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Skiing in Banya/Bansko with Snomads

17/03/2015

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Aiite so a few months after returrning from Indonesia it was time for me to go to Bulgaria and learn to Ski.

After one of the most horrific flights of my life (completely self-induced as I may have partied too hard the night before the flight resulting in my feeling absolutely awful on the plane) I arrived in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. A private transfer had been arranged to collect me from the airport and drive me the two and a half hour journey to Banya. It was around 1130pm when I arrived at Chalet Levente, where I was to stay for the week. I was greeted there by my mate Ieuan, one of the owners of Snomads. We had a quick catch up, he fed me some dinner (during which I stupidly ended up using rakia, a Bulgarian spirit, as a dipping sauce) and then it was off to bed. Tomorrow was going to be my first day skiing.

We were up for 730am and the Snomads team, Ieuan and Max, had prepared the daily delicious hearty breakfast for all of the guests. We devoured the food before we all jumped into their van to drive the 15 minute journey from Banya, a small picturesque little town, to Bansko, probably Bulgaria’s best ski resort. Bansko is perfectly suited for a skiing holiday and has everything you could need for entertainment and skiing. It’s quite busy, there’s a lot going on and plenty of bars for après-ski…as well of course as great snow.

We stopped to get some rental gear and then went on to get some ski passes for the week. We said temporary goodbyes to the Snomads team and they gave us some phones so that we could call them to pick us up when we were done skiing. I and the rest of the guests then jumped into the gondola to travel to the top of the mountain and start skiing. Once at the start I figured that it would probably be a good idea to get some lessons since this was my first time skiing ever. We hopped off the gondola, I found a ski school offering group lessons starting in an hours’ time and booked myself onto that. I then thought I may as well go up and down the small little practice slope a couple of times to give it a go even if I didn’t know how to ski. How hard could it be?

Liv, one of the guests staying at Snomads gave me a few tips on what I needed to do to turn and I managed to get down the practice slope a couple of times, with only a few falls before it was time to start my first two hour lesson of the day.

Our teachers’ name was Mario. He was a straight talking Bulgarian that could probably have done with a little bit more patience. Everyone in the group was a complete beginner and so we started with the absolute basics (although he didn’t go through how we were supposed to put our ski equipment on, some of which I’d find out the hard way). We went through putting on our skis and then walking up and down the mountain perpendicular to the slope. At first I thought this seemed very inefficient but it quickly came in very useful once I’d actually started skiing on proper slopes. We finished up going through ploughing – the technique skiers use to stop and turn (before they start using parallel turns anyway). This took us through the first two hour lesson and this all turned out to be quite helpful. Unfortunately as it started to rain we ended getting pretty cold and wet. By the time the lesson finished I was freezing and so went into the restaurant to try and warm up whilst I ate my lunch.

An hour later the second two hour lesson started and unfortunately I didn’t get much out of this. Whilst we’d learnt quite a few different things in the first lesson in this second lesson we didn’t learn anything new. All we did was practice ploughing and turning. FOR TWO WHOLE HOURS. I was pretty disappointed by this as I wanted to get out and try some real slopes. I’d only turned up to the second lesson because I thought we might learn some new techniques. I felt confident enough that I had the basics down though now so I made that my last lesson. However, I’d have to wait until tomorrow before doing my first real slope. I met the rest of the Snomads guests and we then took the 7km ski road back down to the start to wait for our pick up. This was really great for me because the ski road isn’t very steep so was perfect for practising everything I’d learnt that day without picking up too much speed. It was the perfect way to finish my introduction to skiing.

We met Ieuan at the bottom of the slopes and then went to Happy End Bar for a couple of beers. This was a great chance to chat with the rest of the guests. There were 7 other guests in total, 5 from up near Birmingham and a married couple from near Brighton. There were all in their 20s and we all got along pretty well which was ideal. After a couple of beers we then drove back to the Chalet Levente.

I could now have a proper look around the chalet and was thoroughly impressed impressed. The Snomads team had kitted the place out as well as you could want. They’d made it homely and had plenty of activities to choose from. This included games, board games, console games, movies, music and that was just inside. Outside they had a ping pong table and possibly the greatest thing about the Chalet; their own private geothermal pool. At around 35 degrees the pool is always piping hot. It makes quite the contrast to the cold weather outside. Combined with the fact that the naturally heated pool was also full of minerals that have healing properties, it’s just perfect thing to do after a days’ skiing.

My legs were definitely feeling pretty tired after today’s skiing so I was especially relieved to get into the pool. They’d also set up a volleyball net which meant we could all play volleyball in the pool. However today we didn’t play any volleyball. Those beers we’d drank in Happy End had put us in the mood for some more drinks so we relaxed in the pool and drank some of the endless supplies of beers that Snomads have whilst they cooked us dinner.

One of the things I was most excited about staying with Snomads was their culinary skills. They really know their way around food. They did not disappoint and fed us all a very filling high quality three course meal. We washed that all down with some drinks and then decided to go for a night out in Bansko. The Snomads team dropped us off at a bar and then we embarked upon a full night of drinking and dancing. We did an especially large amount of drinking in a horrible little bar called Oxygen. Quite an ironic name for a bar with little ventilation as it was underground and smoking was allowed. Once we’d had enough dancing we caught a taxi back to Banya at some unknown late hour.

We ate a much needed breakfast later than the previous day to accommodate for our hangovers. By 1230 we were all back in the van though ready for another day’s skiing. Well not everyone, Rogue, one of the guests had been fully defeated by the night’s drinking and couldn’t shake the hangover enough to ski. The rest of us drove up to the ski resort only to find it was crazy busy that day. Apparently it was half term break in Bulgaria and loads of people had flocked to Bansko to do some skiing. I was the only one who didn’t have a ski pass for the day and the queues for a ski pass were huge so we figured that rather than waste loads of time queueing I should just sack skiing off for the day.

I was quite happy to miss skiing as I was pretty hungover and my legs were pretty sore from the day before. Instead I went with Ieuan and Max down to the market where we bought some locally sourced food as well as some unnecessary outrageously colourful second hand clothing. We then drove back to the chalet and spent the afternoon listening to music, drinking wine and playing ping pong. One thing I found surprising how it wasn’t even that cold when we playing table tennis, even though it was outside and there was snow on the ground it was still surprisingly warm. Unsurprisingly I lost every game I played them at though.

After ping pong we went to pick up the guests from the bottom of the slopes and then had a pretty chilled out night, drinking and playing a little bit of chess. Turns out Ieuan’s pretty good at chess. I didn’t even get close to beating him.

We were up bright and early the next day, weather conditions were supposed to be great and we even had the Snomads boys joining us today. We got there early to beat the crowds and then had plenty of fun skiing on the slopes. I actually got to ski on the real slopes today and what a difference it was. I stuck to the blue slopes for the day as I fell over quite a lot. What really got to me though was my inability to get my skies back once I’d taken a tumble. It had seemed so much easier when I’d been learning but now that I was on real slopes that were actually slanted it took me absolutely ages to get them back on if I came out of them. A couple of times I even had to just pick up my skies and walk with them to a flatter bit of snow just so I could put the skies back on.

As expected I also took a very huge bail. I started going down a fairly steep bit of the slope but unfortunately my parallel turns (or turns at all for that matter) were not up to scratch. This meant that if I picked up a lot of speed and I saw something in my way I pretty much had no chance of stopping unless I threw myself to the floor. If there was nothing in front of me then I was quite happy to pick up speed – which is probably a pretty terrible, dangerous idea but it was fun nonetheless. It all went pretty badly though when I picked up a lot of speed and then saw some people a bit further down below, I quickly threw myself onto the floor and in the process my ski poll ended up getting caught between the snow and my right thumb. Even though adrenaline was pumping through my system and I was pretty shaken from this high speed fall, my thumb began hurting instantly. I wasn’t going to let that stop me skiing though so I got my gear back on and skied on down to lunch.

Everyone else had already been there for about 20 minutes by the time I found the restaurant. I quickly ordered pizza and beer which was surprisingly cheap given that we were up a mountain. I think 500ml of beer and an entire pizza came to less than £10. Absolute bargain for such a tasty lunch.

After lunch we all headed right up to the top of the mountain to enjoy a beer before skiing the entire way down to the bottom. The sun was shining and we could see mountains all around us. Once we’d got up to the top of the highest ski lift we decided to walk up another mound of snow. This I was not a fan of. Even though we were only two days in I’d already started to hate how uncomfortable my ski boots were – especially when walking anywhere. Walking up this small little hill turned out to be really tiring and painful. Drinking a cold beer at the top of it with the Bulgarian mountains surrounding us was worth it though.
Photo credits to Christina for these 7 pictures:

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All the guests

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We then skied the entire way down to the bottom. I decided I’d make it my mission to try and get down the entire mountain without falling over. I didn’t succeed. I fell over a couple of times but compared to how I’d been skiing earlier in the day it was a vast improvement. I felt so much better by the time we got down to the bottom. I felt like I could actually ski a bit now, even if I was still pretty sketchy at times.

We took things pretty easy afterwards and played some volleyball in the Snomads pool.

