IN PARIS

Paris, city of love. City of the best food in the world and city of blinding lights. City filled with meandering cobbled roads, filled with culture and the city we’ll always have. Paris is so great it has become a cliché to say so. I really should not like this city, just to proof I AM A REBEL who will not let other people’s likes be her likes.

But I do love Paris. Ever since I first set foot under the Eiffel tower back in high school, I knew this would be a city I’d return to over and over again. And I did. I went with friends, I went on the first – and only – road trip there with my mum, I went there the first time I ever went travelling completely alone – oh my what a joy! – and the first time Erik and I went on a holiday, we came my beloved Paris.

After multiple visits – but never enough to really get to know the city – I have my favourite spots picked out, that I just have to visit if I can. However, I am also always looking for new places to see. And eat and shop at. For now, these are my all-time favourite things to do in Paris - as they change every time I go there.*

*yes, these are very much touristy places. I am a tourist in Paris, not a Parisienne – sadly – and so my top things to do are touristy ones. To find out how to locals live, find another blog (and let me know what it is so I can read it too!)

1. Browsing the books at Shakespeare & Co.

Now as a travelling feminist who loves books, this should come as no surprise. This famous bookshop is a true Walhalla for the true book-addict. The old building is stacked to the brim with English language books (sadly my French is not good enough to actually be able to read French books) and boasts being visited by Ernest Hemmingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald amongst many writers. I could honestly literally – “literary” – spend hours here – and I usually try to every time I visit Paris.

Are you as much of a book addict as I am? Then be sure to visit this lovely quaint old fashioned bookshop on the south bank just across from the Cathedral Notre Dame. And be sure to be hospitable to strangers, lest they’d be angels in disguise – as quoted in the bookstore!

2. Dream an hour away at L’Orangerie

Monet. In 3D. Need I say more? Honestly, if I do, you are either a barbaric person when it comes to culture, or you just don’t like impressionism. Otherwise, this small museum where Monet’s most famous water lilies adorn the walls, is well worth the visit. Try and come early as a quiet atmosphere attributes to the beauty – and hordes of tourists are just annoying wherever you go.

3. Eat a baguette with cheese at the Eiffel tower

Granted, this may be even more of a cliché than actually visiting Paris, but to me, eating a picnic at one of Paris’ many parks is something you just have to do when in Paris. If you are going to visit the Eiffeltower anyway – or one of the many amazing sites surrounding it – why not have lunch in it’s vicinity? I do recommend getting your food beforehand as tourist prices are no joke – though they are ridicules – and also to find a spot well away from the actual tower. You’ll have a lovelier view and less tourists gaping and taking pictures of themselves.

4. Visit the Église Sacré Coeur and stroll about Montmartre

I like visiting the white church on top of a hill for many reasons. One of them is the anecdote my mum always tells about how I took her there when we visited Paris together. In my memory, I simply took her to see one of the sights. According to her, I took her through all these dodgy back allies only to have the vista opening up to her. She performed the same trick on my dad when they visited Paris together, so it’s become kind of a family tradition.

It was only last time I went to Paris – a recent college-trip – that I started to actually appreciate the surroundings of it. Montmartre has had a bit of a bad rep – perhaps at times rightly so – but it is beautiful once you get away from the annoying street vendors and seems to provide you with a feel of Paris you only read about in books. The small back streets, the tiny restaurants where you get the best wine available, the slight rebel feel intermingled with a definite sense of style. Visit this area if you have the chance. I know I will next time I go!

5. Take a trip to Versailles

Choosing just five things to do in any city is hard – in Paris, it is simply impossible. However, listing every single amazing thing to do, is too much trouble – not to mention impossible – so I am sticking to my goal!

And for that, I advise you to get away from the city and get yourself over the Château Versailles. King Louis XIV was such an arrogant piece of sh*t that he named himself the Sun-king and had an immense castle build to show everyone he was the one and only king – by divine right.

I don’t really like the castle all that much, but I really enjoy the gardens. During the summer, this is a lovely and beautiful retreat from the city. Especially the gardens made by the maligned Marie Antoinette are very pleasant and feel like you are walking in nature just a short drive away from the hustling and bustling from the busy Parisian streets. Get some nature in here, to recharge yourself for more time spent in the city.

So, these are my 5 favourite things to do in Paris. What are yours? Tell me in the comments and maybe we'll visit them some day!

WANDERLUST

A musing

It’s been one of those days, again. One of those days where I kept reading stories written by and about world travellers; people following their hearts to where their feet lead them. One of those days of feeling the wind in my hair, the sun on my face and hearing my feet tread a trail along an ambling creek from the dreary surroundings of my usual office and seemingly endless commute. One of those days in short, where my desire to roam the world seems to burst out of me.

Is this wanderlust?

Sometimes, I feel like there's a world inside of me. I can feel the majestic mountains with their snow-capped summits and rolling vales, ending at a small lake surrounded by fragrant trees. The air is crisp, not to warm, not to cold en so, so fresh! I feel this space in my heart, as if this is what was keeping me alive instead of the beating of a muscle connected to veins traversing my body.

 

On days like these there is nothing left for me to do but to sit there, in wilderness in my heart. I sit on a picnic table maybe, or the doorframe of a trailer. Knees pulled up, hands warmed by a hot cup of coffee – somehow there’s always coffee – and just calmly staring at the quiet wilderness ahead of me. A quiet wilderness that does not resemble me – an extravert who loves to talk. But that feels like home.

Is this wanderlust?

Dictionaries describe it as a strong urge or desire to travel and explore the world and to roam about. But to me, that seems inadequate. It is never just a strong urge to explore or a desire to roam about. It’s deeper than that. More than wanting to go on a holiday and it feels more urgent than wanting to escape your place in the world for a while. It is a need to find that place that, like the horizon, appears to be ever receding.

It is a need as deep as the biggest love you’ve ever felt. A necessity to go see the ocean, to run the meadows of the world, climb its mountains, gaze at it’s views. A deep, almost physical desire to explore new territory, meet new cultures, expand your brain. All that is driving you is a thirst for the new, the different, the beautiful, the hard, the difficult, the so worth it, the changes, the sameness of people, the infinite variety of life, the profound and the mundane, the else.

 

The thirst for something else to see than your daily view, something else to smell than the myriad of smells you’ve encountered so often you can no longer separate them from each other. Something else to hear than people complaining like we all do about how dull life can me. A wish to feel something else. Something calmer and more authentic and true.

This is wanderlust.

A feeling that makes my heart cry out for the sensations of the salty ocean breeze or a pine scented sunset over glorious mountains. A feeling that makes my feet itch with desire to run and fly and keep running until I find a place where I can walk and maybe even be still. Unencumbered by outside influences. Still in the wilderness. A feeling that I fear will never leave, but that gives my heart a place to rest.

THE FINAL DAYS OF OUR TRIP

Down, down, down again

Turns out it is much (MUCH!) easier to get down from a volcano than it is to hike up it. Luke told us we’d take about 8 hours to get down, but with the help of a walking stick (OMG, I really need to get one for my next hike, because I am seriously loving it) we sped down the mountain like crazy people and managed to do it in just five. Insanely quick as we were going though, the porters still managed to outrun us in their flip-flops. Guess they know the mountain much better than we do.

After a few stumbles onto my butt – and uttering Dutch curses that the only other Dutch couple on the mountain were conveniently able to catch – we got to the end of the park. Looking at our grimy and grinning faces, all we wanted to do, was take a nice long hot shower and not walk for a few more days.

Sadly, after getting to our hotelroom (after a bumpy ride) we found out the shower didn’t run hot except for a few minutes. Resigning myself to a cold shower, I simply figured being clean would be worth it. I gritted my teeth, took a nice long cold shower and spend the rest of the day sleeping and reading books and walking as little as possible. Nobody warns you about this, but as long as you keep walking, your muscles don’t ache too much. However, sitting still for a bit and then walking is like asking a very old invalid person to run a marathon – not going to happen. Oh well, it was all worth it.

Final day

And really, that is how we spend our final two days. Lazing about. 

Well that and taking a death-man’s ride to the airport – apparently if you tell someone on Lombok you are going to miss your flight if they don’t hurry up, they take it upon themselves to speed down a mountain, past children getting out of school and walking on the road and past anything that lives or breathes in the vicinity of the main road in a way that makes you pray to any god to please, please, please make it to the airport in one piece even if you are an atheist like me.

