D252. May 11. Reportage from the Caravenserail…

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The above sketch is Tash-Rabat imagined by my Dad, while reading my stories…
On my side, I think of Ella Maillart, a traveller born in Switzerland one century ago.

Her book, “Des monts célestes aux sables rouges”, made me discover Central Asia twenty years ago – English translation of the book : Either “Turkestan Solo, One Woman’s Expedition” or “Turkestan Solo, A journey through Central Asia”.

In 1932, she passes through Turkestan and Kirghize lands on a horse, she climbs the “Celestial Mounts” (Tien Shan) on skis, next to China. She visits Tachkent, Samarcand, Bukhara, before dealing with the “red sand desert”, East of the Aral Sea, on a camel….

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I am now walking on the very places she passed by, in places that have amazing names : Silk road, caravenserail, Celestial Mounts (Tien Shan), Pamir… Next time I’ll go to China and will pass through Turfan, Uruqmi, Kashgar, and the Tacla Makan Desert. And next week, I should discover the “Red Sands), next to the Aral Sea…

Coming back to my story, I’d like to encourage you in downloading the following videos. It might take some time but it’s less than 10 minutes watching, and, frankly, what you will see is worth it…

The East Coast landscpaes from my greyhound window

What did I see from my Greyhound window over 50 hours and 2600 km ? Sugar cane!
Indeed, it covers the entire coast, from Cairns to Sydney.

A the time a British colony, Queensland imported between 55,000 and 62,000 people from the South pacific Islands to work on sugarcane plantations between 1863 and 1900. They were known at the time as Kanakas (now considered a pejorative and insulting term) and today they and their descendants are generally known as SOuth Sea Islanders. Some were recruited legally but many were kidnapped or “blackbirded” into long-term indentured service. The majority of the 10,000 remaining in 1901 were “repatriated” (deported) between 1906 and 1908.

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Nowadays, Australia remains among the ten bigger sugarcane producers worldwide (together with Brazil, India, China, Thailand, Pakistan, Mexico, Philippines, USA, Argentina).

After hours enjoying the sugarcane plantations, I’ve also spent hours enjoying a dense forest…

And when I was too bored I was observing the Greyhound drivers, all of them over 60 year old, all of them with an amazing look…

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D120 . Dec 29 . Jungle Trek !

Today we spent a while in the Northern forest of Palawan…Capture d’écran 2013-12-29 à 14.33.04

After a pick up ride to the forest – which Véronique and I spent on the roof…Capture d’écran 2013-12-29 à 14.09.49

… After a long walk through the rain forest…Capture d’écran 2013-12-29 à 14.52.37

… And after a short meeting with a water buffalo…

… We had a refreshing bath in a freezing waterfall 🙂
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After that, my shoes decided to die… Better than my feet !Capture d’écran 2013-12-29 à 15.00.24

Though, we had afterwards to walk through a slippery path : a village built over the mangrove !!!

And, at the far end of this village, the sea and a man who was building a bangka…

Today, we were hundred years back in time.

D107 . Dec 16 . A Glance on Monsoon In Bali

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Monday. We are giving the scooters back… But a last challenge is waiting for us : Monsoon…

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At some point, on the video below, I tell Michelle : “Let’s move from here”, “Viens on avance, on avance”. That’s because we have put our feet on the floor, and my leg is at least ten centimeters in the water… I already think about all those things we could find in the water…

D104 – Dec 13 – Reaching the Bromo Graal ?

So, remember ? We had a nice morning in Watu Ulo. He left the shore quickly, though, as we have a long road ahead of us to reach the Bromo volcano before sunset.

We start following the GPS, and once again we get lost in the fields, riding on rocks and muds trails for ever.

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we make an unexpected encounter in one of those villages. As we are hesitating at crossroads, one woman who was sit in the grass starts to talk to us in English.
She explains that her former employer taught her English.
As we put some sun cream on our arms, she tells us she would like her skin to be whiter. We tell her it goes the other way around in Europe, where everyone would like to be tanned. We compare our arms and have a nice piece of laughing – A very welcomed one in regard of what is still ahead of us.

The above video is going to be a little bit long to download – 20 Mo – but worth watching as it gives a good insight on how the South Java countryside looks like. Small houses, corn drying in the gardens, grass carried on bicycles, veiled women, mosque’ songs which resonate all over the villages…
After reading different guide books, I was expecting Java people wouldn’t be that friendly, even a little bit aggressive toward Westerners. We faced the total opposite. Those villagers seemed very curious about us, always smiling at us, always trying to help us. We were women without men, driving, with shorts and tee-shirts, but to them we were just funny characters. Besides, tourists generally stay in Bali or big Java cities. So, where we were trying to explain we had come there, by scooter, from Bali, they were quite surprised and happy.

After three hours of mud paths, we finally got to meet a regular road. Unfortunately, that’s when the monsoon rain started to fall. We had no other choice but stopping one more time. Destiny made us stand in front of a stationery shop…

Soon enough, the owners came to see us, they wanted pictures of us, with them.
Then they offered coffee, then cooked pancakes for us.
We even entered their house to use their bathroom.

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One hour later, we started to think we would never reach the Bromo mountains before sunset. Safer would be to reach the coast, where the rain is usually less heavy.

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We decide we would stop in Probolinggo. The road seems straight.
Indeed, it is straight. Though, we had to overtake at least one hundred truck on our way. Worse that Paris’ ring at 8 AM. A dangerous and very demanding exercise.