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The toasty Snomads geothermal pool

We then ate more fantastic food and went out for a couple of beers at the local pub. It was just around the corner from the chalet. It was also pretty empty as it was a Tuesday night. We weren’t up for a wild night though so this place was just what we were after as it seemed like an authentic Bulgarian tavern to have a quiet drink.

It was much of the same the next day. Another early start, I started to get my parallel turns down which I was pretty pleased about. However, I spent most of the day just concentrating on not losing my skies, not taking any hard falls and just getting down the mountain in one piece. This actually made me feel much more confident and I felt much more in control now. I even decided to knowingly try a few red runs today (I’d been doing some red runs the day before and just not noticing) and cruised down them just fine.

After skiing we returned to the chalet, splashed around in the pool for a while and played a whole lot more volleyball. Wednesday night was the only evening that the Snomads took off from cooking duties. The rest of the guests decided to head out into Bansko for dinner. We dropped them off in town and agreed to meet them later for some drinks. The girls were especially excited as it was Ladies Night at Happy End Bar.

Whilst they’d all gone for dinner Max, Ieuan and I hung out at the chalet, ate pizza, played some Shithead (which must be the only game known by everyone) and Ieuan and Max enjoyed watching my try to light my first indoor fire before heading into Bansko to meet the rest of the guests.

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We met them at Happy End Bar and Ladies Night was well and truly underway. What was Ladies Night? It was basically an evening full of big Bulgarian male strippers, getting up on stage and dancing for the girls. They did various routines in various outfits before ending up in not much more than their underwear shaking around on dance floor with all of the girls. I couldn’t even resist this as I found it truly hilarious and couldn’t help but get involved.

We were all fairly drunk by the time we got out of Happy End and into the next club. I can’t remember the name of the next club but we had a lot of fun there dancing on stage and dancing on the bar. Things got pretty hot in there, so hot that at one point I even ended up dancing topless on the bar.

When we’d decided we’d had enough we caught some taxis home and I still can barely believe that the taxi driver got us home alive. For one thing it was so misty that we literally couldn’t see anything out of the windscreen. The driver basically had to just drive pretty slowly the whole way back. It was a good thing he knew the roads like the back of his hand. We finished the night with a quick dip in the pool before heading to bed.

We started skiing late the next day which everyone was fine with. Just doing a half day was about all we could handle after that night out. My biggest achievement of the day was managing to complete a black run. Admittedly I did fall down a couple of times but given that it was a very steep, icy black run I did pretty well. The chair lifts were also really empty today which was great as it meant we managed to fit a lot more skiing in.

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I had to spend a few minutes attempting to help this poor girl up. She was even more of a beginner than me

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Everyone was pretty knackered and tomorrow’s weather was supposedly going to better though so we thought it would be best to save ourselves for a full day of skiing then.

Once back in Banya we enjoyed another volleyball session before tucking into another delicious home cooked Snomads dinner and having an early night.

Getting to the slopes early and beating the crowds had worked out well so far so for our last full day skiing we decided to do that again. Ieuan was joining us again and I felt much more confident now than when he’d been skiing with us on Tuesday. I mostly spent today skiing with Ieuan, I’d brought my GoPro along as well so we managed to get some photos and footage of us skiing around.

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Unfortunately it got pretty snowy and wet by the end of the day so visibility became pretty poor. We still had a lot of fun though. Being with Ieuan also meant that we could try out some different routes including going off piste. The two of us did some tree runs which surely must be some of the most fun you can have whilst skiing. I managed to do the first one without falling over either. Admittedly I was still pretty sketchy doing it but managed to get down the runs without many bails.

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I did suffer from two major problems though. Firstly, my ski pass hadn’t been scanning so well that day so I’d had to get it out of my pocket. I’d then not zipped the pocket back up, bailed and lost everything in my pocket including the ski pass which meant I then couldn’t get back on the chair lifts. We tried looking for the white ski pass in the snow where I’d fallen over but had no luck. In the end we had to ski back down to the gondola so I could buy another one.

My next problem was that soon after that my shins started to really hurt. To the point where it was completely unenjoyable to continue skiing. We decided to take a break and stop for a beer. It was here that I realised I’d tucked my trousers into my boots which had small metal parts digging into my shins. That was what was causing the issue. I’d decided to do my boots up really tight today as well which only made matters worse. Fortunately untucking my trousers from the boots solved the issue and then I could ski fine for the rest of the day. We did a load more off piste runs through the trees which was silly amounts of fun. Towards the end of the afternoon it started to snow too much thogh, visibility was getting terrible and we were getting cold and wetter. It was time to end our skiing for the week.

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Unedited photos (I think there’s the slightest chance my GoPro photos became correcupted)

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We skied back down the ski road and even though I was so much better and in control now I managed do a really hard bail. I fell backwards completely when I was going reasonably fast – straight on my head. It was pretty painful. Had I not been wearing a helmet I’d have probably been concussed. Trust me to completely stack it in the last five minutes of skiing of the week.

The rest of the guests were leaving tomorrow and so after we’d had our usual volleyball session they began packing their things. Once they’d packed enough we headed out to just round the corner where there were more thermal baths open to the public. They had pools with three different temperatures and we gradually made our way to the hottest pool which felt incredible after a hard weeks’ skiing.

We then had our final dinner together with the guests and then played everyone’s favourite unpolitically correct game, Cards Against Humanity. As offensive as this game may be I can’t help but love it, it’s guaranteed plenty of laughter and to make thing better my team of myself and Ieuan managed to win.

To say goodbye we headed to the local tavern round the corner which was heaving on a Friday night; complete with children that should probably have been in bed and plenty of cigarette smoke hovering around everyone’s heads. Lovely.

The five Brummies had to leave that morning to make it to the airport and Ieuan needed to drive them to the airport. Given that it was a five hour round trip I went along. When I’d arrived on Saturday it had been at night so I hadn’t really seen the surrounding landscape. It turned out that a lot of the journey was worth seeing. There seemed to be snowcapped mountains either side of the road for a lot of the journey as well as funny looking, almost shanty town like villages, gypsy parks and actually quite a surprising amount of snow. Almost everywhere seemed to have more snow than in Banya.

The stupidest thing that happened was when I tried to clean the windscreen with some screen wash…whilst we were driving down the motorway. I opened the window with some screen wash filling the cap and attempted to try and throw it onto the front of the windscreen. I clearly wasn’t thinking because as soon as I put the cap outside the window the wind sent the screen wash flying back into my face. Pretty stupid idea. Even more stupid when I realised that there was no way I’d have been able to reach the windscreen from my window.

Once back in Banya we decided to go slack lining just five minutes away from the chalet. I was pretty terrible at it whilst Ieuan and Max were actually not too bad at it. The trees we picked were quite far apart though which didn’t make things any easier for me as the line was really ‘slack’.

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Once it started to get back we headed back to the chalet ready for the next guests and then went out to dinner to the same place that had the thermal baths the night previously. We shared a range of great local dishes all washed down with some decent red wine before bed. My last night in Bulgaria was over.

Early in the morning my pick up arrived and took me to the local bus transfer. The bus then took me to the airport, all of which went smoothly.

I’d had an amazing week skiing in Bulgaria. The Snomads really know how to run a great chalet and learning to ski was an unforgettable, tiring, painful experience but ultimately a whole lot of fun. I’m very glad to have finally learnt how to ski (can’t believe I waited 25 years) and looking forward to the next time I’m back out on the slopes.

Kuala Lumpur (revisited)

13/03/2015

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Aiite so I arrived in Kuala Lumpur and caught the train into the centre. I was vaguely hoping that I might be able to take a tour around the Petronas Towers but it turns out you have to arrive pretty early in the day or pre-book the tour if you want to go up and around them.

Still, the Petronas towers are quite an impressive bit of architecture. I sat around for a while, took a timelapse of the area and read my book for a while. I only had an eight hours stopover in Kuala Lumpur so couldn’t really do too much.

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The Petronas Towers - even more impressive at night

The Petronas Towers – even more impressive at night

Once the sun had set and my GoPro had run out of battery I took a walk around the gardens surrounding the towers before catching a cab to Little India. I figured there would be a good place to grab some dinner and it certainly was. There was plenty of different options and it was all really cheap. I gulfed it down, took a walk around Little India and had a walk around the night markets to see what they were selling. I’m not really much of a shopper though so left with nothing.

I then caught the tube back to the train station to then catch the shuttle back to the airport. Once at the airport I went through immigration and then bumped into a couple of girls that I’d done the boat trip from Lombok to Flores with (small backpacker world). I remember Clara was one of their names but unfortunately can’t remember the other girl’s name. We went and grabbed some dinner together whilst waiting for our flights and then I caught the plane home. My ridiculous month off was over.

Sanur

13/03/2015
Starfish party

Starfish party

Aiite so I arrived in Bali and then got a taxi over to Sanur. I’d gotten in contact with Kurt in the last day and we’d arranged to stay in a hostel called BIG Pineapple. Sanur had a reputation for having a nice beach, having places to go out and not being far away from Kuta should we decide to be horrible and go out there – I was still yet to go out in the infamous Kuta.