Also, lazing about really isn’t our style. So, aching muscles not withstanding, we explored the area of Kuta on Bali – not worth it, far too many tourists and all the attendant nuisances – and went surfing in waves far to big for us. And to end the holiday in a perfect manner, we met up with some friends who were only just starting their’s.

Getting home

Going back home, is never any fun. The amazing trip we took, was totally worth it, but I still wish it could’ve lasted longer. Our trip home made me forget that for a few days (waiting at the airport for 2 hours, then flying for 4 hours, then getting from one airport in the city to the next one before having to wait another 6 hours at the second airport only the proceed to fly for an infinite number of hours will do that to you! – thank god for good books like “the light between oceans“) but looking back already makes me nostalgic about this trip. It was a once in a life-time experience that I hope to repeat many times during my time on the beautiful planet.

Looking back

I cannot believe it has already been 5 months since we got back. And even though we have had plenty to deal with in that time – interesting internships, the holidays and, not to forget, buying a house and moving to a different city – I am already craving a new big adventure. High time to start planning the next one!

HIKING RINJANI – DAY 2

Midnight wake-up call

At 2 a.m. the alarm rings and I am not feeling at all well – not only because it’s the middle of the freaking night, but because my nausea is back. I try to fake a smile, determined not to let it show and succeed for a little while.

The sounds of waking tourists are increasing as are the sounds of the porters who are laughing and cooking us lazy tourists some kind of breakfast. Ours consists of grilled sandwiches with jam and is very, VERY sweet. I try to force it down as best I can and then Erik remarks I look white as a sheet. I just have time to grab my empty teacup, but not enough time to answer him – again I am throwing up. Jeez, this holiday, I seem to do that more than I have for the past couple of years combined!

Afterwards, I feel shaky but fine and as determined as ever to reach the top. Luke tells me not to worry; he is unable to eat anything at this altitude either. I sort of doubt his remark as we are only at about 2400 m – not where I expect to be affected by the altitude-, but right now I’ll grasp at any straw to get going.

Up, up, up, yet again

And then we are on the move. It is quiet and pitch black as we head up the mountain. I stand still for a bit, taking in the crazy amount of stars that I can see. I have never been this high up, this far away from any light source and this much enthralled by the sheer amount of stars looking down on us. It makes me feel tiny and insignificant, but very happy to be able to see and live this moment.

I look back and the hundreds of thousands of stars are mirrored back in the couple of dozens of lights trailing the same path we just took. We are all united in getting ourselves to the top for the sunrise and I can’t help but feel connected to everyone. United in our common goal.

A few minutes later though, I am thrown back into my own little self. The journey up is arduous as we are trying to get up slopes consisting of volcanic pebbles. With every step we take, we have to allow for a bit of sliding back down, making it seem as if we are not making any progress at all. It is hard work and all I can do to keep going is keep going on and not pay attention to anything else.

We pass people panting in exhaustion and I feel like I can do this for a while. Not feeling as bad as they look, you know. And for a while I can.

But the cold – it’s about 5° C out – the altitude and my exhaustion are creeping up on me. I start counting my steps as I did in Dinant. To 100, to 50, to 10. I sit down, catch my breath, try again. 100, 50, 10, 10, 10. It’s so hard to keep going, but if I want to see the sunrise I have to. 20 Steps, then 20 more, just 20 more. I sink to my knees, too tired to even turn around and sit properly. I catch my breath, crawl up on my hands and knees. 20 steps – crawls -, rest with my head in my hands, 20 more crawls, catch my breath, 20 painstakingly slow crawls. God, why am I doing this?

Erik tries to cajole me into walking, into sitting, into getting up from the cold ground. I feel like crying, but I can’t. I am too tired, too weak and too stupid for thinking I could actually do this. People are passing me, time is passing me and I realise I will miss the sunrise. Weak stupid girl that I am, I am also depriving Erik from his sunrise view. Crying I tell him: “go on without me, I can see the sunrise perfectly from here, just leave me and go and enjoy the view”.

He scuffs, of course he is not going without me – and I love him so much for it! Later he tells me I was not the only one having trouble. A few meters from me the British guy is lying face down in the path and all around me people are struggling. But in my misery, all I can see is that I am not able to get to the top on time.

Summiting

Just when it seems like the darkness will never end, the sun starts to infuse the night with the slightest hint of a beautiful dawn. On the eastern horizon a small strip of orange appears and the night seems incrementally less dark. This light, for me, at this time, is a life-giver. It makes me get up and try again.

I stand up straight, finally accept the arms of Erik and Luke to lean on until the light really begins to show its self. It’s as if the sunlight brings back my energy, my will and my determination to get to the top.

Just then another British girl gives me a shout-out: “come on, you are fucking insane for getting here, you can make it! Here, use my stick” and giving me her walking stick, she climbs further up. This small act of kindness, is all I needed and I get going. Going, going, going.

And even though the sun is already up when I reach the top – and team U.K. has beaten us to it – I am overcome with happiness. Diving into Erik’s arms as I start crying – again –, I immediately know that this was all worth it. The beauty is all the more profound for being so hard to attain. I stare out at the view, my first ever view that is this high up and was this hard to get to and has left me with such an amazing feeling of strength and resilience. And it is totally addictive!

We spend some time at the top, gazing serenely at the view, resting, then taking the mandatory pictures – need proof! – and start back down. We still have a long day ahead of us.

Down, down, down we go

Getting down is much easier and way more fun than going up. We sort of slide-glide-ski down and it is only now that I realise how much ground we have covered. The dark not only blanketed my resolve, but also the amount of time and distance we travelled. Strange things.

We get down and have a small breakfast. Then we go further down into the crater. I have not really had time to rest or sleep and as we are taking big steps down big boulders, I can feel that being this tired messes with my mountain-goat abilities. I fear I may fall and crack my skull open and it is this fear – that I am unable to shake – that is making me clumsy and slow.

Thank god for the hour we have for lunch. We are nowhere near where we need to be, but Luke decides we’ll have lunch here anyway, as we are progressing so slowly. I fall asleep within minutes and after about an hour wake up to the smell of another curry. I eat a bit – still not very hungry – and then I feel ready to go again.

We are making much better time now and we have some time to get to know Luke better. We learn about his family and farming in this arid region. More importantly we learn about his love for the mountain and his fiancée and how much he enjoys being a guide; getting people to the top. He jokes how I thought I was not going to make it, but he knew I was a “strong woman”; that could do it. I can tell he rather likes this joke as he laughs every time we say something about it.

This young man, who I didn’t trust enough to lean on, turns out to be a very strong and rather mature guide. Ready to get married like is normal in Indonesia at his age and at the same time embracing the new concept of leave no trace on the mountain – which no other guide seems to be doing. It feels weird to say, but in him I can see the blending of cultures in the best sense. We are very happy with our guide.

Hot springs

The one thing that does really surprise me, is that fact that Luke is afraid of water and doesn’t know how to swim. Coming from a country that has less of a coast than Lombok, but where everyone learns to swim at an early age, this takes me by surprise. I can’t believe he is so anxious about swimming, that he won’t even sooth his aching muscles in the hot spring we get to later in the afternoon.

 

Neither Erik nor I have any doubts about it: this water is heavenly – and surprisingly hot, although that shouldn’t be a surprise, given the fact we are swimming in a hot spring. We relax en swim and wash ourselves – heaven – and after just a little while we have to get going again.

We hike along the lake at the base of the crater to the other side and then start our second ascend of the day. Tiredness is starting to set in, but knowing we have a dinner and a bed – not to mention a beautiful sunset – waiting for us – makes us push our legs a little longer and a little harder one more time.

Up seven stairs

Luke tells us we only have seven more stairs to go. We eat some more cookies – SUGAR! CHOCOLATE! ENERGY! – and start this final stretch. The stairs are not really stairs but big ascending boulders about half my size that we have to scramble up. Panting we go and count down. Just six more to go, COME ONE, just five more, WE CAN DO THIS, four more, YES YES, three more, GRRR OK, GO, two more, OH MY GOD, just one.

And that one turns out to be bigger than all the other ones combined. By now, even Erik is having a tough time. All we can do is keep scrambling, no longer waiting for each other (I am ashamed to say, Erik is better at waiting for me than I am for him) but simply pushing, pushing, pushing ourselves one last bit until finally we reach our tent.

It is already in the shade and being completely covered in new sweat – so much for our clean bodies after the swim – we get cold quickly. We layer up again and walk just a little further to enjoy the sunset and the final rays of sunlight.

