A Travellerspoint blog

Back, in the most beautiful island in the world

28 °C

We are back in Bali (actually, not to spoil the surprise, but I am actually writing this retrospectively from the comfort of Hayling Island. But I digress...). Back in the most beautiful island in the world. Two months here last year was nothing like enough; especially as we were working like dogs at the time!

We had a lot of places that we wanted to see so we hired a car for a week and sped around the island. We drove over 600km and, impressively, no one was even injured. We made our way through the mountainous core of the island first, stopping for some stunning paddy fields at Jatiluweh, a broody lake temple near Bedugul and then stopped overnight in the drop-dead gorgeously located Munduk Mimpi Plantation hotel.

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In the morning, we got up and, fortified by a tasty cup of fermented weasel poop http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kopi_Luwak , travelled on to the northwest of the island. We'd been itching to do some diving here in a site called Secret Bay; Very Widely Talked About Bay would possibly be more apt - as we expected the place was a hothouse of funky fish & things to see.

Most strikingly, these juvenile batfish lining up for me -
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Then, last but not least, we drove around to Tulamben, our previous stomping ground, and got up before dawn to be the first people diving on the wreck of the USAT Liberty. Painful getting up at 5am but entirely worth it

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And to round the day off nicely we had a great 90 minute dive along the coast at Seraya, spotting a rare pair of harlequin shrimps, a baby angelfish & some very aspirational looking batfish...

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Posted by pendleton 12:56 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Thar Be Dragons!

sunny 33 °C

From Borneo we have flown back to Kuala Lumpur, then back to Denpasar in Bali and now onto Labuan Bajo in Flores, east of Bali along the Lesser Sunda Islands (I don't think anyone really calls them that but it sounds kind of cool). We are now back in Indonesia for the next 2+ months. First stop: dragon hunting.

No, really. We are very close to the island of Komodo where the last populations of Varanus komodoensis, better known as the Komodo Dragon, still live. Actually, Komodo is 'dragon' in the local language so the phrase 'Komodo Dragon' is a bit redundant, but I digress.

Regardless of what we call them, they are BIG, 2-3 metre, carnivorous lizards with poisonous drool and a mean turn of speed when they want to. Their typical modus operandi is to bite something, wait a day or two until the virulent pathogens in their saliva finish it off, and then eat the cadaver. Luckily, we have protection for our hour-long hike around the interior of Rinca - an 18-year old tourism student with a long forked stick.

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I managed to get within about 2 metres of some of the 'tamer' ones around the camp to take some pictures without disturbing them, but then made the mistake of asking the guide how close he would go to the dragons. "Hmm, maybe 3 metres?" he opined. Oops.

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Fascinating as they are, the dragons are but a small part of why we are here. We are on a 4-day dive safari around Komodo National Park to experience some of the incredible diving here. The marine part of the national park is one of the significant breaks in the chain of islands of the archipelago which stretches from Sumatra in the west to Timur in the east. Trade winds and tidal differences mean that the part of the west pacific immediately above Indonesia is about 20cm above the global average; meanwhile the part of the Indian Ocean south of Indonesia is about 10cm BELOW the global sea level average. Needless to say this is a LOT of water trying to make it's way through the limited number of channels between the islands which exist. What this means is (typically) very strong currents passing through the area, water being forced up from much deeper levels & hence being much cooler (and typically containing more nutrients), which means more fish, more coral and more life. Note however that it's not just a one-way flow, the extremely complex island & channel topography result in the craziest, most difficult-to-understand and potentially the most dangerous tides of any area we have dived in. Some of the straits we have sailed through have been pretty scary, full of randomly white water, whirlpools and ominously quiet bits.

You'll be pleased to hear that as I'm writing this we made it back from Davy Jones' locker though. And what an incredible few days diving we had. We still can barely believe how healthy most of the environments are, the stunning colours of the soft corals, the swarming multitudes of the fish and all the random small stuff we saw. Absolutely phenomenal.

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Another big notch on the diving bedpost :)

Posted by pendleton 23:02 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Climbing Mount Kinabalu

sunny 22 °C

Our last task in Borneo was to climb Gunung Kinabalu, the highest mountain between the Himalayas and New Guinea. Kinabalu is basically a huge sharp isolated chunk of black granite sticking up near the coast of Borneo. It's location (only 6 degrees from the equator) gives it a fairly agreeable climate year-round: crucially, despite it being a shade over 4km tall there is zero chance of any snow. Suits us down to the ground as all our cold-weather clothes got sent home months ago.

The walk up is split into several parts; you can generally tell by the pictures how we're feeling at that point.

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We started bright and early one morning at the entrance to the national park at somewhere near the 1800m mark. It was a perfect day for it, sunny but not too hot (as we had everything we needed for the next 3 days on our backs we definitely didn't want a scorcher).

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We made it up to the 3200m base camp mark in about 5 hours which was pretty much bang on what we expected. We had a few trials along the way over some of the steep bits but arrived basically in one piece - good news as I had been feeling a bit under the weather directly before we came here.

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Happily, we arrived above the clouds to a stunning panoramic sunset. Early night as very early to rise.

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Up at 2:30 for a scanty breakfast and to start the final approach at 3am. We made it to the top just after 6am - 5 minutes before sunrise, knackered but very happy.

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From the top we retraced our steps for about an hour, drinking in the views until the real fun began.

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Obviously the 12+ hours of walking up and down the mountain wasn't quite enough for us, as well as being a little on the tame side. Just to juice the experience up a little we signed up for the World's Highest Via Ferrata. To the uninformed, a via ferrata is basically a series of iron rungs, small pegs and ropes strung along the side of a mountain to enable non-extreme sports climbing types (like us) to appreciate the unwalkable sides of mountains... and get absolutely scared out of their wits.