I found Kurt chilling in the hostel with a load of other travellers. I got checked in and the hostel had some really nice vibes to it. It had a deep square shaped swimming pool in the centre and a decent sized chilling area, complete with balconies and a lounge if people fancied watching some TV. I organised the first thing that I had to do whilst in Bali and that was book a go on a jet pack for the following day. With that booked we decided to head to another place called Potato Head that had come highly recommended to me by Sinead, the girl I’d helped get back into her room on Gili Trawangan.

We didn’t really know what to expect from it so we caught a cab to Potato Head in Seminyak which was about 20 minutes away from Sanur. We really didn’t know what to expect and should have probably done a little bit of research. From the minute we arrived we could tell it was pretty different; on arrival our taxi’s boot was checked and they also searched us to see if we didn’t have anything we weren’t supposed to.

We then got dropped at the entrance to potato club. All we could see from the outside was a giant wall of multi-coloured metal squares. We then had to queue up to wait in another queueing area. They gave us some free juice, gave us a ticket and told us to sit down in their waiting area. We couldn’t just queue up like a normal club. About 10 minutes later they called out our number and we were led inside. They gave us a load of extortionate prices to get a table to sit down. We couldn’t believe the figures they were quoting us – it was a lot. We said that we probably didn’t need a table. They looked pretty confused when we said that as that was “the done” thing. Consequently it was then free for us to get in. Result.

We then walked into the Potato Head Beach Club, with chilled out house music playing, some huge pools with some bars and people all eating and drinking together on benches, tables and mattresses. It was essentially a beach club for Bali’s rich elite. Needless to say we did not fit in. At all.

We bought a couple of small beers which cost us twice what we were used to paying for a large Bintang out anywhere else and then didn’t really know what to do with ourselves given that we didn’t really have anywhere to sit. After a little of deliberating we opted to make the most of the pool. The sun was setting and Potato Head had a private beach overlooking the sunset which looked pretty amazing. There weren’t too many people in the pool so we swam around in it and drank our beers. There was a cool little poolside bar which was also full of extortionate cocktails. We decided that this wasn’t really our kind of place. Once the sun had set we swiftly get ourselves out of Potato Head.

Potato Head Beachclub, for Bali's rich elite. Right on the beach with great sunsets guaranteed almost every night

Potato Head Beachclub, for Bali’s rich elite. Right on the beach with great sunsets guaranteed almost every night

We caught a taxi back to BIG Pineapple and were glad to be back amongst our kind. Grotty, cheap travellers that were just about getting by. A bunch of backpackers were sat around the big table in the lounge drinking and so we got involved with that. A few hours later we made our way into Sanur and found a really cheap pool bar. We ended playing game after game of pool until it closed. Afterwards we found another bar with some live reggae bands which were really cool. We watched them until the bar closed before heading back to the hostel.

I was up pretty early as I was getting picked up around 10am for the jet pack experience. I popped out to grab some breakfast and found my driver waiting for me when I arrived back at the hostel. He took me over to Bali Jet Packs in Nusadua. I was greeted by a friendly Indonesian salesman. He went through all of the different options of activities I could do. He explained that I could try the jet pack but they also had an alternative;the Jetovator – a jet bike! He explained that it was much easier to fly and I’d get more time flying around in the sky as opposed to the jet pack which quite often involved a lot of time spent with your face being held down underwater by the jet pack. I signed up for the jet bike and then a large Australian bloke gave me a quick crash course in how to fly the contraption. There wasn’t too much to it. Essentially you just have to bend your knees and try to relax and put your weight in the right place. Lean left to go left and right to go right. Simple.

We jumped into the water and an Indonesian dude showed me how it was done. He made it look really easy as he hovered right up into the air. Now it was my turn. I jumped on, got into position, the Australian guy who was attached to the Jetovator via a jet ski was in control of the power and he fired me up. Pretty quickly I’d fallen off the bike and was back in the water. I got back on and for the next 7 minutes this repeated with me getting slightly higher and higher each time I got back on. Then I seemed to just “get it” and could fly around pretty easily after that. It was quite a surreal feeling as I flew around a few feet above the air. It was more than thoroughly enjoyable but actually just completely awesome once I’d worked out how to do it and position myself it was pretty easy so I flew around in the sky for the last eight minutes and then it was over – it was only a 15 minute flying session.

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Cruising on the Jetovator

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With my Jetovator experience over I was offered a beer. I was already buzzing from the Jetovator and even though it was only 11am I couldn’t turn down the offer of a beer so I got one, sat down and chatted with the staff, watched other people paraglide and then headed back to hostel. Jet bike had now been well and truly ticked off the list – I’d basically just had the most surreal experience FLYING.

Kurt had only just woken up when I arrived and someone had slept in his bunk last night. He was a German surfer dude called Knut. He was instantly likeable and really wanted to go surfing. I was up for it so we agreed to try and find somewhere to surf. Everyone else in the hostel seemed pretty subdued and not ready to do anything yet. Kurt had some things to sort out – he was planning on moving to Amsterdam in a few days but was yet to find a job or even book a flight.

Knut and I headed out to Sanur beach to try and surf. Once we arrived things didn’t look too promising. The tide was low and the surf break looked far away. We spoke to a surfboard rental shop on the beach and they said that the morning was the best time to surf. It was the afternoon now and the only way to get out where the surf broke would mean crawling or swimming over about a kilometre of coral. For a fee the surf shop would take us out there by boat but they only offered this service in the morning. There was to be no surfing for us that day. Surfing still filled Knut’s mind though and whilst he was in Bali he was hoping to buy a surfboard. We went to a nearby Ripcurl shop to try and find a bargain but unfortunately couldn’t find anything that resembled a bargain and so we went back to BIG Pineapple.

Once back at BIG Pineapple we found Kurt and a German girl called Ramona that Knut had been out with the night before. Kurt knew about a restaurant that was all you can drink for an hour if you buy a pizza in Kuta. We figured that sounded like our sort of place so the four of us caught a taxi there and then were treated to large delicious pizzas which was washed down with a lot of beer. We were getting pretty smashed by the end and decided that we wanted to carry on drinking. We walked into a large club called Sky Bar. They lured us in with free beer. FREE BEER! How were were supposed to resist that? We drank the beers but the place was pretty empty and we weren’t really feeling it so we decided to head back to BIG Pineapple.

Once back at BIG Pineapple the ridiculous amount of beer we’d drunk caught up with me and I had to go to bed even though it was really early. I was awoken by Knut around midnight who told me that I had to come out to Kuta with him. He’d been speaking with an Indonesian girl on Tinder whilst I’d been asleep and wanted a wingman. I very reluctantly agreed and before I knew it I was back in Kuta. As soon as we arrived I then realised why everyone said that Kuta was basically a hell hole worth avoiding. It was the Australian’s version of Magaluf or Zante so I’d heard. I’ve never been to either of those places but Kuta’s the Australian version of what I imagine Magaluf is like. It was one huge strip filled with bar after bar of insanely drunk young Australians and travellers wherever you looked. Still we were here now so we thought we might as well make the most of it and we went to find  Knut’s new Tinder friend. She said she was in Sky Bar so we went there and she had another friend with her. We got talking and within about a minute (maybe less) the conversation turned to sex and they wanted to go somewhere to have sex where we could pay them for their services. Basically Knut had met us up with some hookers. This was quite obviously far from ideal. We ditched them and found another room in Sky Bar as the place was absolutely huge and Sky Bar is essentially eight clubs in one. We then raved it up in there until it closed before catching a taxi back to BIG Pineapple.

I was extremely hungover when I was woken up by Knut on my last full day in Bali. He was determined to go surfing and he was dragging me with him. We ran down to the beach, rented some boards and caught a boat out to the surf break with all of the other surfers. I was so hungover though and was struggling to enjoy it. Every wave I went for I didn’t manage to catch and it exhausted me. The waves were few and far between so I spent half of my time just lying on top of my surfboard with my head pounding half trying to nap. After about an hour our boat came to pick us up and I was pretty relieved about this. I’d been getting annoyed that every wave I went for either didn’t break or I’d just miss it and not be in the right place. It was too frustrating and I was too hungover to enjoy surfing.

We then headed back to BIG Pineapple. Found a load more of the travellers chilling and then decided to head to breakfast. We found a nice little Western style café and everyone went onto the beach. Kurt was heading to watching the Australian football final though and I didn’t want to let him go watch it on his own even though he was perfectly happy to. We went across the road and found a bar to watch the game. I didn’t really have a clue what was going on for most of the game but I gathered that Melbourne absolutely embarrassed Sydney’s team. It wasn’t even slightly one sided, Melbourne smashed Sydney to the point where it wasn’t even exciting to watch.

After the football we went to catch up with the rest of the gang on the beach. I got the Aerobie Superdisc out and we splashed about playing frisbee in the sea for a while. My frisbee was finally being put to good use.

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We also spent a while walking around in the sea looking for starfish and other marine life

We also spent a while walking around in the sea looking for starfish and other marine life

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We stayed on the beach until the sun had almost set and then decided to get some beer. We’d heard of another restaurant that did an all-you-can-drink happy hour for free.