I cannot believe how long we have been up already and how long we have been climbing up and down this mountain. There were times where I felt certain I was not going to make it, but as with so many exertion: the mind wants to give up way before your body does. Today was a beautiful reminder of that fact, although I still realise I do have to listen to my body. My fear going down is testament to how much you need to rest at times, to get yourself safely back up.

And the rewards for all this hard work are amazing. In just 24 hours we have seen two beautiful sunsets and the most beautiful and amazing sunrise I have ever seen. Nature provides its own show and it is so much more rewarding to watch then any adventure series on Netflix. The aching in my muscles tells me I have worked hard to earn this peace and quiet and beauty and again I feel that this is addictive. This is what I want more of in my life! Now I just have to find a way to do that in my own flat pancake of a country…

HIKING RINJANI – DAY 1

“So, after hiking for 7 hours we’ll go to sleep, get up at 2 a.m. hike to the top, see the sunset, hike down to our camp, have breakfast, hike down the volcano and up it again at which point we will sleep and hike down to the village for another 5 hours and we’ll be done”. I grin at the camera, fully believing this is doable, but there is an edge to my smile. We have been sick not two weeks before and we are going to attempt to hike gravelly terrain for three straight days. Sounds like a great plan! Regardless, I am SO looking forward to this!

Arrival

A few hours before filming my own version of 3-op-reis, we arrived at Sembalun from where we would begin our hike. Halfway from the beach we’d been put in a new car with a driver that didn’t speak any of the languages we do – gotta learn to trust people on the road – and apparently, neither did the hotel owner, or concierge or however he was. Both men seemed very confused about us. “You from bookingcom?” they’d asked and I had assumed we’d be fine.

However, they kept looking at our papers, clearly trying and failing to read them and sounding very concerned. I decide to call the local number of the hiking company to see if everything is in order. She assures me we are at the right place on the right day and that our guide will meet up with us soon. I ask her to explain to our driver and hotel-man what we are doing here and to ask if anything is the matter. 5 Minutes of “aaaaah, ooooh ok” of the hotel-man and after him the taxi-driver, we are happily shown to our room – without explanation of what exactly was the matter. Our room is very basic and by now we are really trying not to be worried about the next day.

As we are having dinner – at the hotel, the hotel-man was sort of concerned about us walking off – the guide appears. This small Lombok 19-year-old is called Luke (really Lukeman, but Luke is easier for tourists) and still has stiff legs from finishing the hike today. I am not at all sure about him, but will quickly learn to trust his considerable ability in the days to come. He explains to us what we are about to do (the same story I repeat on camera – always wanted to present for “3-op-reis”) and then leaves us to sleep and get enough rest for the coming days.

Up up up we go

The next morning, we rise early to a rising sun to pack our day bags – we’ll just have to trust our big backpacks are indeed brought to the next hotel – strap on our hiking shoes and get started. We have a small breakfast and then Luke arrives so we can finally get started.

Like real hikers we sign the register – how I feel like a woman who hikes now! Realising of course that real hiker women probably don’t get this exited about signing a register – and realise we will be amongst the oldest people climbing the mountain. I wonder why that is. Is hiking for young college students, is perhaps Lombok more suited for young adventurous people? I’ll probably never know and don’t have much time to consider it, because after just one kilometre more we enter the gates of the national park and our hike up mount Rinjani has officially begun.

 

The first couple of hours we ascent at a gentle pace. The heat makes me sweat and I have to work out a bit, but this is great fun. After about an hour, my mind stops it’s incessant brooding, thinking, talking, chattering, worrying, exclaiming over every detail and settles into the momentum of our walk, gently ambling along, but not proving the rollercoaster maze it sometimes is.

We make good time and as we are overtaking the carriers (men of all ages, smoking like crazy and carrying up loads of up to 40 kilo’s on bamboo sticks while wearing flip-flops) we shout out “selemat bagi, apa kabar? Baik baik” – good afternoon, how are you, good good – and they laugh with us. Erik jokes he will beat them to the top, which they think very funny. A little while later we will have an hour lunch break and these man laughingly pass us again, shouting the same phrases and making it appear as some sort of mountain conversation we can all enjoy.

At lunch, we meet another couple that we have a lot of fun with. Tom and Sophie are two Brits who have decided to do this hike in their nikes (insert, walking down the street – mountain - with my nikies on). We tease one another and decide to make it a race to the top. It’s a friendly race and we will overtake one another quite often during the next few days.

Up up up even steeper, we go

After lunch, things start to get harder. The ascent becomes steeper and often I feel like am walking stairs made out of tree roots. The ground is dry dust and with every step we take a flurry of it takes flight. That sounds beautiful enough if you imagine sunlight slanting through it like pictures on Instagram will show you, but in reality it blocks my nose and because I have to use my hands to clime the tree root ladders so often, I soon have a dirty face that makes the porters laugh when they see me struggling along.

Erik meanwhile, appears not to have any trouble at all; his beautiful strong legs carrying him up the mountain like he was meant to do this. He encourages me to push myself and manages to make the porters chant my name in encouragement. “Addy, Addy, Addy!” It brings me to the top, but nearly in tears that I do not have the energy to spill, so I ask them to please stop. Let me get into my own little corner of misery that I know I will only escape by pushing myself for another hour, another half our, another fifteen minutes, another ten, five.

Getting to the crater rim

And then we’ve made it to the rim and although the struggle is not forgotten, it is forgiven, because this moment is already worth it. We get to our tent – thankfully already set up by our amazing porters (I am clearly not yet as tough as I’d like to believe) and have a rest, waiting for team U.K. to come to our tent (they beat us to the rim) so we can enjoy a well earned drink and come what we really came to do; enjoy the amazing view.

We can look straight into the volcano, seeing the lake and the tiny – well, seemingly tiny of course – active volcano in it. The mountain we are climbing continues on the other side and we catch glimpses of it through the deck of clouds that is passing us by as the sun is setting. I feel like I am in a kind of heaven, where I can nearly touch the clouds in much the same way as seeing them from a plane. The speed at which these clouds move up and down the mountain is staggering and only now am I fully appreciating why people always say that the weather up here – or up any mountain really – can change in a matter of minutes.

These clouds are bloody cold though, so I quickly pull on all the warm clothes I’ve brought, Erik no longer laughing at what he thought was ridiculous to carry with us all the way from Amsterdam, through Bangkok, Koh Tao, Kao Sok Lake, Georgetown, Cameron Highlands, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Bali/Ubud.

Dinner is a lovely curry with white rice and as I am taking a rather spicy bite a look through the gap in the clouds all I can think is “this is what I came here for; and it is perfect”. Feeling tired, but in a good way I am happy to see a view that will escape many people – conveniently forgetting that we are up here with about a hundred other people, like most nights during the hiking season.

Promise

I make a promise to myself then and there. I will make it to the top and all the way down and I will remember this feeling so back home I can find ways to incorporate this feeling in my normal life. I will find new ways of exerting myself and finding places of beauty like this – needless to say, by now that promise has already proven difficult to keep in normal ordinary life.

 

After dinner, it gets dark – and cold – quickly and we get into our thin sleeping bags, dirty but unable to get clean, so simply accepting the fact we’ll be dirty for another two days. I am scared the sleeping bags won’t provide enough warmth in the predicted 5° C night, but as I am reading my book – yes, I brought one with me on a hike, screw the tiny increase in weight – I can almost feel it radiate the warmth back to me. Putting in earplugs against the sound of the porters having a party and pulling my cap and hoody low over my head, I fall into a deep but fitful sleep. At 2 a.m. we’ll be awoken to start our ascent to the top!

Keep posted for day 2...

UBUD BEAUTY

Let me start with a confession. The first time I heard of Ubud, was when I read Elizabeth Gilberts “Eat, pray, love”. And the first time I wanted to go to Ubud was when I saw the movie adaptation and Julia Roberts cycling through the greener than green rice paddies bathed in the sunset orange light. So in a sense you could say I am one of the many – MANY - tourists who’ve come to Ubud without having a clue why Ubud would be a good idea and just following the footsteps of all the other tourists who’ve read this book.

Except that from the moment I started reading more about Ubud I knew I wanted to come NOT to see Ketut Liyer (who died before I made it here anyway), Wayan or the place where the author met Felipe, but to see the stunning surroundings for myself. I did not just want to come to feel the hipster vibe that the book did not do justice to – or that just wasn’t the same way back in 2003 – but to gaze upon the green jungle and to explore the surroundings, riding a bit further afield on a scooter, braving the chaotic traffic of Bali. So, with excitement in my heart – and some trepidation because high expectations can so easily lead to disappointments – we came to find the green jungle of Ubud.