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This is us after getting safety-equipment kitted up, but before we saw the sheer drop awaiting us.

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We walked another 10 metres and the cliff face dropped away like a sheer wall. I had somehow ended up in the role of lead climber so had to be first man over, which was absolutely terrifying. Over the next few hours the emotions we were feeling faded somewhat from abject terror, to fear, to concern, to vague enjoyment, to exhilaration! By the end we were both loving it (hero shots enclosed).

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The via ferrata took us a couple of hours to get down, putting us back in Laban Rata for a late lunch, an afternoon of leg resting and (for me) devouring an entire Terry Pratchett book.

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The next day we retraced our steps down the mountain to the national park gate, which was a little hard on the knees but we made it down in about 4 hours. Overall time (up and down) for Team Pendleton was about 17 hours. This doesn't compare that well to the world champion holder who made it up AND down in less than 3 hours. Maybe next time...

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Posted by pendleton 23:01 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Borneo

sunny 28 °C

Borneo.

What does Borneo mean to you? To me it sounds like the ultimate in deep, dark jungle. The real Heart of Darkness – thick forest, chittering creatures, possibly unknown, uncontacted tribes.

The reality is sadly different. Mostly what we've seen in our two weeks back and forth across Malaysian Borneo is palm oil plantations. Rows upon unbroken rows of oppressive monocultures, stretching as far as the eye can see, carpeting the hills right out to the horizon. Considering that there is only really one road in Sabah (the state which forms the smaller half of the Malaysian part of Borneo) & that we've driven around more than half of it, this is a little depressing.

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(as a bit of background – palm oil is the latest 'eco-friendly' lubricant base that all the large pharma companies put in pretty much every single product we wash, clean, condition, moisturise, or generally use or leave in close proximity with our skin or hair. It is eco-friendly in that it doesn't involve the use of petroleum-based lubricants, along with all the negative consequences of using fossil fuels; however there is one more-than-slight issue with using palm oil in that the governments of the countries where palm grows well (mostly Malaysia and Indonesia) have rushed to corner this new revenue source so regrettably that they have cut down a significant amount of primary rainforest in order to do so. This obviously destroys the vast amounts of biodiversity that was locked in these environments, along with the rather large carbon capturing potential of these ecosystems, and quite possibly is destroying species that haven't even been described by science. My slightly pessimistic view is that this is symptomatic of the sort of choices that mankind will increasingly have to face as the issues with face with the degradation of the natural environment accelerate – do we choose the more polluting alternative, or pay for decreased pollution (in the classical sense) with some other, more intangible natural resource, which is often totally irreplaceable?)

Anyway, back to the travel blog.

Apart from seeing the Lost World rather than the Heart of Darkness, we've had a really jolly time in Borneo. First up we visited the Sepilok Orang-Utan rehabilitation centre to see some of our ginger primate cousins (no, they're not trying to give up bananas or crack or anything similar, we are trying to rehabilitate them from captivity into the wild).

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Next we went upriver to spend a night at Uncle Tan's Rainforest Lodge, a sort of big kids campover in the jungle, with lots of opportunities for spotting the local wildlife in the secondary rainforest. We saw proboscis monkeys & wild orang-utans, and Angi is now at least 70% less scared of spiders – a result!

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From here we went on to Semporna & the Sipadan marine park. I published some photos from Sipadan itself, but in the couple of days afterwards we had an amazing time diving at Siamil, Mabul and Kapalai, poking around the coral and artificial reefs looking for funky small creatures. We even did a dive underneath an oil rig!

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Posted by pendleton 20:44 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Back, After the Break

sunny 35 °C

Hello, dear readers. I hope you've had a nice February. Ours was mixed, consisting of a lot of travel, some good and some bad, and a huge amount of photos (which I'm terribly behind on editing) and doing stuff (which i'm terribly behind on writing about).

So, I'm going to jump forward to where we are right now. I will try and blog about the past four weeks at some point - covering Burma, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore! - but for now, I'm a little fed up of feeling a huge amount of work hanging over me and would rather post something positive about the here and now.

Here and now is Borneo. To be precise we are staying on an island named Mabul on the east coast of Malaysian Borneo, 2 hrs by boat from the Philippines and maybe 2 hours by car from the Indonesian part of Borneo. We are here as this part of the world has several islands which individually would be known as great sites for scuba diving but being as close together as they are are nothing short of world-famous.

Yesterday we dove an island called Sibuan which was a nice warmup with our new gear (and new underwater camera), showing us loads of interesting small critters, fish and crustaceans; but today was the main event, diving on Sipadan. Sipadan is very special as it's the only oceanic island in Malaysia. What this means is that the island has been formed by an isolated volcanic peak; it's not an upthrust part of a shallow ocean floor, instead on one side of the island the drop off is about 600m straight down, and on the other it's measured in kilometres. This is A Very Good Thing as it means lots of interesting currents, lots of nutrients in the water and (hence) lots of fish.

Happily, we have just got an underwater camera (thanks Sharad!) so we can FINALLY share some of the stuff we see down there with you...

Starting from the familiar to the more exciting, we have a huge school of jacks and a nice cloud of batfish

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then some more well-camouflaged fish; crocodile fish and peacock flounder

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some sea slugs, also known as nudibranchs - favourites amongst divers for their gorgeous colours

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and finally, TURTLES! The general rule of thumb with diving is 'it's never a bad dive if you see a turtle'. We saw more than 40 of these gentle giants today. Incredible. Such lovely creatures...

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Posted by pendleton 04:59 Archived in Malaysia Comments (2)

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