An interesting name for a restaurant on the way to this all-you-can-drink bar

An interesting name for a restaurant on the way to this all-you-can-drink bar

We arrived at the bar and there wasn’t really any catch. Whilst at the restaurant we’d eaten at before there’d been the condition that we had to buy pizza to get the free beer, at this bar we didn’t need to buy anything to get the free beer. Just turn up and drink for an hour. There were two conditions though:

  1. No one in the entire bar was allowed to use the toilet. If anyone used the toilet then there’d be no more free beer.
  2. No one was allowed to look at or use their phone (This is actually a great rule as it forces people to interact with one another).

We ended up staying for the entire hour, as did everyone in the bar. We bought some food to wash the beer down because we were actually hungry after all. The atmosphere was really lively and everyone was chatting with each other as they queued up to get another free beer. Once the hour was up we figured we should all probably head back to the hostel as staying out could end disastrously and quite expensive.

Back at the hostel I decided to go to bed, if I was to have any chance of making it out that evening I thought a nap would serve me best. Most others carried on drinking though. When I awoke a few hours later people were getting ready to go out and I went with them. We ended up in Kuta again and I don’t really know what happened but I know that I definitely went out that night. The next morning was my final morning in Indonesia. Today I had to start the journey back to England via Kuala Lumpur. It was an uneventful morning. I woke up hungover with ample time to say goodbye to everyone and catch a cab to the airport. My Indonesian adventure was over.

Flores – Labuan Bajo

03/03/2015

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Aiite so we arrived at the port. As always the sun was still shining, we’d said our goodbyes to some of the group and about eight of us stuck together and went to find a restaurant to grab some lunch. The idea was we could also use their Wi-Fi as it had been four days on an internet-less boat. Four days without internet is of course great for the majority of us young Westerners who are undoubtedly now heavily addicted to the internet. A four day detox from the online world is great, especially since the days before internet are ones that many of us hardly know. The addiction was pretty obvious as the moment we entered the restaurant everyone was on their smartphones/tablets/laptops checking what we’d missed online.

I say we’d had four days of total withdrawal from the internet but I’m lying. I bought an Indonesian sim card when I was on Bali and I’d got some very slow internet reception on day three for about 20 minutes. I’d found out that Scotland had rejected independence from the UK and that was all my phone could find out. The sim card didn’t work again for rest of my trip.

So now back in the restaurant everyone was trying to get online to find a hostel or some accommodation for us all. I decided to try the old skool method and went for a walk down the street to see what I could find. Essentially I mostly found dive shops, guesthouses and restaurants. Pretty much every shop was a scuba diving shop but as it was the middle of the day they didn’t really have many people around as everyone was out diving. I returned to the restaurant 10 minutes later to find everyone still there trying to get online. The internet was painfully slow though so we might as well not have bothered. We ordered our western food (pizza was blissful after four days of rice and noodles), found nothing on Hostel World or Hostel Bookers and then decided we’d all just try and walk down the street to find somewhere to stay.

We found somewhere pretty quickly. It was on a hill up a lot of stairs so Mikey and I went up to check out the rooms and see if they had space for all of us. Our luck was in as they did – although it wasn’t that cheap. We told the others but as we were thinking with backpacker mentality we coudln’t just go for the first place we see we checked out another couple of places. One was an actual hostel with really cramped dorms at a cheap hostel price and the other was pretty much the same as the first place we’d seen but a bit more expensive. We went back to the first place in the end and all eight of us checked into there. Once there we ended up bumping into four of the girls who’d been on our boat tour from Lombok. They’d also picked the same place. Labuan Bajo is a small place though so it’s not too surprising we bumped into them so quickly.

We checked into our rooms and then as the restaurant area had pretty good Wi-Fi everyone ended up in there pretty soon after. There didn’t seem to be too much to do in Labuan Bajo except diving. This didn’t suit most people of our group who either didn’t scuba dive or didn’t have the time to stay (and if you didn’t dive then you really wouldn’t need to stay). Everyone got to work booking flights back to Bali for tomorrow except for me, Max and Henry because they also wanted to do some diving. Josh also decided to hang around for another day or two because he wasn’t in a huge rush to get back to Bali.

The view from the restauarant just before sunset...

The view from the restauarant just before sunset…

...and then when the sun had set some more

…and then when the sun had set some more

I then went and found some scuba diving centres to chat about doing some diving the next day. After checking out a few I found one I quite liked and went back to the restaurant to find everyone. Everyone had started drinking by this point so I had a couple of pints and then convinced Max to come and check out this diving centre with me so that we could potentially sign up. There was a diving centre right next to our accommodation called Divers Paradise Komodo next to our accommodation that I hadn’t tried. It wasn’t the one that I’d decided I wanted to go with but Max and I decided to give it a go anyway and quickly got chatting to a German guy called Wolfgang. We asked him about the dives they were doing tomorrow and what it was like diving here and we instantly were captivated by him. He was so passionate about diving and diving off of Flores in particular. He’d been diving for 30 years all around the world and could safely say that diving off Flores was the best place he’d ever dived. His eyes lit up, his smile beamed and he was so enthralled to talk about it that we were hooked and then couldn’t resist the idea of diving. The only slight thing putting us off was the time. We had to be done in reception for 630am the next morning. However, we were also planning on going out tonight, with the group of people we’d done the boat tour with. We told ourselves that we’d just make sure we didn’t hit it too hard that night.

As soon as we’d paid and finished signing our lives away on some wiavers we went back up to the restaurant to meet the rest of the gang to find they were all stood there waiting for us so we could all go to dinner. We quickly popped back to our rooms, got changed and then headed down the high street a slightly upmarket looking Italian restaurant.

We’d acquired an random English girl plus the two Canadian girls who’d been on the boat tour with us so there were 11 of us sitting down for the meal. We all ordered excessive amounts of delicious food (Mikey even ordered two full main courses for himself) and devoured this lovely Italian cuisine. Happily stuffed with food we then left the restaurant and made our way to a bar across the road that we’d spotted earlier called Sky Bar. We made our way up to the rooftop terrace and it was pretty dead. We were the only people there but that suited us as we just wanted to chat and have a drink at this point. We ended up having a few drinks and some ridiculous conversations that I can’t recollect and then they said it was time to close. We weren’t quite ready to go to bed yet though so we left and ended up making our way to a bar called Paradise a 20 minute walk away.

As soon as we got to Paradise the place was heaving. They had some live reggae bands playing and we were all in the mood for dancing and drinking. That’s exactly what we did, right up at the front we were all doing ridiculous dancing for hours on end. The locals were loving us and getting fully involved in our group. I ended up befriending one guy who seemed incapable of leaving us alone but we didn’t seem to mind. At first. By the end he was getting pretty annoying but we let him hang around anyway. We ended up staying in Paradise until it was closing around 4am. It then kind of dawned on me and Max that we should probably head home as we had to be up for diving in 2 hours. We all headed home but for some reason Max, Imo and I decided not to go to bed straight away and stayed up in the restaurant for a while longer. I ended up falling asleep on the restaurant floor and eventually Max and Imo helped me to bed around 5am.

Diving now seemed pretty out of the question when we awoke an hour later. We rang Wolfgang and explained that Paradise had rendered us incapable of diving today but he wasn’t having any of it. He told us we had to get down there and onto the boat as everything was all set up for us to dive. After 15 minutes of deliberating whether we could actually hack this we decided to go for it – Wolfgang had really sold this dive location to us. We then made the short journey down to the boat and then quickly fell asleep again as soon as we were on board.

Fortunately the dive sites were a couple of hours away which meant that even though we were pretty hungover those two hours of extra sleep really saved us. We still didn’t feel great gearing up but as soon as we jumped into the water the hangover (well we probably weren’t even fully sober really) disappeared. It was almost like we didn’t have a choice. We had to make ourselves fit enough to dive. So we did.

Our first dive was at Crystal Rock and I can’t say it was the most amazing dive site. However, this was kind of helpful because I needed to get back into the swing of diving. I needed to readjust to the different equipment and put into practice the techniques I’d learnt doing the Advanced Open Water PADI course back on Gili Trawangan. Considering that we’d had such a heavy night out the dive went pretty well though.

After the dive we got back onto the boat, ate some bananas stocked up on some water and then moved on to the next dive site. We didn’t have to wait long until we were at our destination: Golden Passage. The visibility in the water was probably the best I’d ever seen as were the fish. There were plenty of them at this site in so many different colours that we couldn’t help but marvel at them in this underwater world. Unfortunately our dive was cut short for a reason I can’t remember and we had to come up 15 minutes after starting. The fish had made the dive worth it though.

Back on the boat we carried cruising on the sea whilst we ate our lunch. Even though the boat was pretty full today they still had plenty of food available – and it wasn’t just available but actually delicious as well. It didn’t just consist of rice and noodles which was kind of what we’d been expecting so we ate a tonne.

After a good break and a decent amount of time to digest the food it was time for our final dive. We jumped into the water at Siaba Kecil. There was the possibility of seeing reef sharks here as well as plenty of rich and colourful coral.  The visibility was again great and we saw plenty of fish. Unfortunately I was having problems with my mask. It kept filling up with water and I had to spend half of the dive trying to clear my mask which made it pretty annoying.

Back on the boat we were all talking about our dives. As I had the Advanced Open Water qualification that Max didn’t we hadn’t been diving together. Max’s groups had managed to spot some reef sharks which I was very jealous of though. I still hadn’t dived with sharks before and couldn’t wait to see one.

