Day 221: All About The Benjamin

It was finally here, my birthday! And with it came the arrival of my Nintendo 3DS XL, although, I didn’t play on it as much as expected. Today was the first time I’d ever celebrated the feat of gaining another year older, abroad. And it was the first time alcohol wasn’t involved. The perks of getting older and more mature eh! To celebrate the wonderful life of Ben Norris, we did nothing, just the way I liked it. Instead we spent the day beside the pool, visiting our very own private beach, then going out for a lovely evening meal. It really was a great day, and now you lucky people get to read all about it.

Unfortunately, even though today was my birthday, I didn’t get the luxury of a lie in. Nor did in get the immediate attention of my girlfriend. The second she woke up she asked for my phone instead of wishing me a happy birthday. I didn’t mind, as I’d actually forgotten what day it was myself. It took her 10 seconds to realise her mistake, then I got a big cuddle and a kiss. Today saw us leaving Ubud to move on to greener pastures. We were scheduled to catch the first fast boat of the day to Lembongan, a stunning island where we’d all relax and chill out for the duration of our stay. First things first we needed breakfast, so at 6:30am we got up and went about getting ready. Sarah and I packed our final things away, then went to knock for her parents. SHOCKER, we were ready before Ann and Simon, but not by much. We all then went for breakfast. After that we moved our bags to the reception area and waited on our driver. To pass the time we made small talk with the hotel manager.

The driver was running half an hour behind schedule. It was around 8:15am before he showed up, the boat left at 9:30, and the port was a good one hour drive away. Ann, more so than the rest, was paranoid we weren’t going to make it in time. Even more so when Simon asked the driver to stop so he could make a withdraw. The driver spoke extremely good English, and he was asking about what sort of cars we drove back home, he then explained how his son is studying to become an accountant, he was a very friendly and chatty man. I enjoyed listening to him talk because of the way he rolled his R’s. Every so often he’d say the name of a place like Sempur, but when he said it, it came out as “Sempurrrrrrrr”. At 9:20am we had arrived, but narrowly missing the boat was the least of our worries when we saw what waited for us up ahead.

The fast boat we’d be taking across the sea to Lembogan, floated atop the passing waves in an uncontrollable manner. Each wave was around 5 foot high, and forced the boat all over the place. Ann was really worried by this. There were porters whose job it was to carry everyone’s large holdalls aboard the boat, but they expected a tip upon their return. The way people got aboard resembled the two pence machines at an arcade. The ones where the shelve moves back and forth casually pushing any hangers on off the edge. As the tide went out, it was do or die for everyone. I found it slightly amusing as I saw Ann run on behind Sarah, I don’t know why, maybe it was the swaying boat that made everyone look uncoordinated that did it. I climbed aboard after them, but because the wave was going out as I climbed on, there was no issue. The hardest part was walking down the aisle to my seat. When Simon sat down beside me I looked out the window, that’s when I saw it. There was an upturned boat, which had clearly been there a while. Not the best sight to see given the circumstances. Just when we thought we were safe, it got worse. I didn’t learn of this until later on when Sarah told me, as the last few passengers climbed aboard, the anchor rope snapped. The anchor at the back of the boat, which was holding it to the beach, now served no purpose. The only one keeping us from washing up on the shore was the front anchor. As I looked around the boat I could see these worries and scared expressions on the passenger’s faces. At first I wondered what the big deal was, until I noticed the back end of the boat tipping over on itself. Fortunately the wave passed, and the boat levelled, but there was one particular passenger who feared for her child’s safety. She asked a man if he’d mind swapping with her, but you could tell he was also scared. He shouted back at her saying “yes, just give me a minute”. Wimps, the lot of them. There was nothing to worry about, even if the Lonely Planet had printed horror stories of the crossing on its pages. After a nauseous half an hour voyage, the boat parked safely alongside the shore of Lembongan.

When all the bags had been offloaded by the friendly Balinesian staff, we were escorted to a small truck for a free lift to our accommodation. We shared the truck with a cool looking surfer dude, who had with him a really lightweight board. For all I knew he was a world famous surfer, he certainly had the build for it. God I wish I could surf… Sorry, I went a little off track there. Our new resort was just as pretty as the last (which you’ll see in the pics) but for different reasons. Inata had more of a modern meets traditional vibe, whereas Nanuk was comprised of wooden huts, giving off the more authentic island experience. Surprisingly each hut had a/c inside. Up until now, all the huts we’d stayed in were fan only. There was a small pool to cool down in, a restaurant which sold food throughout the day, and lovely grounds to explore. It was definitely worth the price we were paying. We were given a welcome drink each by the staff, and when Sarah told them it was my birthday, they said “we’ll party later” – we never did 😦

After our drinks, the guys told us our rooms were ready and walked us to them. It took a while for everyone to get sorted, but around midday I was finally given my presents. I was like a kid at Christmas. All those items I’d ordered on eBay had gone from digital images to real life tangible objects. For my birthday I received the Nintendo system from Sarah (much to her concern, she feared I’d give it more attention than her… she thought right). I got a few cards from my mum, nan, and Sarah’s parents. My mum also got me a new Starbucks card to replace the one Sarah and I had rinsed. After I’d unwrapped everything and read all my cards, I spent a while playing on my new toy as the others sat by the pool. Eventually I left the Nintendo to charge in the room, then joined Sarah and her parents. After a short time swimming around, we moved over to the restaurant for some dinner.