Again, that view

It appears that Bali is going to be the place of insanely beautiful views from our hotelrooms. We arrive at the Sayan Terrace resort (a relatively cheap option just outside of Ubud that we found on Airbnb) in the late afternoon and when we are shown to our room, we cannot contain our grins.

The view is even better than we had anticipated and impossible to capture on film. It is a view of the mountains covered in jungle greens of every imaginable hue. In the distance, the mountains become hazy, giving them a mysterious air, as though the further you go, the more magical this place will become. Nearer to our hotel, there are countless trees containing countless birds and giving your eye something new to rest on every few seconds. We breath in deep, relaxing completely and just gaze upon the natural wonders before us for a while. Here, green really is the prettiest colour of all.

After watching the sun set behind the mountains nearest to us, we decide to go do something cultural and see a Balinese dance. We ask how long it will take to get to Ubud centre and when we hear it’s at least a 30-minute walk, we decide to take a scooter. Turns out that without Google maps but with a very under-detailed map it will also take us 30-minutes by scooter because we get lost a bit. We do drive on ever smaller roads and almost make it down some stairs with a small strip of concrete next to it so I am just going to say we took the adventurous route instead. Count your blessings and even when it appears to be stupidity, just call it an adventure!

 

Firedancing outside and inside

We make it to the Ubud Palace where apparently we can buy tickets to see a dance. A man approaches us and being well-travelled by now, we are a little bit wary about him offering us tickets to either a normal dance or a fire dance. Not having been here long, we are unsure of the haggling procedure and even possible scams. The man seems trustworthy enough though, so we decide to get tickets for the fire dance that is being performed at the big temple.

The temple is almost completely dark so that we have no idea if it is a big or little temple, but we find a square with small plastic seats along three sides of it and a staircase occupying the fourth side so we assume we are in the right spot. After being a bit pushy and pretending not to understand that an American girl is keeping six seats occupied – she was just switching the seats to be occupied when I came walking up to two I wanted and I figured she should just have done that sooner – we are waiting for the show.

Neither of us really knows what to expect. I have only ever seen a traditional Thai dance and thought it was boring – sorry – and Erik hasn’t seen anything like it. Thankfully we have been given an outline of the story so we know what to look out for and – perhaps most importantly – when we will be getting to the end.

The show turns out to be a big group of women singing a hypnotic repetitive rhythm sitting in a circle around a fire – with one woman repeating the word “bok” in a high pitch every second throughout the entire hour and a half show that will drive you nuts if you don’t manage to ban it from your brain. In this circle, the story is played out by other dancers who move in small increments, placing a hand or a foot or even a finger just so that it says something about the story. I am not always sure about the meaning of each gesture, but the beauty of the thing is undeniable. Although, I do get a bit bored at a few points where I’ve lost the story. Guess I’ve always been and always will be someone who enjoys a well told story, while other – more visual – crafts like dancing are somewhat lost one me. What can you do?

After this show we are treated to show by a fire-dancer. Basically it’s a man in a white dress with a horse-like shape attached to him being put into a trance so that he will walk over burning coconut shells. It is strange to look at. On the one hand it is completely mesmerizing – seeing a man walking through something burning – and on the other hand we are asking ourselves why on earth anybody would want to do this – especially for tourists. It does make for an interesting show and so we are glad we went.

By now it is getting quite late, so we start to look out for a place to eat dinner. We see an Indian restaurant (Queen’s of India) and decide to eat there sitting at one of the low tables were you sit on the floor. For me this is no problem but I giggle as I see Erik struggle to come into a cross legged position – at which he fails after a few minutes – and then stretching his long legs along one side of the table, his feet dangling of the little raised area. Asian sizes are usually not really considerate of his length – although his height does make it really easy to follow him in a crowd.

We order dinner and are soon served delicious curries with naan-bread. I’ve opted for a mild one while Erik has gone for one spicier. Although the food indeed cannot be classified as hot, a small fire still erupts in my mouth, but with some drinks it is manageable. I wonder if I am finally getting used to it and starting to enjoy hot spices or if this restaurant is just really good. Either way, I am in love with the food and hope to taste more of it while we are here.

Scootering around Ubud

We spent the rest of the night listening to the many sounds of the jungle, from the chirping crickets to the calling monkeys and singing birds. We even have a guest performance by a frog croaking just outside our door on the balcony. And then there are the stars. So far away from big cities the light pollution is lessened dramatically and we can see many stars shining. That makes it feel like a small piece of paradise and I can easily understand why people would want to stay here.

The next morning, we wake up to the sunrise as there are no curtains except the lace ones that keep the mosquitoes out, but let in all the sunlight. We open them fully and enjoy our view, with the green looking more fresh than the previous evening and different animals displaying their unique musical abilities. Again, I feel completely relaxed and calm and think to myself how all the different shades make green such a wonderful colour. I tell myself I should try and find bits of nature to go to back home so hopefully I can replicate this feeling. I love cities and will probably always want to live in one, but I also really love finding myself in nature.

Breakfast is spent in contemplation of the beauty before us and then it is off with the scooter to the rice fields. It’s a bit of a drive – apparently this was different 10 years ago, but we don’t have that point of reverence – and totally worth it. The green stretches everywhere and the blue skies with only a few white clouds seem endless. We take a few little dirt roads trough the fields with people looking at us until we bid them a friendly “selamat bagi” (good morning) after which they smile. They ask us how we are (apa kabar) and after we’ve responded with “baik baik” (good) continue with their work.   

Temples

The afternoon we spent walking the streets of Ubud, looking in on the markets and enjoying the sun after which we have fun walking through the monkey forest. This sacred place has monkeys running around everywhere and you’d better give them what they want if you don’t want them attacking you. Neither Erik nor I feel the need to feed the monkeys so we have put everything away, but we do have fun watching other tourists apprehensively holding out bananas. It’s a bit scary; walking around and fearing a monkey may just jump on you. However, since we have nothing on us, we are uninteresting to the monkeys and we make it out of the forest alive.

There are more animal temples around Ubud and since we still have time we visit the elephant temple Goa Gajah. Here I buy a sarong thinking the friendly woman is trying to sell me one because otherwise we can’t enter the temple, only to realise we could have borrowed one. We really should have known! Oh well, as far as being ripped off goes I am happy it got me a sarong I can use as a scarf in a colour I love – so other than it being for the wrong reason there is no harm done.

We make it back to the hotel to watch the sunset from the pool, but because it is still some time away we play around. We do canon balls and feel like little children again! Every once in a while letting your inner child run free can be a healthy exercise. And by every once in a while I really mean once every day, or just whenever I feel like it – though never enough. We do stop the cannonballs when we see how much water is going over the sides of the pool though. We’ve heard that the fresh water on Bali will run out in the next 30 years or so if the use of water continues the way it is and we don’t want to contribute to that even in this small way.

Dinner is a generic affair because today we are unable to find a great restaurant. Seeing as all the food around here is amazing, that is not to big of a shame and because we are tired from all the impressions of the past few days it doesn’t matter anyway. I make sure Erik finally gets an ice cream like he has wanted to get for a while now and am happy to see him smiling like a little kid – so content with just his ice cream! After that, it is another night of the jungle orchestra before we fall asleep dreaming of the green earth and blue skies we’ve come to love around here.

On the schedule is another temple and it’s the one you can see on the front of the 2015 edition of the Bali & Lombok Lonely planet; Pura Ulun Danu Bratan. It takes us more than an hour to get there on the scooter and all the while we are getting dusted by a thin layer of soot by all the vans and lorries without a soot filter. The views during the drive are worth getting sooted for though.  

This temple is more touristy than the others we have seen and I am a bit disappointed. The surroundings of the actual temple are beautiful though. We just have to focus on the ancient temple and its lake and mountain backdrop instead of the plastic left behind by tourists everywhere.

Relaxing

We want to visit some waterfalls as well, but without internet we cannot properly plot a route there that doesn’t involve us driving al the way back to Ubud first. The only place we figure might have WiFi is a new resort serving a buffet lunch. We have to eat somewhere so despite our soot and sweat covered bodies – not to mention our very casual outfits – we walk into the place that is still being build. The view from the gigantic window is amazing. We have a great time trying every bit of food available – especially the deserts – and looking at yet another stunning view – they just don’t stop around here.