We will reach an hotel grey from tailpipes’ smoke, soaked to the skin, and worn out….

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D104 . Dec 13 . Waking up in Watu Ulo

After our never-ending mud trails, after a night among mosquitos and frogs, we got our reward the next morning : the amazing beach of Watu Ulo…

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In the days of Japanese occupation, the mountains around Watu Ulo Beach used as reinforcements defenses and reconnaissance enemy soldiers who wanted to infiltrate the mainland via the beach.

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Indonesia is made of 17 000 islands, meaning 80 000 km of shore !

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More than one million Indonesians work in the fish sector…
Paradoxically, many Indonesians are afraid of water – a refuge for demons and evil spirits –  and do not know swimming!

The sun is beating hard and we have a long way ahead of us to reach the Bromo volcano by tonight, so we don’t stay long, pack our things, and hit the road again…

D103 . Dec 12 . Reaching Watu Ulo

On Tuesday, we were supposed to give back our scooters and get an old Volkswagen car to explore Java. I’ve been smart enough to TRY the car before giving back the scooters. OK, the car looked great, red, vintage, cabriolet… BUT: very large, no power steering (whereas we make u-turns very often, as we miss the right street every second time), brake pedal one kilometer from my feet, even to turn the car key in the key hole I have to use my two hands. No, definitely, this car is too demanding, we will keep the scooters.

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The travel agency tells us this is going to be fine. We spend our last night in the paradise below, in the middle of Balinese rice terraces…

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On Wednesday, we reach Bali West Coast, catch a ferry, and spend the night right on the other side, on Java. We wake up early on Thursday, in 150 km we should reach Watu Ulo…

Tough morning : mountain roads under the rain
Tough lunch time : countryside roads under the rain
Tough afternoon : smaller countryside roads…

We keep following the GPS and around 4PM we enter small fields roads.
Everything is quiet. Farmers are working in the corn fields. At the beginning they stare at us  a bit surprised but when we smile at them they get warmer.

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Capture d’écran 2013-12-15 à 13.47.20Interesting mudguard, isn’t it ?

We take pictures, we know we are not far from the hotel. Only a few kilometers left, the GPS says. Still, our progress is slower, as rocks are on our way – Not very easy with small scooters wheels.

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First we thought that being shacked on a scooter was really the worst experience.
That was before we experienced mud slides.

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Of course, for this part I don’t have photo proof points, as I was too focused on driving.
The GPS sent us to the forest, the one you can imagine at the end of the above path. Difficult. Michelle almost felt in the road side. I was afraid the forest would be infested with mosquitos. But more than that, the forest was on the hill… No way we could make it.
At some point, one farmer tried to make us understand that we wouldn’t make it. He asked a famers’ couple to bring us to the right path. We followed them on their bicycle (man on the saddle, woman on the luggage rack). We offered a cigarette to our messiah, who seemed very happy about it.

On our side, what a relief. After two hours spend in the mud, we were approaching the hotel, right when the sun was disappearing.

Ghost cottage. We were the only guest. We had a bungalow. Unfortunately the beds had no sheets and the bathroom…. Had no roof !!!

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This could have been charming in the French countryside, but right in the jungle that was pretty scary, especially because we are not under any malaria treatment and try to avoid mosquitos beats as much as possible.
We decide to sleep with all our clothes on, even though it is like thirty degrees outside. We are going to sweat, but at least mosquitos will not catch you.
though, I woke up in the middle of the night, as a frog jumped on my face…

D99. Dec 8 . Climbing the Batur Volcano

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To reach the summit of the Batur Volcano before sunrise, we had to wake up at 3:30 AM, leave the hotel at 4:00 AM, and climb for one hour and a half.

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Of course, first we were too cold, then too hot, then hungry, then exhausted, then swearing we would never do it again. But in fact, reaching the top felt great.

After eating eggs sandwiches and banana sandwiches (yes, a banana mashed in between two slices of bread, where is the problem?), we walked along the crest to observe the volcano heart. On the road, very small pieces of black stone – lava obviously – So small that it felt like walking on Oreos cookies ! I was almost missing the ritual glass of milk to go with it : )

At the end of it, two impressive craters, a temple, and monkeys – business as usual ! Capture d’écran 2013-12-09 à 11.52.49

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D98. Dec 7 . Demanding Roads

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Those are the nice roads we had on our way when we left Amed and the coast.
Some fog, gentle hills, small villages…Capture d’écran 2013-12-08 à 13.05.10

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… But small villages come together with humans, farmers, and their feedstock: chicken!
And when chicken get on your way, it can end badly. That what happened to Michelle on Saturday, a chicken running into her wheel. She braked, too much, and felt on the floor. No major injury, don’t worry.
The funny part is that, of course, villages ran to help her (I was far behind taking pictures with my GoPro), and immediately started to massage her knees and shoulders to make sure she wouldn’t have muscle pain afterwards. Amazing.
Here the video I’ve shot just after the event, when we were leaving the village, just to give you an impression of the atmosphere of those small rural villages.

We arrived safe to the mountain’ top, ready to explore the island volcano the following morning. But then, when we had to leave the volcano area, on our way to a lakes’ region, we had to face a very violent rain… We stopped wherever we could, here was the scene:

Finally decided we would skip the lake, and went back directly to the coast, less hit by tropical rains…. And this was wise, as the view from our coastal hotel shows.

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