Before we ordered we spoke with Jacob, he was one of the staff members who spoke excellent English. Jacob told us of the many day trips to do on Lembogan, and reinforced my decision to snorkel with the others rather than do a dive. He told me it worked out cheaper to do it as a group, and because I was the only one with a diving license it meant I’d have to pay double the price for the privilege of going under. When we learned all there was to do we had dinner, followed by a walk. It was a hot day, but a nice kind of hot, either that or Sarah and I had well and truly acclimatised. Poor Ann and Simon hated it, the pair of them nearly melted into blobs on the floor every few feet. The first beach we located at the end of our resort was kind of dirty. This was because all the boats were docked there, the fuel and oils stained the water. Instead of going there, we located a hidden gem off the beaten track. It was stunning. The beach was guarded by two colossal mountains at either end, the sand was white, and the sea was crystal. The best thing was, because it was hidden, we had the whole thing to ourselves for the length of time we were there. After a while Ann found the heat too much, and had to sit it out in the shade. Sarah and I took a final stroll up and down the shore, then we all left together. On the way back I spotted the most adorable calf I’d ever seen, its eyes were so big and shiny that I just wanted to give it a cuddle, but I didn’t think mummy cow would have been too pleased with that, so I settled for a picture instead. Back at the resort, Sarah and I got back in the pool to spend some time floating about, before getting out to dry off in the sun. Every year on the 24th of May it’s always sunny, and today was no exception. Until around 4pm that was. Out of nowhere the skies filled with grey clouds, making Sarah and I come to the conclusion that staying on the sun loungers was probably a redundant idea. That’s when Sarah came up with a brilliant idea, to get some beers and return to the room.

Just as we were about to climb the steps of our hut, we saw Sarah’s parents in the chill out area below, so we did the same. The huts were divided between an upstairs and a downstairs. Upstairs housed the bedrooms, downstairs had two chill out beds to relax on during the day. This is when I began playing on my new toy. The 3d effects were great, if not a little disorientating. It came with warnings to take breaks every 15 minutes when using the 3d, but what do they know… Just kidding, eye care is a very serious matter. After an hour or so, Sarah and I returned to our outdoor bathroom, tucked away behind our hut, to shower. We had plans that evening, which had been arranged in advance during dinner. Sarah really wanted it to be perfect for me, so she went online to reserve us a table at a fancy restaurant which had 5 star reviews. When I was dried and dressed, I told sarah she’d have to hurry up if she wanted to see the sunset. In the end she told me to go on ahead and she’d catch up – she didn’t. Instead I went with Ann and Simon. There was nothing to see though, the sun was now masked behind the large dark clouds, and one ginormous thunderhead. That made for spectacular photos whenever I caught a lightning bolt tearing through its dark colour. After that we returned to the resort, where only 15 minutes later our reserved restaurant’s shuttle had arrived to pick us up.

The restaurant was amazing, everything was top notch, from the look of the place to the quality of the food. The only downside was the time we had to wait for it to arrive. Although there were storm clouds overhead, it still wasn’t raining, instead there was a nice cool breeze. Our drinks arrived in reasonably good time, but when you get through a milkshake and a jug of water before your food arrives, you get a little irritated. After a while the rain just couldn’t hold off any longer and began falling all around us. It wasn’t fast, or heavy enough to warrant moving tables like we did, but after seeing others beginning to evacuate the outdoor area, we did the same. It took over an hour for our meals to arrive, and all I ordered were the ribs. It was a good job the salad was an all you can eat sort of deal, otherwise we’d have started eating the decorative table arrangements. The food was lovely when it finally arrived, but because of how long it took, it made Sarah feel bad. She kept apologising on the restaurants behalf, but there was no need, I wasn’t bothered at all. I was just frustrated by how long they took to serve us. At just gone 9pm we were able to get the free shuttle back to our resort, where I then spent the next hour and a half skyping my mum and nan. Because it was so dark out, it was difficult for them to see me. Disturbingly, the only place they got a good view of the birthday boy was in our bathroom. The lighting was slightly better beside the toilet, so at least I got to sit while we spoke. Whilst I was there, I figured I’d introduce them to the greatest bathroom gadget of all time.. the bum hose. This device cracked them up to no end, mostly because of how powerful it was. If you weren’t careful you could do yourself some real damage, I’m pretty sure it was capable of cracking the porcelain, it was that powerful. I thanked my mum and nan for my birthday gifts, then said my goodbyes. I was so tired by the end, yet I still managed to write the days blog. Even on my birthday I didn’t give myself a day off. To conclude my evening, I went on Facebook to see if anyone had wished me a happy birthday – they had. Even as I checked it, the wishes kept coming. At last count I had over 35. I truly am loved, for all those who sent your kind words, I love and miss you all.
Happy Birthday to me.
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Day 220: The Confessions of a Shopaholic