Driving to the waterfalls turns out to require driving back to Ubud after all, so we decide to just skip them; instead opting for a few hours of reading and view gazing before our massage. We’ve booked a massage at the hotel because coming to Bali it would be a crime not to have one. When we are going down to ask where the spa is, a few hotel employees are walking up to our room with beds. Turns out, the massage will be given in our hotel room.

The next 90 minutes are pure bliss. The women know how to find our sore muscles and work them just so that they relax completely. I zone out and feel simply happy to be here at this time. If you are ever in Ubud, I can recommend the sports massage at this hotel!

Different lives

Sadly, the next morning it is time to leave this lovely place. I can easily see myself spending an entire holiday in Ubud. I like this town a lot and it appears to be a great base to go and explore other parts of the island that I would still love to see. We however, are leaving Bali and will be going to Lombok in order to tackle mount Rinjani and end our holiday on a literal high point.

Our taxi is late though– of course – so I have some time to talk to our receptionist who we’ve seen every day. She is a curious 19-year old and I enjoy talking to her about our different countries. She asks me questions about the climate and how much everything costs back home and how much I earn. Because she just told me what she makes – I asked her first – I feel a bit ashamed about telling her; it seems like an insane amount compared to that, though I do try to explain that everything costs more as well.

During our taxi ride I am still thinking about this very cheerful girl who told me she found me inspiring when I told her I had travelled quiet a lot on my own before I met Erik and how I planned to keep doing so if I wanted to see stuff on my own. She must have such a different live and yet there were many things we recognized in each other. This tantalizing combination made me curious and makes me want to learn more about the dreams and hopes of other people – although I have not yet found a way to satisfy that curiosity but I am on the look-out for it. For now, I am going to chase my hopes and dreams and climb a mountain!

OFF TO BALI

At six o’clock my alarm starts to blare and I think “no, I don’t want to go to work yet; I want to sleep”. I open my eyes to switch off the annoying sound and realise I am still on holiday and the alarm is going off because we have to get to the airport. It doesn’t matter. I still hate waking up early and burrow back into my pillow. Until Erik rolls over, puts his arms around me and whispers in my ear “come on, time for a new adventure”.

The best airport in the world
With sleepy eyes we get up, get dressed and strap on our backpacks once again. This time, our taxi driver laughs politely at our jokes, but apparently laughing all the time is not a requisite of becoming a Singaporean taxi-driver after all. We make it to the airport quickly enough this early in the morning.

Singapore airport

Now, what you need to know about the Singapore airport is that it is supposed to be the #1 best airport in THE WORLD. It’s not just me saying so – although of course, you should just believe everything I say, just to make my life easier – but this is according to the world airport awards (who knew there was such a thing). And who could argue with that assessment if you know that there is a swimming pool in the airport? True, it is only available for people who are transferring at the airport so I didn’t exactly see it with my own eyes, but a swimming pool! In an AIRPORT! Well I love it anyway.

As we arrive, I notice I am still quiet tired as I stand gazing mesmerized at a moving art installation that can best be described as a few square meters of big brass drops moving in geometrical patterns. I guess that could sound unappealing, but trust me, it’s hypnotizing.

Anyway, we make it through customs (yay, another stamp in my passport – the sixth this trip) quickly enough and have some time to kill in this allegedly best airport. We walk around and although it is pretty in places (I love the little garden in this otherwise urban environment), to me it still seems like any other airport with airport food, airport seats and airport waiting.

We wait for our gate be announced. We wait for our plane. We wait for boarding to start. We wait to get to our seats. We wait for take off. We wait for hours before we decent. We wait to get out of the plane. We walk a million miles at Denpassar international airport (Bali, Indonesia). Then we wait again. We wait for the boarder crossing (yay, another stamp), we wait for our bags, we find our taxi driver who is picking us up from our hotel and we wait for our taxi driver as he gets the car. We wait in the car, we feel very unsure of where the hell we are going to end up as we just keep on driving and the roads (and surroundings) get worse and worse, but still all we can do is wait in the car. We arrive at the hotel that looks decent enough, we wait to be checked in. We wait for our room to be ready as we also wait for lunch, but really the waiting is now relaxing because we are here!

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All about that view
Our hotel has the best view of the ocean. It is located on a bit of a cliff, but a small trek through the jungle – adventure is adventure even if there are stone steps leading the way – will bring you to a small private coral beach where the waves crash on the rocks in a ceaseless pattern. The water is warm and nice after the travelling we did, but the big grains of coral sand get everywhere!

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We are sleeping in a little hut that has an ocean view. Booking through Airbnb I realise is always a bit of a risk. Pictures may be Photoshopped and other people’s experiences may not be what you want on your holiday. Milo’s home turns out the be the exact opposite of that. The pictures were nice enough, but I was expecting something rather basic and small, but a nice enough place to crash a few nights. However, we have arrived at a resort. Which I normally don’t like but this is beautiful and small scale and friendly and I just love it.

img_4038I love our big room with a nice bed, the beautiful bathroom and the little seats in front. Because this place is – I’ll say it again – all about the view. From our room we overlook the small pool and from there it is an uninterrupted view of the ocean. We decide that today we are not going anywhere – restaurants sadly are a long way away from the hotel – and just lounge on the beach, near the pool and enjoy the amazing view of the sunset.
We are not the only ones struck with our surroundings. We can see people walking around, pointing around, walking in and out of one of the buildings with a lot of stuff. It is not until we see two heavily made-up girls and a woman holding a big-ass camera that we realise the hotel is also the sight of a photo-shoot. We laugh at how ridicules it looks when they are taking the pictures – even though I know with these views the pictures will be beautiful. I don’t really understand why they should all come here when a green screen seems a cheaper option, but I can’t really blame people wanting to come here.

Jimbaran-003Did I say the views were amazing yet? I just cannot get over the beauty of this place. We watch the sun slowly sinking into the sea. It changes everything. The green becomes a darker green, the blue busy pool turns into a still greenish pond and the sky turns into a soft orange where it hasn’t yet turned into a very deep indigo blue. It’s a quiet show to watch, but from our vantage point – and after all the city dwelling we have done – it is the only one I want to see and I thoroughly enjoy these moments.

Surfing

Days like these have a habit of ending early this holiday. Travelling takes energy and we are content with a quiet evening of eating, stargazing and reading (one step at the time for me, let’s see if I still want to walk a part of the Te Araroa trail after this book) after which we simply go to sleep in our beautiful, albeit hot – and smelling of DEET to repel any mosquitos – hut.

img_4062The next morning, we enjoy our breakfast with now a morning glow over the incredible view – did I mention it was incredible yet? At first, we decide to bask in the morning sunshine, but ten minutes later we can feel it burning on our not-sun-screen-lotioned faces and find a more shaded area. I had always planned to go surfing on Kuta beach this day and thankfully we feel well enough to do it – finally.

We even feel good enough again to decide that we are simply going to attempt to climb mount Rinjani. I never thought that we could feel this well again in just a few days and I am amazed by our bodies ability to get well so quickly – well after a bout of antibiotics that was of course. Regardless, we are going to push ourselves and in about five days we will be doing a three-day hike up a mountain of 3726 m. A feat neither of us has ever tried, but that we are dying to finish!

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But first, we have a few more days on Bali and like I said, I wanted to go surfing. So we start to make our way to Kuta. We ask a guy outside of the hotel how to get a taxi. After some time spent on his phone he tells us his cousin will drive us, but first he will take us down the hill on his scooter one by one to get to the car. We’ve already realised this is how things are done here – hustling various family member for various requested services appears to be the order of the day – and so we are driven down. The scooter is not only occupied by this man, but also by his tiny little son who reminds me of an Indonesian “stampertje” – Dutch children’s literature references are bound to pop up every once in a while – who stands firmly at the front of the scooter.

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After about an hour driving through the chaotic traffic (that I will learn to drive through myself later on) we arrive at Kuta beach. Kuta is much – MUCH – more touristy than Jimbaran where we are staying. The beach is gorgeous, but all the vendors vying for your attention are not my idea of fun. We quickly make our way to the beach, talk to one of the guys and make a deal so we can go surfing for four hours – with t-shirts on as the sun is already scorching.

The circumstances are ideal. There are waves big enough that take plenty of time getting to the beach so we can actually practice our as of yet non-existing surfing-skills without any help. My sinuses have a rough time of it as a few times I am swept of my board and into a rolling wave. At those times I need to remember to stay calm, wait out the turmoil and then I know I will instantly find what is up again. It is a bit rough, but the pure thrill of being active again and the addictive feeling I get when I finally manage to stand up on my board make it totally worth it.

