Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Bali - Indonesia

After the volcanoes of Java Island (see blog) I went to Bali and which coincidentally was celebrating the major festival of Nyepi. This is a Hindu tradition near the end of March that celebrates the end of the old year and the start of a new one according to 'saka' (Balinese calendar based on the lunar cycle). I read about this holiday in the guidebook and it said something about the town shutting down so get a good book and catch up on your sleep. Ok literally, the town shuts down and when I tried to leave the hotel to get some water the gate was closed and no one was allowed outside. Crazy huh? The tradition is based on a belief that evil spirits descend on the first day of the year and will think the island of Bali is uninhabited so they leave the local people alone for another year. At this point I was glad that I splurged the extra $3 a night and got a great hotel with pool, restaurant, bar, etc. Also the day before they had a party in the streets with huge impressions of demon spirits being conquered by warriors (see pics) so I'm assuming that this was mocking the sprits and showing the Balinese triumph over evil. Ok I have no idea but it was pretty cool to be a part of.

As far as the rest of Bali I only stayed in the resorty surfer area at the south end and didn't bother to take pics of the crowded beaches, Hard Rock CafĂ©, Circle K, McDonalds, etc. For me this was a place to catch up on email, laundry, book flights, lobster and sushi dinners for less than $6, read a book, and then catch a boat to the Gili Islands – more specifically Gili Trawangan population 800 and known for great diving, local dishes with 'magic mushrooms' and all night parties.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

List of Bad Travel Experiences (Updated March – 07)

People always want to hear about the things that have gone wrong (or close calls) during my trip so I thought I would keep a running list of the larger events. This does not include what I consider minor like harassment and extortion from local police or customs officers which was prevalent through Belize, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, and Bolivia, but served as more of a headache than anything else and cost $20 per incident (after much negotiation) at the most. Also it does not include so of the minor thefts such as a bus incident in Ecuador and pick pockets in Rio. However, it does include things that ‘could’ve’ happened to me. This is not for sensationalism but just as a reminder that life can be short and that I’m not in control.

1. Disease in Belize (Belize – February 2005) – they call it ‘Che Chim’ and it’s from a local tree in Belize with an oil in the bark that causes an outbreak like I’ve never seen. It covered many parts of my body including my face making it swell up enough to crack the skin. It last about four days, and two of them I could barely see. These are my ‘elephant man’ pics:

2. Car Accident (Belize – March 2005) – while driving down a gravel road in Belize my truck hit a huge pot hole and flipped injuring the three of us in the car. It took us a few hours to get to the hospital and by the time I made it back to the truck most of my belongings had been stolen. I ended up breaking my AC joint in my left shoulder and becoming a true backpacker because I lost the few remaining possessions I had. Here are some before and after pics:

3. Dengue Fever (Cost Rica – July 2005) – ok this one really sucked and was one of the worst things I have been through. Dengue Fever is the most important mosquito-borne viral disease affecting humans today and there is no vaccination or cure, you just have to ride it out and hope to survive. Each year, there are tens of millions of cases occur with a mortality rate of 5% in some countries. The first sign is fever, with severe headache, followed by muscle and joint pains (myalgias and arthralgias), rashes that can cover most of the body, as well as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. I went through 7 days of back to back fever and chills. For 24 hours a day I laid in bed sweating and hallucinating and then spasms and intense chills. They also call it ‘Break-Bone Fever’ or ‘Bonecrusher Disease’ because every time you turn over or get up you feel like you’re made of glass. If you try to eat you just puke it out and basically try to stay hydrated and let your body eat itself for fuel. In the end I lost 35 lbs (16 kilos) and on my last day had to drag my butt to the border because it was my 90th day in the country and didn’t want to get deported. For more info check out this (Wikipedia Article).

4. Bus Accident (Bolivia – January 2006) – this was on the famous Yungas Road or ‘World’s Most Dangerous Road’ where hundreds of people traveling north of La Paz die each year. It’s a 40 mile (64 km) stretch of winding mountain-hugging cliff 3 miles (almost 5 km) above sea level. The bus in front of us slid over the side killing everyone on board. We were in the back of our bus and did not actually witness the accident but stopped to see if there was anything we could do. For more info check out this (Wikipedia Article). Here are some pics of the road (some are my pics):

5. Torres del Paine (Chile – March 2006) – this was a tragic occurrence in a Chilean national park famous for 5 to 9 days hiking treks. On our last night of the trek we went to sleep in tents under the trees and were awoken by a loud crack and screams coming from the tent next to ours. A large branch had fallen and hit our friend Leo, who we had met that night, in the head. For more info please see my (See Blog).

6. Mountain Biking Accident (Argentina – April 2006) – while mountain biking in the lake district of Argentina I ended flying over the handlebars and breaking my collarbone on the left side. Thanks to my buddies I was traveling with at the time I was able to backpack two more weeks in South America until I could reach my flight in Santiago to go home and heal before heading off to Europe.

7. Plane Crash (Indonesia – March 2007) – I flew from Singapore to Yogyakarta on March 8th and soon learned that the flight I almost booked for the day before crashed upon landing killing 21. There have been many concerns about airline safety in the region due to aging aircrafts, lack of maintenance, and the need to keep flights cheap. Here is a link to one of the articles (click here).

Monday, March 12, 2007

Java Island - Indonesia

I flew from Singapore (see blog) to Yogyakarta on March 8th and soon learned that the flight I almost booked for the day before crashed upon landing killing 21. There have been many concerns about airline safety in the region due to aging aircrafts, lack of maintenance, and the need to keep flights cheap. Here is a link to one of the articles (click here).