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As soon as we got back to our diving centre I signed up to do another three dives the following day. One of the ways that they get you to keep diving with the same dive company is that they keep making it cheaper each day that you dive with them. So I signed up for another day of diving, Max declined as he had limited money and wanted to do some diving with Henry which was fair enough. Wolfgang had also worked his magic with me as well because the next day we were going to be diving at Batu Bolong – Wolfgang’s favourite dive site in the world. He described it as diving in a “giant fishbowl zoo”.

We met up with Josh and Henry back at the hostel and the four of us then went for dinner at the same Italian restaurant we’d eaten the night before. Everyone else had left that day which was a bit of a shame as my and Max’s early starts had meant we hadn’t gotten to say goodbye. The food at the restaurant was great again. We ate outside this time as the place was boiling inside and then had a few more beers before heading back to sleep. I was making sure I had enough sleep before diving this time.

I was up bright and early in the morning and felt great. The journey out to the dive spots was uneventful and soon enough we were in the water at Manta Point. As the name might suggest manta rays are often found here. We’d visited the place a few days before for some snorkelling when we’d been on the boat trip to Flores. Manta rays are usually found at lower depths so they’re not always so visible when snorkelling. Now that I was scuba diving there was a higher chance of finding some. It didn’t take long before we’d spotted some rays. They were ultra-cool to swim next to! They looked so happy and majestic as they calmly floated on passed us. The dive site was pretty barren though and there wasn’t much else to see apart from rays and huge parrot fish. Annoyingly I got through my air a bit quicker this dive than everyone else so had to change dive group and the end. Still got 55 minutes underwater though which was a pretty decent session.

Next up was Batu Bolong – Wolfgang’s favourite ever dive site, the ‘giant underwater fishbowl zoo’. I was excited for this one. We jumped into the water and it was like no dive site I’d ever seen. The number of fish was simply mind-blowing. This huge rock covered in coral came up almost to the surface and it was absolutely covered in fish. Thousands and thousands of fish. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. There were just so manydifferent species that it was hard to know where to look. We went down to the near the bottom of the rock and the number of fish I could see as I looked up almost blocked the sunlight out. We saw lion fish, giant trevally and scorpion fish to name a few. It was an almost unbelievable dive sight.

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Unfortunately I was getting through my air quickly again and after 35 minutes I had to change group again and surface earlier than the rest of the group I started with. I didn’t let that get me down though as I’d just dived in the best site of my life to date. It was such an incredible experience and easy to see why it was Wolfgang’s favourite dive site.

Back on the boat we had lunch and then went to Wainiloo, our final dive site of the day. Batu Bolong this was a pretty difficult dive site to follow. The coral here was the most interesting part but there weren’t too many fish. We saw some cuttlefish which were pretty cool but that was about it. Again I used up my air quicker than the rest of my group which was starting to it annoy me. Again I had to change group and resurface with them.

I’d enjoyed the diving so much that day, with Batu Bolong completely blowing my mind that I had to sign up for a third day of diving. Plus, I was still yet to see any sharks when diving and Wolfgang said that we’d definitely get to dive with some sharks the following day so signing up for another day was a no brainer.

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In the evening I moved to Cool Corner Backpacker Hostel as Max and Henry had supposedly left that day and there was no point in me staying in the less sociable guesthouse we’d been staying in. Once at the hostel I moved into a large dorm and befriended the people in there. They’d just finished their boat tour from Lombok and were going out for dinner that evening and invited me along. Just after that I bumped into Max and Henry again, they hadn’t been able to leave after all and were in the same hostel as me. I invited them to come for dinner but they’d already eaten so I told them where we were eating and that they should come join us later. There were about 20 of us there for this meal and we took over most of the restaurant as we ate and drank the night away.

After the meal Max arrived and joined us for drinks and then eventually it was just the two of us left. There were some locals playing live music in the bar. It was the same band we’d seen at Paradise a few nights previously. We sat there chilling, chatting and watching them play until the late hours when they closed the bar up. Max even requested a song which the girl played for us on her guitar whilst singing beautifully.

The next morning I was down at the dive centre first thing and was pleasantly surprised to find Tatjana and Sebastian, a German couple that I’d climbed Rinjani with! It always cracks me up how frequently you bump into the same people when backpacking – everyone’s following the same well-trodden path.

The first dive sight we did that day was Castle Rock. It was another incredible dive sight, probably my second favourite dive site after Batu Bolong. This one had plenty of fish; we went down nice and deep down to 23 metres and this site had several reef sharks. The looked amazing in the water as they barely moved and then suddenly one of them starting lunging out and attacking the other fish. It was so awesome to see them up close, I’d wanted to dive with sharks for ages and when you know their harmless it makes it all the better. We also got to see some huge schools of barracuda swimming around which was pretty full on..

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The second dive of the day was The Cauldron. This was a drift dive that required us to swim down, get into a big bowl with walls either side and then let the current carry us through it. This was my first proper drift dive and a really fun one to do as you barely have to swim. There were also plenty of fish and a few manta rays. It was going perfectly except after a while my sinus’s started to hurt. The pressure was building up in my head and there didn’t seem to be anything I could do about it. This was my eighth dive in three days now so I guess ir had just been building up over the last few days.

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Once we were back on the boat I asked my divemaster what I could do about it and he said that there wasn’t too much I could do. He asked if I wanted to continue diving and I definitely did so we had lunch and then went onto the final dive site.

At Tatawa Besar we jumped into the water and pretty soon after my sinus’s started hurting again which made the dive pretty unenjoyable. There was a lot of coral to float over on this dive and some really different looking sealife. We also saw some really cool turtles. We found a couple of turtles who were just sat there face to face, basically kissing each other which was sweet.

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My painful sinus’s meant that I couldn’t really enjoy the dive and when we resurfaced 40 minutes later I was glad to be out. I had wanted to do another day’s diving tomorrow (this diving was literally blowing my mind) but the sinus pain put me off. It was time to stop and get out of Labuan Bajo.

When diving was finished I arranged to meet up with Tatjana and Sebastian for dinner. I then got to work booking my flight back to Bali for the next day. That didn’t take too long and when I got back from booking a flight in an internet cafe opposite the hostel I was pleasantly surprised to find that Max and Henry still hadn’t managed to leave. They’d now booked a bus and were definitely leaving the next morning though. I told them to come and join us for dinner, again they’d already eaten though. I said they should join us for drinks in a bit and Max was up for it. Henry on the other hand was taking some strong medication to heal his foot after the moped accident they’d had back on Lombok Island. His foot still looked horrible so it was fair enough that he just wanted to rest and let his foot heal.

I met Tatjana and Sebastian for dinner, they’d invited another couple of their friends along. It was an Italian restaurant again but that didn’t bother me in the slightest as all of the Italian food I’d had in Labuan Bajo had been delicious. This was no exception and we washed it all down with a few beers. Max came to join us after we’d finished eating and the other couple headed back to their accommodation. Max, Sebastian, Tatjana and I then went on to Sky Bar. The band I and Max had watched the night previously were playing there again so we sat chatting, watching them again.

We still weren’t done when they finished and I and Max had been telling Sebastian and Tatjana about the amazing night we’d had at Paradise on Saturday and they wanted to check it out. We took no persuading and were quickly on our way. We got their pretty quickly because Sebastian got his moped and shuttled us there one by one.

Unfortunately when we arrived Paradise was nothing like when we’d seen it heaving on Saturday night. It was basically empty. I think there were only three other people in the bar when we arrived.

It was so empty they even let Tatjana start serving us drinks

It was so empty they even let Tatjana get behind the bar and start serving us drinks

Still we bought some drinks and noticed that the stage was set up – complete with instruments. We checked if a band was supposed to be playing and the bartender said there wasn’t so we asked if he could get up and play and they were perfectly happy to let us get up there and jam. I used to play bass guitar so I could kind of play that but unfortunately none of the others played an instrument…we didn’t sound great. The picture look pretty convincing though:

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For one night only. Photo courtesy of Tatjana

We then got chatting to the only other guy left in the bar after our “set”. He was an English guy who was only 21 and quite frankly he was a bit of a nutcase. He told us his story: he’d left England when he was 16 and had been travelling ever since. He’d worked in Australia for a while, saved up loads of money and then moved to Indonesia where he’d gotten married, had a kid and bought a business for about £1500 on Lombok. It was a pretty ridiculous story but he seemed pretty genuine and impressive. He spoke fluent Indonesian and was generally a funny, quick witted guy. We stayed in Paradise as long as they’d have us but eventually the closed up and we all drove back to the centre in Labuan Bajo. This was actually quite a terrible idea because everyone had been drinking and I and Max were just on the back of this random English guy’s moped and he was flooring it. I’m pretty sure he was just trying to impress us but we were nothing more than terrified. Definitely completely scared shitless and definitely not impressed.