 

Jimbaran-008During the four hours we take a few brakes, drinking soda and water from one of the vendors who only then lets us use his plastic chairs – although he becomes more lenient towards us after we have purchased only his drinks for a while. Sometimes I wait a bit to watch Erik. To see him emerging from the white foam as he attempts –and mostly fails – to stand up is almost as much fun as trying it myself. I love this sport already. It is so difficult and so physically hard (for me anyway, I really don’t have any strength in my arms and balance is difficult in the best of circumstances) but all I want is to stand up again and again and again.

Finally, I can feel myself getting sunburned and my arms are starting to shake. Not to mention the scrapes I’ve got on both my knees, my elbows and part of my lower abdomen. I take these minor wounds proudly, knowing that a holiday for me also means acquiring new and interesting wounds on my body that tell me I have been places and tried new things. But I do get out of the water. No point in overdoing it. Overdoing it any more than I already have that is.

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Ulu Wattu monkeys
After the surfing we have a late lunch in the touristy town; actual Asian food again, I have been bad and ate Western food yesterday – although really why is it SO bad, we eat plenty of foreign food back home. I guess it is just that I prefer to see the culture and cuisine of a place instead of my own, which makes eating Western food feel like cheating in a way.

After lunch, we walk around the shops for a bit until I really need an isotonic drink – I can feel mild dehydration coming on from the heat and after what we have been through I am very keen to prevent it getting any worse. We decide to call the taxi driver and he responds by telling us he’ll pick us up in forty-five minutes. We use the time to buy me a cap for our hike – and really for immediate use as it helps with the sun – and looking at a lot of converse sneakers like the cheap fake pair Erik has back home but that he is hesitant to buy.

We ask the driver to take us to Ulu Wattu to see the sunset there, but he tells us we won’t make it before sunset. I don’t really believe him as the sun is still so fierce, but we decide to listen and leave Ulu Wattu for the next morning before we depart for Ubud. It’s a good thing we decided to trust the taxi driver as the sun has set before we get to our hotel and the temple would have been a lot further. That’s the tropics for you I guess.

Sleepy and rosy from our day spent in the water and the sun, we again eat at the hotel and spent the night reading our books. It may not seem like all-that to many people, but truly, these nights make me so happy. Being able to sit reading a book with Erik next to me reading his book is my definition of a great night. Especially after an active day like today, with the warmth still surrounding us and the sky bright enough to watch the stars and contemplate what I have just read.

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In the morning, we decide to go one step more adventurous and rent a scooter ourselves. We have seen many tourists do this and although the traffic seems a bit crazy, Erik is sure he can easily get us to the temple so long as I play at being the woman’s voice on the navigation. At first, I can see us dying horrible deaths everywhere, from sliding on the grass next to the road and splitting our heads open to being impaled by bamboo that is being transported on an open car. The only thing keeping me on the scooter is my absolute faith in Erik’s driving skills. And after a while, I relax and start to enjoy my surroundings and the way everyone honks at each other. Not so much to push them aside or to let them know they’ve made a mistake, but to simply announce they are passing you and you should be aware of that fact lest you make any sudden movements.

We get to the temple in good time and park the scooter. We also leave most of our belongings in it, because the temple is notorious for the monkeys that steal your stuff and won’t give it back – and that will bite you if you try. So, our sunglasses, watches and caps are off and our water bottles are left behind as well. We each get a sarong to enter the temple and then we are walking around the ancient site.

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The heat is insane and glaring of the stones. The view from this temple admittedly is amazing, but I am so hot I have to make a conscious effort to enjoy it. I keep checking around to see if any monkeys are approaching us to take our camera or phone (also with us for taking pictures, not for internet at that remote place), but none appear. The whole time we are struggling through the heat, not one monkey shows his face. NOT ONE! I guess it was too hot for them as well, but I feel a bit cheated regardless. Oh well, guess we’ll just have to go see the monkeys in Ubud.

Which is where we are heading next. Although we have some time to visit another temple, we don’t because we are not allowed in (not having a sarong of our own and there not being any for rent I am shooed off the premisis to my ever lasting horror as I hate it when tourists are being disrespectful around religious sites). So, we get our backpacks and taxi driver at the hotel and start the drive to Ubud.

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SINGAPORE

Our KL hotel told us the trip to Singapore would take approximately four hours, so we decided to take the 10 a.m. bus, thinking we would be in Singapore in the late afternoon, giving us plenty of time to discover the city, eat some amazing food – Michelin star hawkers! – and still be able to get enough sleep to rest our recovering bodies. Turns out, that either four hours means something other in Malaysian than in English, or the estimate was ever so slightly off: it turned out it would take eight hours!

Arriving early – and late
img_4287Because getting to Singapore required us to get to another hotel in rush-hour traffic first, we leave the hotel around 8:30 a.m. Remarkably enough, there appears to be no rush-hour at all – at least not at this time – and so we end up at the bus stop an hour early. Oh well, we have our books and my backpack is high enough to serve as a desk so I can work on a blogpost.

When the bus finally arrives we realise it is a special kind of bus. Not special as in, we are going to bring you to a nice fuzzy place where you can do no harm to either yourself or others, but special as in that it is meant to approximate flying. We get lunch served and drinks, we’ve got big chairs and even screens in the back of the seat in front of you – that should have been our first clue.

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Because no bus that takes a mere four hours would necessitate a screen. Even plains that take about four hours haven’t got in flight entertainment in my experience. But this bus does have “in flight” entertainment. I decide not to use it at first and spend my four hours learning how to be happier by listening to the brilliant podcast happier! However, once we go into our third hour nowhere near the border yet, Erik and I begin to see that covering 350 km in four hours is a bit of a stretch – in Malaysia that is, back home we speed enough to make it in three hours tops.

So, we watch movies – James Bond saves me from boredom – and talk and read books – well, Erik does, I can’t read in a bus without wanting to throw up – and eat snacks until finally, after about 6,5 hours – and a little traffic jam – we get to the border. Crossing the border takes a while and we entertain ourselves – shock is more accurate – by watching a three-year-old Michelin man constantly defying his parents and walking around where he is not allowed. This kid has clearly never – NEVER – heard the word “no” in his life and I find myself hoping that the small pole he is pulling will topple on him so at least he learns something from the consequences of his actions if not from his parents! (I am normally more child friendly)

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Then, finally, after eight hours in the bus, we make it to the drop of point. From there we get a taxi with the worlds most cheerful taxi driver – or the worlds most stoned taxi driver, we are still not sure. He continually laughs or giggles as we tell him where we are going and where we are from and regales us with stories about what he calls the F1-mosquito. It takes a while for us to understand that he is not talking about some hilarious super-sized super-quick and dangerous mosquito, but the actual Formula 1 racing cars. Apparently the next race is coming to Singapore and our taxi driver is not a big fan.

Real food again, finally
In this manner we pass a happy if slightly weird half an hour until we get to our hotel. It is a good hotel according to our taxi driver, but we are mostly happy that is is an affordable and clean place to stay in the vicinity of one of the two food hawkers of Singapore that managed to be awarded a Michelin star in 2016. We have to go try that food!

We dump our stuff in the room and laugh at the bathroom that has a window looking into the bedroom with a pull-up curtain. Apparently you can give a shower show for the room to see, should you wish such a thing. We don’t wish for such a thing. All we wish for by now is some good food. It has been hours – HOURS – since we ate anything but snacks or airplane food and days – DAYS! – since we had any decent food whatsoever. But now, are stomachs are fine – although our energy is still lacking a bit – and we are on the hunt for Michelin-star food for some 5 euros.

Getting to the building that houses the first hawker is easy enough. It is a fifteen-minute walk and the roads are easy to navigate – if you’ve got Google maps and are walking that is. However, once we get in the building, we realise finding this particular hawker might be more difficult than anticipated. The building is essentially a parking garage were stalls of 3 by 3 meters are build in a shocking amount of “alleys”. While we are looking for the anticipated long lines, we get lost a few times and find ourselves circling back more often than we would want.

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In the end we find a man who know this particular hawker – Hong Kong Soy Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodles – but he tells us that sadly, this week the stall is closed because the proprietors father in law passed away. We are gutted – not as gutted as that family, obviously – because now we will not be able to say that our first proper meal after a week of being sick was Michelin-food. Can’t have everything in life I guess and even the best laid plans can go wrong.