I met a Taiwanese guy who was headed the same way so we shared a cab into the small town of Borobudur to visit a Buddhist temple that ranks among the three greatest monuments in SE Asia along with Bagan (Myanmar) and Angkor Wat (Cambodia), both of which I also plan to see on this trip. Borobudur has almost 1,500 panels that illustrate the Buddhist tales and teachings. The temple was abandoned but rediscovered in 1814 by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles who was the governor of Java (main island of Indonesia) at the time and also responsible for transforming Singapore. We ended up splurging ($20 each per night) to stay at the Manohara Hotel which is directly at the base of the temple with spectacular views from everywhere including the free breakfast.

After two days at the temple we headed to the east side of Java Island to see Gunung Bromo, an active volcano in one of the most incredible volcanic landscapes I've seen. We stayed at a great hostel near the edge of the park and paid about 50,000 Rp ($5.46) per night for a private room with great views and again a free breakfast. We chartered one of the many old school Landcruisers to drive us into the crater and up to a viewpoint for sunrise. We hiked around the rim of the crater through plumes of acidic vapor. One of the many things I enjoy about traveling in developing countries is you can still venture into some of the most spectacular places, to your own peril if you're stupid enough.

I'm off to Bali (see Blog) to warm back up and find some good diving.

Daily Budget – 200,000 Rp – ($22.00 US)
Private Room – 50,000 Rp – ($5.46 US)
Internet (per hr) – 7,500 Rp – ($0.82 US)
Dinner – 25,000 Rp – ($2.73 US)
Beer – 9,000 Rp – ($0.98 US)
Flight to Malaysia – 602,000 Rp – ($65.79 US)
Load of Laundry – 25,000 Rp – ($2.73 US)

Thursday, March 8, 2007


I chose Singapore to start my SE Asia trip because of the cheap flights and location. However, Singapore was a great place to start for many reasons including the transportation infrastructure, prevalence of ATM's, Internet cafes, and hostels full of people from all ages, great food and shopping, friendly people, cheap flights to almost anywhere, cleanliness, nice weather, and not to mention that English is the dominant language especially in the tourist related businesses.

According to Malay legend the country/city was named by a Sumatran prince who saw a lion during his visit and called it Singapura (Lion City). But it was Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles who arrived in 1819 and transformed the island into a prosperous trading hub as a bastion of the British Empire attracting many Chinese workers.

I spent four days in Singapore and stayed in Chinatown for two days and Little India for the other two. Chinatown makes up a good portion of the city given that 77% of all Singaporeans are Chinese most of which are Buddhists or Taoists. Malay Singaporeans make up 14% of the population subscribing to Islamic customs, and Singaporean Indians make up most of the remaining population.

Sentosa Island is located off the south coast and has been overdeveloped into a major tourist destination. Since there are a series of bridges and causeways connecting it to mainland Asia, Sentosa Island is considered the 'Southern Most Point of Continental Asia'.

Next up Indonesia (see Blog).

SE Asia in general is known for being a cheap place to travel and Singapore is supposed to be on the high side compared to the other countries.

Daily Budget 50 SGD – ($33 US)
Hostel Room 25 SGD – ($16 US)
Internet (free wireless in hostel)
Dinner 8 SGD – ($5 US)
Beer 1.5 SGD – ($1 US)
Flight to Indonesia 65 SGD – ($42 US)

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do you travel so much?

I travel because it helps me to put things into perspective. I find that placing myself into unfamiliar territory challenges everything I believe in and have been taught, allowing me to either confirm or change current views, thoughts, opinions, etc.

Also, at some point I would like to build a house somewhere tropical and always on the lookout for different styles and architecture as well as a warm environments (geographically and culturally).

How do you pay for your travels?

Short Version: I worked my ass off to get through college taking jobs from bank teller to commercial roofer, then went into corporate finance for 10 years, never married or had children, and then one day sold my house and everything I owned, invested the proceeds into interest and dividend paying investments which is what I use to pay for travels.

Do you travel alone?

Sometimes when I get to a new place I start out alone but always end up meeting other people who are headed the same route. Traveling alone is great because it forces you to meet new people.

Has anything bad happened to you during your trip?

There have been many close calls as well as accidents, diseases, etc. Please see my (Bad Travel Experiences) blog for more info and some pics.

What do you bring with you?

I bring enough clothes for about 10 days, which is probably too much because it's easy and cheap to do laundry along the way. Other items include my iPod with portable speakers, camera, laptop, plug adapters, headlamp, travel clock, books, luggage locks, towel, Nalgene bottle, and compass. The key to traveling light is to have as many dual purpose things as possible.

How long are you planning to travel?

Originally I thought I was going to be gone for 2 years and then it was 3. I'm coming up on 3 years now and still have a lot to see so I'm guessing 5 years total???

What is your favorite place so far?

I'm not good with this question because I haven't seen much and even the places I have there was still so much more but at this point I'm going to have to go with India, Malaysia, Myanmar, Bolivia, Colombia, and of course Costa Rica.

Don't you miss your family and friends back home?

Of course. I try to make it back every once in a while and spend some time in between major trips like South America and Europe and then again between Europe and SE Asia. Also I use Skype to call people and take advantage of web cam option so mom can see that I'm still alive.

How do you decide when and where you're going next?

After moving around so much I've become pretty good at sizing up a place to get a feel for how much time to spend. I talk with people along the way to get some ideas of what to do and then if I like a place I'll spend a few extra days, weeks, or even months hanging out. The one exception is the that I'm not a big fan of cold weather so I try to plan WITH the seasons and yes I'm looking for an endless summer.