He dropped us off outside our hostel and that’s when a local taxi driver pulled up next to us. I said we needed a lift to our hostel which was a complete joke because we were at our hostel. The taxi driver wasn’t impressed by this joke and shouted some abuse at us and went to drive off. As he did our random English friend slapped the side of his car as he was driving off and the driver really did not like that. He got out of his car and an argument started. No damage had been done to his car but he was still fuming. He got on the phone and started phone his mates to try and get them to come and fight us. Our English friend was translating for us and was getting lippy with the taxi driver I think. This resulted in the taxi driver punching the English nutcase. He was still on his moped though and wasn’t able to throw any punches back. Sebastian and I managed to diffuse the situation and the taxi driver then sped off in his car. It was an interesting, dramatic end to the night. We then said goodbye to each other and went to bed – hoping the taxi driver wouldn’t return to our hostel with his mates.

The next morning I was up early enough to say bye to Max and Henry, they were finally leaving Labuan Bajo. It had been about 8 days we’d spent together now since meeting at the boat tour.

Max and Henry - finally leaving

Max and Henry – finally leaving

After they’d left I sat around on the hostel porch, did some reading and then jumped onto the back of a moto-taxi. 10 minutes later I was at Labuan Bajo’s tiny airport

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Then it was back to Bali. My Indonesian adventure was coming to an end.

The Komodo National Park Boat Tour to Flores

22/02/2015
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Aiite so Kurt, Imo and I arrived at Lombok and went down to a small little café where we waited with the other travellers for our tour to begin. Here we were given the news that although all our meals and non-alcoholic drinks were provided, that did mean that our alcoholic drinks were not provided and there wouldn’t be anytime we could buy booze during the tour. We had to pre-order all of our booze now. I worked out how many beers I needed for the four day tour and quickly realised I needed to go to the cashpoint to get this much beer. I was happy drinking beer but Kurt and Imo decided they’d try and get something stronger. As we were deciding Mikey and Sarah arrived – the English couple who we’d climbed Rinjani with. We knew they were coming on a boat tour to Flores today but we didn’t know whether it would be the same one. Fortunately it turned out that they were on the same one and we’d be hanging with them for the next four days.

The three of us jumped onto the back of some motorbike taxis that said they’d shuttle us down for free. I took my money out of the ATM and then caught up with Kurt and Imo. Some shopkeepers were trying to convince Kurt and Imo to shed out a load of money for some suspect looking home brewed rice wine. We told the shopkeepers we weren’t interested in any of their drinks and got the taxi drivers to take us back. They weren’t happy with us and were now demanding payment. I gave in pretty quickly because my driver wasn’t asking for much but I don’t think Kurt or Imo paid their driver.

We ordered our booze and then I went to grab a Cornetto, by the time I returned everyone else had left and it was just Kurt, Imo, Mikey and Sarah left – they were waiting for me, everyone else had made it down to the port. We quickly caught up with everyone and then went to board the boat. It was here we met Henry and Max. A couple of English guys who’d had a motorbike accident whilst on Lombok. Max had come out of the accident perfectly fine, Henry hadn’t – his foot was looking all kinds of painful and was really swollen.

We then all hopped onto our basic boat and the journey began. There were about 15 of us doing the boat tour, most of us were European, there were two older French couples and the rest of us were a mixed bunch of backpackers in our 20s and 30s. About half of us spoke English and the other half spoke French.The boat was pretty basic; it had an upper deck which mainly consisted of thin mattresses to sleep on and the lower deck, which we could chill out in under the cover of the roof which thankfully offered us some shade. Then there was the front of the boat where we could sunbathe whilst watching the islands pass us by.

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Our basic boat

The sun was shining and so most of us sat out on the front deck, catching some sun and chatting with one other. After a couple of hours we pulled up at our first stop a hundred metres away from the shore of a small little island. We snorkelled to the shore hoping to see a load of fish but unfortunately there weren’t very many. Once everyone was on the island we trekked up to a nice waterfall and a swim in the basin. There were also some rocks and trees for people to mess around, flipping and jumping off of them. 20 minutes later we then headed back to the boat and carried on the boat tour.

We had lunch in the lower deck which mainly consisted of fruit, rice and noodles which went down great – we hadn’t eaten that for just under 2 days now so it was very welcome. We then started cracking open the beers and that is basically how it went for the rest of the day and the following three days. We sat around on the boat chatting, sunbathing, drinking beer, eating and occasionally stopping for a swim and a snorkel. We stopped at Manta Point on the penultimate day. It’s called Manta Point because there’s usually Manta Rays there but there weren’t any when we visited so we just snorkelled around for a bit staring into the clear blue abyss.

Pictures from throughout the tour:

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Imo preparing to jump

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Once on the beach we realised we could really do with a beer but they were on the boat. Imo saved the day by swimming back to the boat and returning with a boat full of beer

Once on the beach we realised we could really do with a beer but they were on the boat. Imo saved the day by swimming back to the boat and returning with a boat full of beer

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Attempting a back flip. As always with a slight twist. Photo courtesy of Imo

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Photo courtesy of Imo

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Photo courtesy of Imo

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Imo, Josh and one of the crewmembers

Imo, Josh and one of the crewmembers

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The time I and Kurt started drinking beer each day got earlier and earlier each day but we didn’t get too drunk. Until the last night. Whenever they run this tour they always throw a party on the last night. This tour was no exception. Having a party meant they played loud music on the boat’s sound system whilst everyone gets really drunk. That’s exactly what we did with everyone doing silly dancing and sticking their mp3 players onto the surprisingly loud speakers. One of the older French couples were especially great at throwing some energetic moves. I hope to be as active of them at that age – they almost put us to shame.

During this party some kids turned up in a little canoe, they were here to sell us beer. I guess it was to be expected that there would be an opportunity to buy more booze during the tour even though we’d been told we wouldn’t be able to. This was particularly fortunate for me as I’d drunk all of my beer.

I love how the only topless person in this is the older French man. The guy really knew how to dance. Photo courtesy of Katherine

I love how the only topless person in this is the older French man. The guy really knew how to dance. Photo courtesy of Katherine

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Photo courtesy of Kurt

The night ended up getting very hazy but we all woke up the next day happy enough as we were arriving at Komodo National Park.

We pulled up to a wooden pier and walked down to the end.

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At the end lay the park entrance and some rangers/guides. They briefed us on what to expect which was essentially a walk around the park and the possibility of seeing some of the world’s largest reptile species, the komodo dragon. Obviously we were really hoping we’d get to see one. After a few minutes our guide pointed out tiny baby dragons that we could barely see which didn’t satisfy our thirst for komodo dragons.

Five minutes later we’d found the real deal. Two full sized komodo dragons, one male and one female. Our guides, armed only with their long sticks, kept us all at a safe distance a few meters away from them. If they were to attack they can move pretty quickly and have a really poisonous bite. Fortunately that rarely happens and we didn’t come close to being attacked. In fact the idea that they could quickly change their minds and suddenly attack us seemed almost impossible given how slowly we saw them move. We only saw them eithger completely still or move at ultra-slow speeds.

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Happy we’d now see these dragons we continued on a half hour walk around the island and spotted another 5 of the fully grown beasts as we wandered around.

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They really weren’t hard to find at all on this island. I think they were just saying there was a chance we might not see any so we’d feel luckier when we did see them. As we walked around the island we also spotted some massive water buffalos and some deer.

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Getting up close to one damn big buffalo

With komodo dragons now ticked off the list we wandered around a bit more and then it was time to get back onto the boat as we were about to go and check out another island filled with komodo dragons – with an even bigger komodo dragon population.

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The journey over to the second island was pretty short and soon enough we were walking around the dry island and frequently spotting more komodos.

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It actually got to the point where we actually became pretty used to them and not that excited when we spotted another one. The fact that they hardly move makes them a little less exciting. Now that we’d seen a few, we’d seen enough. We wandered around the island under the supervision of the ranger and hung out in a shaded area at the end. It was absolutely roasting in the sun and we were done with the komodo dragons.

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Not what you’d usually see on your front door step

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The token shot of the whole boat group. Photo courtesy of Imo

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Photo courtesy of Imo

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A happy lookin Josh

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Max admiring some gifts nature left behind

Back on the boat we enjoyed a proper wash with cold water, shampoo, soap and everything. It felt great to be clean again. We then sat down for our final meal together. I can’t say we enjoyed it that much. Eating rice and noodles so frequently (several times per day) had taken the excitement out of the food – especially since we’d had the 3 day Rinjani trek a couple of days before this where the food had been largely the same. We were ready for some Western food and to get off the boat.

A couple of hours after leaving Komodo National Park we’d made it to Flores Island. Our group said goodbye to one another and about 8 of us stuck together to go and find somewhere to stay. The Komodo National Park boat tour was done and it had definitely been an interesting, highly memorable few days.

Gili Air

22/02/2015

Aiite so we landed on Gili Air just before sunset. We hadn’t booked anywhere to stay and so we just turned up at Gili Air Hostel as one someone had recommended to me when I’d been on Bali. I, Imo and Kurt checked into one of the door rooms, it slept about 8 people but we were the only people in there so we had this huge room to ourselves. It was quite an interesting hostel. Very strange paintwork, especially on the floor which kind of looked like someone had just thrown different coloured paints on the floor and left it to dry. There was a really pathetic climbing wall that Imo could touch the top of when she was standing on the floor. There was air conditioning in our room but the ceiling wasn’t attached to the roof…so it didn’t really work as the cold air just pumped straight out.  We chose the 3 beds nearest to the air conditioning anyway. There also wasn’t really around in the hostel which we weren’t expecting as the guy who’d recommended this place to me said it was one of the most social places he’d stayed since he’d been travelling. Guess it must have been a bit busier when he was there.