That just means we get to enjoy another stalls food (soy sauce duck with noodles) and after that meal we don’t feel so sad anymore. It may look like exactly what it says – noodles with some duck covered in soy sauce on top – but it is so much more. It is the most delicious thing I have eaten in Asia ever! It has the right amount of salt sugar and something not so easily identified and it has that sticky feeling you can get with soy sauce food, but is still liquid enough to slurp in and the noodles are cooked to perfection and honestly all I am wandering if this food can be as great as it is – or if it is just the fact that it’s the first real food I am getting in about a week. Either way, it is heaven!

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Gardens by the bay
After dinner we are still not tired – yay! Finally getting back to normal – and so we decide to take a taxi to the gardens by the Bay. Our taxi driver is another happy soul, although not quit as cheerful as the last one. We are wondering by now if being happy is a prerequisite for being a taxi driver in Singapore.

We are dropped of at what seems like a back entrance, but what turns out the be one of the entrances to the park. The gardens by the bay are a big park overlooking the river – or bay – and are located just across from the Marina Bay Sands. It is a futuristic park that mixes botany with technology. The feature we are after today are the gigantic glowing trees. These objects are made from material that stores sunlight during the day – well, 11 of them do – and then at night they are lit up – suits flashback anyone? – to provide a stunning scene. Walking amongst these giants feels a bit like walking around in a kitschy futuristic fairy tale.

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The park is fun to walk through, but after a while we have had enough of the many tourist and the slightly tacky statutes that are placed in it. I mean, you can only look at a weird massive white stone baby before you get bored right? Just as we are leaving the park, a disco show starts up in which the trees provide a lighting show. It all becomes a bit to theme-parked for me – I prefer the quiet awe of the beautifully lit trees – and we are happy to make our way back to the hotel.

Walking around as we do
The next morning, we find out that my planning skills have taken a plunge during our illness. I had planned to plan – yup, I know, but it is what I do – the sights we were going to see while we were in the previous cities. However, at that point I felt more like just lying around being miserable and tired than like planning what we would possibly not visit because we would still be too ill. Happy than as I am to be on the mend and fully capable of exploring a city, I am just slightly annoyed with myself for not having psychic powers to predict our future.

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Turns out though, that Singapore is not all that big and that there are some nice walks in the bay area, so that is where we head off to – after visiting a beautiful temple just around the corner. At first we walk along the bay, but sadly the walk is nothing like we imagined. It might have something to do with the building up of the racing circuit, because it doesn’t look very much like the pictures either. This does however provide the opportunity to stand on the asphalt that in a little over a week – then, by now it is more like a week ago – will be burning with fastest racing cars on the planet. We even manage to borrow a chequered flag so we can stand there like professional pit girls – a derogatory term if ever there was one and the women and photographer we borrowed it from looked like the stereotypes you’d imagine, but who am I to judge, I stand waving the silly flag every bit as much, just in a less revealing outfit with less make-up and the knowledge I am more than just my looks. (Ok, rant over).

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We then find that Singapore and KL have at least one thing in common and that is that one of the best/worst things about the city are the shopping malls. They are amazing for cooling down after walking around in the humid heat, but a bit of a strong reminder that consumerism is everywhere. Perhaps more so here as I have never seen so many people actually buying the high-end (as in Gucci and Burberry high-end, not Zara) clothes.

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We then decide to walk to the Marina Bay Sands hotel and further indulge in watching the rich and richer walking around their hotel. The best things are the patisserie where we eat some wonderful macaroons – what is it with Asian people being so damn good at producing classic French baked goods? – and the view from the top of the hotel. Although we are not allowed to eat at the restaurant – for hotel guests only, what a stupid way of loosing out on more clientele! – we do enjoy the expansive view over Singapore and its skyline.

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Michelin-star food?
Because we cannot eat at the hotel restaurant as we’d hoped, we decide to go and find the other hawker that has earned himself a Michelin-star. We ask the taxi driver to take us to yet another building filled with stalls, but this time we are easily able to find the stall we want, because it is the one with easily the longest line. It almost makes us feel bad for the other stall keepers, but not bad enough to forsake the line.

After about an hour wait, it’s finally our turn to watch as the chef prepares his signature dish of Tai Hwa Pork Noodle. It appears to be an elaborate dish of broth, pork (eater in meatballs or very thinly sliced pieces), noodles, vegetables and dumplings. The kitchen appears to be utter chaos with pots and pans being used to fill one bowl and then tossed aside, sometimes with a remnant of the broth that is being tossed around ending up somewhere on the floor or cooking board. I am not sure how most kitchens work, but I can’t imagine it is anything like this chaos. Not one to judge on appearances – or at least trying to be, I fail miserably at this most days – I decide to just hope for the best. After all, the Michelin people must have had a reason to give this guy one of their precious stars!

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Filled with anticipation we make our way to one of the tables with a plastic cover and matching plastic seats and dive into our dishes. I have to say, the dish is somewhat complex with a lot of flavours going on and I quiet like it. However, we are both unsure as to why exactly this would merit a Michelin star as it is no different from a lot of dishes we have eaten in Asia. Really, to be 100% honest, the dish we ate last night tasted a lot better than the dish we are currently eating. Just goes to show, there is no accounting for taste and high expectations will only leave you disappointed. Better to have no expectations and be surprised!

Recommendation
After we have eaten enough we take a taxi back to the hotel to rest a bit. We can tell that our energy levels are not yet up to normal, but by now we are feeling confident that we will recover fully pretty soon.

We get a taxi and it’s the first Singaporean taxi drive that is not all that happy. Sourly he asks us where we want to go and then tells us about a Facebook message that a woman gave birth to ten children – a message he then tries to find while driving. Apparently we are not enthusiastic enough about this, because he relapses to silence. After Erik gives me a little kiss on my forehead – yes I know, we are disgustingly cute together – he asks me if Erik is my boyfriend or husband. I honestly tell him he is my boyfriend after which he grunts and looks away and won’t say a word to me for the rest of the ride.

I don’t mind the silence for once and cannot be bothered about being judged by someone over this, but since it is the first time this question was brought up during our stay in such a way, it does stick with me. I am just happy most people seem to either assume we are married, or don’t care about our private choices.

We make it to the hotel and have a nice rest while trying to figure out what to do with our night. Eating dinner will probably be a small bite as we are still full from our very late and very filling lunch, but we don’t feel like just waiting until we go to a club. For starters we are both sure that we will fall asleep before the party get’s started and neither one of us is a big clubber anyways – although we had thought to go to a club in KL and/or Singapore before we got sick.

In the end, we google a bunch of recommendations a colleague of mine gave us a few weeks ago. Some are a bit far away, some are clubs and some are closed, but Clark Quay seems like a fun place to visit and not to far away – within walking distance even. So, off we go, Erik in a city outfit, me in the one dress I have brought along for this trip.

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Clark Quay is a block of restaurants that comes alive at night with live bands, clubs, soccer to watch, a big water fountain to play and and just a generally fun atmosphere very well suited for people watching. There is a football match on and since it appears to be the most fun and lively restaurant at that time, I say to Erik that he can watch it while I just people watch.

We have a fun time, eating nachos (in Asia, I know, I should not be allowed to travel), looking at the people and enjoying our six glasses of water – apparently asking when it would finally arrive turned into us getting a glass from every server in the area. It is simply one of those nights where you have a great time, without any one part standing out. So, after a few hours and a walk around the various live bands we head back to the hotel. Ready for an early morning to start our Indonesian adventure!

LUXURY RETREAT IN KUALA LUMPUR


Kuala Lumpur was always going to be one of, if not the most luxurious parts of our trip. When Erik was first searching for hotels in this city of high rises, he found a hotel that boasts a swimming pool on the fifty-first floor overlooking both the Petronas towers and the television tower. Although I was far from convinced this hotel would be worth the price, this was Erik’s part of the trip to plan, so he just went ahead and booked us a room at the Face Suits. Still recovering from our stomach issues upon arriving I was glad he had!

First evening
We leave the Cameron Highlands around three p.m. and the drive takes nearly four hours – trough three of which I slept. Seeing as we are due to arrive around seven p.m. we are wondering how our taxi driver felt about this trip. He told us he would simply stay in KL (apparently the acronym is mostly used to refer to Kuala Lumpur) for the night and then drive back the next morning with people arriving in KL and needing a transfer to the Cameron Highlands. I thought he would stay with friends or family or even a cheap hotel, but Erik guesses he’ll sleep in his car on such nights. Sadly we’ll be we know as neither of us thought to just ask him.