We were also quite shattered given that we’d woken up around 2am to summit Rinjani and we’d spent a lot of time walking. My knees were still feeling pretty sore and after all of the delights of eating rice and noodles several times a day for the past three days we were craving some Western food. Once we’d set our stuff down in the hostel, we each had very needed showers (we were filthy from Rinjani – to the point where we’d had to explain why we were so dirty to some kids) we popped down the main strip and found a restaurant. We then ordered way more food than necessary, plenty of pizza, chips and burgers, basically typical unhealthy western food. We then obliterated it. Washing it all down with a couple of beers. We left the restaurant stuffed and then found a bar with wifi so that Imo could try and book a flight as our hostel lacked wifi. She needed to do quite a lot online so as Kurt and I were feeling a bit tired we decided to head back.

We got back to the hostel to find that things had livened up in the social area/bar. It was someone’s birthday and people were all knocking back drinks and preparing to go out to another bar. I suggested to Kurt we have a drink before going to bed. He was too tired though and went to sleep so I went and had a drink with the other travelers anyway. After half an hour it was midnight, the hostel’s bar was closing so everyone left and went to the next bar where a big party was supposedly happening. I should probably have gone to bed but couldn’t resist and soon enough I was in a loud bar with a huge sound system and DJs playing some really weird electronic music that I couldn’t even classify. I knocked several drinks back and before I knew it it was 6am. I’d been there for the best part of five and a half hours. There was only one other westerner left by this point – the English receptionist at Gili Air Hostel. The place was still full of Indonesians dancing around though. However, now it was 6am so I thought it would be best to call it a night and a stumbled the short five minute walk back to my bed. Strangely enough even though I’d been dancing all night the pain in my knees had subsided as well which was pretty awesome given how terrible they’d felt when walking down Rinjani.

By 830am I was up and even though I’d only had a couple of hours sleep I felt great. I took a shower and by the time I’d got up Kurt and Imo were up. It was time for us to check out Gili Air. We asked around to see what there was to do but after Rinjani we were thinking of having a pretty relaxed day so we rented some snorkel gear and went down to the beach. We then spent the day snorkelling and sunbathing as we were saving ourselves for dinner. We were planning on going all out for dinner and eating a buffet from Scallywags which we’d heard great things about. Unfortunately when we arrived it turned out that they didn’t do a buffet for dinner, the buffet they put on was only for breakfast. We still decided to have dinner at Scallywags anyway as we were still craving lots of Western food. The food was truly delicious and really filling – it was just what we were after. It was after eating the food and after a couple of beers that my tiredness quickly caught up with me and I needed to have a nap on Scallywag’s restaurant table. We then headed back to the hostel to get an early night as we had to be up early the next day.

We didn’t have to be up ridiculously early to catch our boat back to Lombok so that we could start our tour to Flores via Komodo National Park…but we really really wanted to eat a Scallwags breakfast buffet. It sounded like the best breakfast buffet imaginable and so we went through the effort to check out early and get to Scallwags to devour a breakfast before our boat. We were the first people into Scallywags when they opened and the breakfast certainly didn’t disappoint. It had everything we hoped for: cereal, fruit and all of the ingredients necessary for a full English breakfast.

Once sufficiently stuffed we got ourselves to the port and it turned out we actually had an hour to kill before the boat left so Imo went to do some shopping. Kurt went to find some wi-fi and I just chilled out with the bags and listened to some music. Soon enough the boat arrived and we were on our way to Lombok to start the next 4 day boat tour to Flores via Komodo National Park.

I didn’t get any pictures from our short time on Gili Air. I took plenty of pictures on my GoPro but sadly all of the footage was accidentally deleted or didn’t save properly to my memory card so I lost most of my pictures from Gili Trawangan. climbing Mount Rinjani and Gili Air. It’s lucky I took some pictures on my smart phone!

Mount Rinjani

19/02/2015

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Aiiite so I, Imo and Kurt got up at 6am, we went and found Uncle and to say goodbye to him before heading to the port to catch a narrow motor boat with the locals. The boat journey to Lombok Island, where Mount Rinjani’s located, didn’t take more than 20 minutes. Yet, even though we were all so cramped on this boat, I still managed to fall asleep, I was shattered from the night before. We arrived on Lombok and some guys met us as soon as we got off the boat. They took us to a nearby street stall where we ate another typical Indonesian breakfast consisting of rice and noodles. 20 minutes later another guy arrived, he was going to be our driver and take us to the start of the trek.

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We dropped our big backpacks here, ate another breakfast (pancakes, which was a pleasant change). We then got talking to some of the people in the restaurant who’d just finished the Rinjani trek. They said it wasn’t too bad and we should be fine. However, they also mentioned that it gets cold so we should try to pack light but also take warm clothing as well. We repacked our little backpacks and then got back in the car to drive to the real start of the trail. 15 minutes later and we were out of the car. We’d arrived at the actual start, about five hours after we’d woken up that morning.

...and the trek officially begins. Photo courtesty of Imo

…and the trek officially begins. Photo courtesty of Imo

The three of us got trekking with our guide. He was carrying a backpack that weighed about 10 kilos, our little backpacks can’t have weighed more than 2 kilos each. Despite him carrying a lot more than us he was still setting quite a pace. The sun was beating down on us. We were pretty much just walking uphill (as you’d probably expect when climbing mountain). It was pretty shattering. We were pouring with sweat but did our best to walk as quickly as we could. We’d started after the rest of our group and were playing catch up. We stopped to be safe and put sun cream on our white skin and about five minutes later the trail changed. It went from being really sunny to a more forest-like landscape. This meant that thankfully, we were now walking under the shade of huge trees.

We stopped for a snack. Met a few of the other groups and then continued marching onwards and upwards. We were making good time, catching up with people. We met an English couple called Mikey and Sarah who were very pleased to hear mine and Imo’s British accents (think it had been a while since they’d met some Brits). We then carried on hiking a bit more. Then we stopped for a large lunch which consisted of more rice, noodles and soup.

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We then got back to hiking. This last stint was a bit longer. We carried on up the trail. Stopped to watch some monkeys for a bit and then carried on hiking up. About 45 minutes after we finished lunch the terrain changed again and the trees disappeared. We were now walking through a burnt, barren landscape. It looked as if people had been purposefully burning all of the foliage. However, we soon came to a sign that stated starting open fires on this mountain could result in prison and fines as high as several million pounds. It seemed unlikely that people would be taking that much of a risk for the benefit of burning down the trees.

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Rinjani’s dry terrain being hiked by Imo and Kurt, complete with authentic hiking sticks

The temperature also dropped a lot as well. We’d been used to just walking around in t-shirts and vests, I hadn’t put anything thicker on since I’d arrived in Indonesia. As we climbed higher and higher the altitude resulted in us getting cold, the views became very foggy and we all had to start layering up before continuing to climb.

Another hour passed, we stopped for short breaks every now and again but I, Imo and Kurt were pretty set on getting to the end so we walked fairly quickly and managed to arrive at basecamp about 45 minutes before the sunset. Unfortunately the clouds hadn’t lifted and so we couldn’t see much. Apparently the views were supposed to be incredible when there was no fog. This was particular unfortunate for those that had opted to do the 2 day and 1 night version of the tour as they just had to head back to the start the next morning. We’d opted for the 3 day, 2 night version of the tour so still had another full day’s trekking to reach the summit.

Around 6pm the sun had set and the temperature began to drop drastically. We put all of our clothes on and sat around eating dinner with the other travellers. It turned out that we’d now met the rest of our tour group and we’d be spending the rest of the tour with this lovely bunch. We were all probably in bed by about 730pm for two reasons: firstly, it was freezing, even wearing all of our clothes we still weren’t warm, we needed to be inside a sleeping bag. Secondly, we were shattered, we’d been going all day and waking up on Gili Trewangan at 6am seemed like a week ago.

We spent the night freezing in our tents. Mine and Imo’s tent didn’t properly zip up so we tied the front door together as best as we could with hair clips and anything else we could find and settled in for a breezy night’s sleep.

Going to bed so early meant we were also up pretty early but it wasn’t worth leaving the warmth of the sleeping bag until the sun had risen at around 6am. Once it had we munched down our breakfast of pancakes and headed out to a nearby viewpoint where we could look down at a caldera in the middle of the volcano, complete with it’s own lake. It was an awesome sight although the clouds still hadn’t fully cleared so we still didn’t have a perfect view. The warming sun was beautiful, lifted our spirits and got us hyped up for some hiking. We had a little dance to A Skillz remix of Jackson 5’s “ABC” and then our guide told us it was time to get trekking. We scarpered down from the viewpoint and our guide told us that he was heading back – his work was done. We now had a new guide, who was leading me, Imo and Kurt, along with the rest of the people we’d met the night before.

Now that the sun had come out and some of the fog had cleared we could now see the summit – and it was on the other side of the volcano. This meant that the best way to get there was to start heading down into the volcano before we could then trek back up it. We started walking down a thin twisty path. It got really steep heading down and unsurprisingly sometimes there were some pretty ridiculous drops to our side. Now that the sun was coming out properly we heated up really quickly. We were down to t-shirts pretty quickly. To make things even hotter Rinjani also has a habit of frequently being on fire and we could quite often see smoke in the distance from where plants and trees had caught on fire. It even got to the point where we were only a few metres away from the fire when we had to pass it. Somehow it never seemed dangerous probably because the fire moved pretty slowly. There were about 12 of us in our group now and we were fairly close to the front of our group. Leading the way was a one armed German busker called Martin who was able to almost fly down the pathways. He’d apparently done a lot of free running and was used to trekking downhill quickly. The rest of us were much more cautious and therefore much slower.

After a couple of hours we ended up at the bottom of the caldera. Down by the lakeside that had formed in the middle of the volcano. We stopped for a bit to take in the view.

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Photo courtesy of Imo

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and then carried on trekking for five minutes to end up at a thermal river. Now I enjoy a thermal river at pretty much all times but when it’s combined with a waterfall we can dive off it makes it ten times better. Fact. The water was like a hot bath –almost too hot at first but we quickly got used to it. We sat around in the water for half an hour, washing ourselves and taking it in turns to jump or dive into the waterfall.

Once dressed we backtracked to the lakeside and stopped for another rice and noodle-tastic lunch. Then it was time to get trekking up – and up we would trek for a while. It was slightly annoying knowing we’d just spend the last couple of hours trekking downwards only to now have to recover that height and then go a whole lot further up. We managed to hike at pretty good pace but unfortunately around this point my knee started hurting which slowed me down a bit. Several other people had resorted to using a hiking stick to help them along. It was now my time to join them and as soon as I found a stick things began to get much easier and I could continue with our fast pace. Although the clouds still hadn’t completely lifted we could still see for miles and the higher we trekked the more spectacular the views got.

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Our hiking team

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We ended up trekking and having occasional breaks every now and again. I and Imo had taken to singing a lot of songs as we’d trekked over the last couple of days. Never complete songs just bits of songs, usually from classic British late 90s/early 2000s songs we’d both heard as we’d been growing up. Just as we were about to reach the basecamp at around 4pm someone suggested we try and sing Bohemian Rhapsody in its entirety. So that’s how about 6 of us arrived at the basecamp; loudly singing Bohemian Rhapsody terribly with plenty of laughter between each line.

When we arrived we were pleasantly surprised to find that there was a tiny little shop. The shop was basically a little tent with some goods set on top of some boxes.

The shop above the clouds on top of a volcano

The shop above the clouds on top of a volcano

Of course to get everything there the goods had to be carried up there by some foot soldiers so as you’d expect everything was very overpriced (well, London prices). They had cold cans of beer and I couldn’t resist them. We definitely deserved them after finishing eight hours of trekking. We then sat around chatting, listening to music and admiring the view, well, whenever the clouds broke.

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Kurt, Imo and me – glad to have arrived at basecamp. Photo courtesy of Imo

We ate our dinner (rice and noodles, surprise surprise!) and with the sun now set we ended up doing some star gazing with our heads hanging out of our tents. So high up away from civilisation the sky was crystal clear and we could see stars and galaxies wherever we looked.

By about 730pm we were asleep because we had to wake up at 2am if we wanted to summit Rinjani’s before sunrise. I was sharing a tent with Imo again. We both ended up waking up around 11pm desperate to use the toilet so we were both now awake. Imo then also started to feel sick so she had a nice little chunder before coming back to the tent for a couple of hours before we woke up again to get ready to hike to the summit.

The summit didn’t actually look that far away from where we’d camped up. However, once we started walking we realised it was actually much further away than we thought and it certainly wasn’t going to be easy. The hardest part initially being that it was absolutely freezing at 2am and we definitely didn’t have enough clothes. We ate some snacks and then got trekking. I definitely needed my hiking stick by this point as my knee had become progressively painful throughout the previous day. Now though, the real challenge was staying warm. We’d decided that we’d trek with our sleeping bags on to try and keep warm. It was seriously cold but the main problem many of us were having was keeping our hands warm. The hiking stick was very necessary by this point so ditching that wasn’t an option for me and I had to keep my hands out even though they felt like they were close to freezing. I had to use a method of switching the stick from hand to hand every minute or 2 whilst the other hand tried to warm up in my pocket. I’d have given a lot for pair of gloves at that point.

The other thing that quickly became apparent was that the terrain was exhausting to climb. The floor was like dirty sand that we sank in to every step we took. For every 2 steps we took it was as if we fell back one step. This became increasingly tiring. We started to warm up, so much so that we could put our sleeping bags in our bags. Hands still stayed frozen though, there was no way of warming them up and keeping the hiking stick.

We climbed very solidly the whole way to the top. I and Martin led our group and broke ahead after a while as we were just so desperate to reach the summit and keep moving. Martin went ahead of me for a short bit but when I caught up with him it became apparent that he was really struggling and even considering giving up. I waited with him for a few minutes and then he changed him mind again – he was going to make it. We trekked as hard and fast as we could but we still weren’t quick. However, we could see the sun starting to come up and that motivated us to keep going. I really wanted to try and get a time lapse of the sun rising as well so wanted to make it in good time. We raced as quickly as we could to the top and just as the sun was starting to rise we finally made it to the top. We’d actually made it!

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I quickly set up my camera to take the time lapse, which was quite a challenge in itself given that I could barely feel my hands at this point and then the rest of our group arrived. They’d not been too far behind us. Now that we’d reached the top the wind was really freezing us to the bone so we were forced to get the sleeping bags out to try and stay warm – it was still almost impossible though with the minimal layers we had.

We got the customary Rinjani summit photos holding plaques saying we’d made it and then watched the view get better and better.

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With full 360 degree views of the surrounding landscape and not too much cloud cover we really could see everything for miles around. It really was a special sight. We probably could’ve stayed there for ages had it not been so cold. Everyone snuggled up underneath their sleep bags. Our guide and I even ended up hugging each other for five minutes to try and stay warm but it was still pretty useless.

Cuddling up with the guide - Photo courtesy of Imo

Cuddling up with the guide – Photo courtesy of Imo

With nowhere to really hide from the wind we decided we’d had enough and it was time to head down just half an hour after we’d arrived at the summit. Lifetime achievement done.

Now that the sun was coming out and a ridge was offering us some protection from the wind chill things warmed up pretty quickly. The hands still took a while to warm up but after about half an hour we’d really warmed up and could ditch the sleeping bags. Another half hour later we ditched the hoodies. The sun had really warmed us up.

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Looking down on the caldera

Victorious post summit picture - Photo courtesy of Imo

Victorious post summit picture – Photo courtesy of Imo

Unsurprisingly walking down was also much quicker than walking up. Especially with the dirt sand beneath us that had made things so tough walking up. Now instead of taking two steps and falling back a step we were taking two steps and it was like taking four steps as our weight slid us further forward. We quickly made it back to the basecamp and were starving by the time we got there. We were so happy to tuck into breakfast – even if it was noodles and rice again.

Strangely enough there were plenty of monkeys living near our basecamp. I thought it would've been too cold from them up here

Strangely enough there were plenty of monkeys living near our basecamp. I thought it would’ve been too cold for them up here

It’s probably worth adding how tough this trek actually was and how many people attempt it and don’t make it. Our group had done very well. Of the 10 out of our group that started only 2 of us didn’t make it to the top, and one of those wasn’t into hiking, he’d just come along to support Martin. Comparing that to other groups where one guy that we’d met was the only one out of his group of eight to reach the summit, we’d done very well. However, we’d reached the summit but that didn’t mean that we’d finished. Now we had to get back to the Rinjani’s base.

The fast walking on the way back from the summit to base camp had started to make my knees hurt a lot more but after breakfast, when we actually started trekking down from base camp to the start they began hurting one hell of a lot more. This slowed me down massively and I basically had to hobble the whole way down. I held the entire group up on the way back. I tried walking as quickly as I could but it was nothing faster than an old lady can hobble along.

Everyone was fairly patient though. Sarah wasn’t walking too quickly either, she’d developed huge blisters on her feet.  In the end Sarah, Mikey (her boyfriend) and our guide all walked at the back and took a lot longer to reach the end than the others. At one point we even thought the rest of our group may’ve got lost but fortunately they’d just walked a lot more quickly and we there waiting for us in a café at the end. We were pleased to see them for two reasons, firstly because it meant they hadn’t got lost and we wouldn’t have to go searching for them, and secondly because it meant we’d finished hiking. We’d made it. We’d successfully climbed Rinjani, even if I had been tremendously slow at completing the hike day I was still glad I’d made it. It really was so much harder than any of us had been expecting though. It’s by far the hardest trek I’ve ever attempted.

With the hiking over it was now time to go back to our stuff. The 10 of us crammed into the back of a pickup truck – we did not smell good.

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Heading back. Photo courtesy of Imo

We drove back to the start, collected our stuff and said goodbye to  each other. My slow walking had delayed our return time and it almost looked like we wouldn’t be able to catch a boat to Gili Air – where we were intending to spend the night. We gave Uncle a ring and he quickly sorted everything out though. Soon enough we were being driven to the port to leave Lombok and catch a tiny little boat to Gili Air.