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Once we arrive at our hotel, I realise just how luxurious our stay is going to be. There are porters taking up our luggage – and who won’t take no for an answer – which to me feels pretty luxurious already. The lobby is immense and the elevators only work once you scan your door key. That already makes me giggle and another guy in the elevator laughs along. At first I think he is also a bit embarrassed by all these riches that I feel don’t quite fit me, but then he confesses – in aloud whisper so everyone can hear – that he is fucking high and doesn’t know what the fuck is going on anymore. Guess that’s another way of spending your time abroad.

Then we get to our hotel room a it really sinks in. This room is huge. HUGE. It’s bigger than any hotel room I have ever stayed in. I think it may actually be bigger than our apartment back home. It has a big bed, a huge bathroom and even a kitchen and living room area for crying out loud. This is not a hotel room, but a home! And as adverse as I can be about unnecessary luxury – though I guess what that is depends on your point of view, I guess my life can already seem pretty damn luxurious – for now I love it!

We take a quick look around, check out the pool and then head of to find something light to eat. We end up at the pizza hut, depressed by our choice, but not willing to risk unknown food on our still struggling bowls yet. Turns out, even a pizza is too heavy right now and we end up buying some pasta, cooking it in our hotel room and eating it dry.

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Thank god we have the amazing infinity pool with a view of the night time skyline of KL to get us happy again. The cool water feels really nice after the smoggy heat of the city and the view really is amazing. I could stare at it for hours, dreaming about all the different lives being led within each little dot of light. This city must be huge – in fact it isn’t that huge by Asian standards, boasting “only” two million inhabitants – and there must be so many stories to tell.

For now, I content myself with imagining how the other tourists around the swimming pool got there. From the Japanese family of three teaching their son how to use a snorkel to the high guy and what appears to be his girlfriend. I watch a group of Chinese girls take an endless amount of selfies with the view in the background – just as we just did – and laugh about a bunch of Indian guys pretending they are the shit in front of their girlfriends. I don’t always watch – and secretly judge – people, but when I do, if give them a background that fits their current behaviour – or not.

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After some intense relaxing by the pool, we go back to our room. The plan is to watch a movie with a toilet very near by. It turns out differently through as we are both already exhausted; no reserves left and we are still not getting in all the nutrients we are consuming, though things are starting to feel better. So, within hardly any time at all, we are fast asleep.

Morning walk
The next morning we eat our healthy light but filling breakfast of whole oats with plain yogurt. We are by now both hungry again, but decide to eat plain food one more day. It feels safer and also, we are planning to eat Michelin star street food in Singapore which will be a great start of us eating normal again!

After breakfast we head out again. Yesterday at the Cameron Highlands we were out and about, but still feeling tired. Today we already feel better, though we realise we are not there yet and the smoggy humid heat of today is sure to tire us after spending most of the last few days in either air conditioned rooms or a cooler climate. Nevertheless, we are determined to make the best of it!

We start by walking in the direction of the Petronas towers; two huge and linked towers domineering the skyline of KL. The direction of these viewpoints is easy enough to keep, but every once in a while the towers disappear behind other towers that make up the concrete jungle we are walking through.

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I am surprised by the number of buildings that seem to incorporate plant life into their architecture. Erik is less surprised. It is very likely that in a climate this humid and this hot, plants will grow like crazy regardless of what you do, so it makes sense to use that to your advantage while building.

In spite of the growing heat – that type of heat that cannot be described, but only felt – we make it to the Petronas towers in good time. We join the other tourists in taking pictures in front of the towers. Really at times I don’t know why I do it. I can be terribly hard on tourists and some of their stereotypical behaviour and then I see a well-known ( or newly known) landmark and I cannot wait to stand in front of it, stupidly grinning, to have my picture taken. Like I need the proof that I have actually been there instead of contenting myself with the memory of it. Oh well, like Giphart said, “feelings are never hypocritical”.

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We enter the towers and are immediately soothed – and frozen – by the Arctic conditions inside. However, as we see no reason to pay a load of money for a view that we can have for free from our hotel, we decide to explore the gardens outside of the building. But first a few moments of being wonderfully cold!

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The gardens are pretty nice and provide a better view of the towers than the front does. It is incredibly hot though. We walk a bit further, but the hot and cold and then hot conditions get our stomachs working again. Erik then has the misfortune that the cleaning lady walks into his stall after he is done – you know, as one does after someone just used the bathroom, audibly. She gets mad at him – for no good reason we make sure we leave bathrooms cleaner than when we enter – and we can then hear her gagging loudly as we walk away. All we do is laugh about it. Erik can’t be bothered by it and I have seen “bathrooms” in China so I know what would be nasty and what wouldn’t.

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Afternoon chilling
When we’ve finished exploring the gardens the heat is really getting to us. We buy some fruit juice around the corner and decide to go see one of the many shopping malls of KL. I’m not quite sure how I feel about a city where one of the biggest attractions according to both my Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor are the meriad shopping malls. At first it seemed like consumerism gone too far – who needs all that stuff?! – but walking around this city in the afternoon I realise it is a brilliant way to escape the heat.

imageWe find a shopping mall to our liking and enter a few stores, looking for a belt for Erik. Both of us having lost a few kilo’s, a belt is a necessity untill we manage to eat ourselves to a normal weight again. Knowing how much we love to eat good food, I’m sure that won’t take long!

Not wanting to squander money on items we don’t need and will just have to lug around the rest of our trip, we leave the mall and return to our hotel for a lovely lunch of again plain pasta. After that we escape the heat by lounging by the pool, reading our books and watching trailers of recommended documentaries. I really enjoy doing this every once in a while and for just a few hours, but I still fail to see how this would be a fun way to spend three entire weeks. To each his own I guess.

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There is room for more positive vibes this afternoon. We decide that, as we are feeling better and our online holiday doctor sees no reason to have us fly back early in spite of our persisting symptoms, we are at least going to finish our holiday and have the most fun we can manage! Perhaps we do need to pace ourselves a bit. As such, maybe we won’t be doing the three-day hike up mount Rinjani – also saving us from having to take malarone. I cry a bit – again – as this was one the the highlights for me that I had really – REALLY – been looking forward to. But our health comes first. Luckily we won’t have to make any definite plans untill September second when we need to start the anti-malaria medication.

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China town, Merdeka square and a taxi-couple
That afternoon we spent walking around KL like we walk through any city. We start in Chinatown and the very touristy but fun market. Erik buys a new snapback as his “rebel” cap got lost on the boattrip to Koh Tao and I am mesmerised by the way they bake chestnuts over here. Something about repetitive motions get to me – am I the only one?

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After we’ve explored the interchangeable giftshops enough, we walk towards the Merdeka or independence square. We enjoy looking at the people and buildings around us and generally being out again, but otherwise the walk is unremarkable.

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The square itself is big and has a massive flag waving over it. The flagpole is ornately decorated and also the only thing we can see as the square is off limits when we are there. Nothing sinister, they are simply building stands on it for the show that will take place on their independence day. That is also the reason we see a young boy dressed in traditional clothes passionately giving the speech in which the independence was declared. Or so we surmise; the people filming him that we ask about it are just about the first Malaysians we meet that don’t speak English.

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After our walk in the still persisting heat, we decide to take a taxi back to the hotel for a nice bland meal of KFC and plain pasta – I’ll be so happy to eat normal food again that everything will taste like Michelin star worthy food! We get in a cab where the drivers wife is driving along for the evening (and also to manage the funds it would seem). They are a wonderful couple, telling us all about their country and asking many questions about our country. In this way, we are back at the hotel quicker than we would like.

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We take a nice long hot shower and crash on the bed in the very comfy bathrobes the hotel provides. It may not be obvious, but today we have walked more than we have in a while – and more than we do on a daily basis anyway. And in heat that we are again getting used to. As a result, my legs ache. Thankfully Erik is kind enough to massage my legs, so that I fall asleep nice and comfy and relaxed.

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Catching the bus
The next morning we wake up early because we have to take a taxi to another hotel to catch our bus to Singapore. The bus will take us to our next stop in an estimated four hours, so we opted for the ten o’clock bus. We pack our bags – getting better and better at it – take one last look at our lovely huge room and leave, arriving at the bus stop at a punctual 09:15. Ready for our next adventure.


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