It still baffles me to this day, how are women so easily able to be interested in shopping. Here in Bali, every third stall is the same. I have stressed this point countless times, yet both Ann and Sarah are always able to find something to buy. Given the chance I’m sure they’d be capable of finding mud in a snowstorm. The reason I have opened today’s post like this is because for a part of the day both Simon and I were dragged around the shops. The rest of the day was spent at the resort. That’s right folks, today we took a day off the tourist thing and just relaxed.

• To say it was our day off Sarah still insisted we set an alarm. This meant after breakfast she’d be up early enough to capitalise on the sunbathing all day. At 8am we all met at the restaurant and conversed around the table about the newest headline in England. Two Muslim extremist had chopped off the head of an innocent British soldier. This was horrendous news, and what’s worse was the attacker’s rationalisation to the cameraman of what he’d done. Throughout the day Facebook was plagued with the opinions of armchair philosophers, each throwing in their two pence worths on the subject. The most common being “kill them all!!!”, or “get them out of our country!!!!” Both opinions are fine, as they are after all only opinions, but what’s not acceptable is the fact they are uneducated opinions. Instead of these people directing their hatred towards the Jihad extremists, these people posting nonsense on Facebook, believe all Muslims think like these men, and therefor should be punished. It’s sad that the press in our country push these ideas upon people, leaving everyone scared and angry for all the wrong reasons. I hope one day, as human beings, we will evolve to something greater than we currently are. All this violence will only evoke more violence, and on some level I guess that fuels wars, all the while the cowards in the governments continue to get rich from it all. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying these two psychopaths shouldn’t be punished in some way or another, I just feel that if we were to live in a society that kills out of revenge, what would that say about society itself. It’s a very delicate subject indeed, I’ve been walking on eggshells just by mentioning it in this post, and I chose not to have an opinion on the subject because, ultimately, I can’t do anything about it. All I will say is I don’t think violence is the answer. By killing these men more extremists will act out. Then again, the popular reaction to that would be, by killing them it would set an example for others who’d attempt the same mindless attack. Over the period of the day this topic was discussed, but in the end, everyone had to agree to disagree. At the end of the day the human race is going to be its own demise anyway, in the mean time read my blog and be happy for what you’ve got.

With the world set to rights for the second day running, we chilled by the pool. I began by reading through previous blogs to get up to date. I quit after half an hour or so to return to the room where it was cool. It was too hot to concentrate, and there were no shady spots. In the comfort of the a/c I spent the next 3 hours finalising everything. Just before I’d finished, Sarah came back to take a break from the heat as well. Within 10 minutes of her arrival, the weather outside changed. Down came the rain, soaking everything in a matter of seconds. We were then trapped for the next hour or so as we waited for it to pass. Eventually it subsided and Ann came knocking on our door with some bags in her hands. Inside each one was additional clothing they’d been holding onto for us. I tried on one of my shirts, but was saddened when I looked like a young boy in his dad’s clothing. There used to be no room to breath when I wore it, nowadays it looked more like a pyjama top. If I were to wear it again in Australia, one thing’s for sure, I’d need to hit the gym hard to get back what I’d lost. Sarah and I strategically packed everything into our bags, leaving little room for anything else, then the four of us walked into town now that the rain had stopped.

The first thing we did was order food at a restaurant we’d eaten at the other day. I had two dinners on accounts of being so hungry. After that we spent the next 2 or 3 hours looking around the many shops. I absolutely hated this by now. Sarah and I were still looking for acceptable gifts to buy our friends, but there was literally nothing, unless of course they’d like a mini statue of Buddha or a frog. As we walked down the street we crossed over back and forth many times, stopping in every shop which sold trinkets, sarongs, and other junk. At first I thought I was going mad, how was it possible for these two women to keep finding something new to look at!? My mind was put to rest when I discovered Simon shared the exact same thought, for the most part he’d wait outside while the others went in. It always seemed I’d follow them in each place like a lost puppy. One particular shop we stopped in saw me being the main attraction. I was the eye candy for once! There were three women (short women) working inside, when I stepped through the door they made a point of telling Sarah I was tall – you know, in case she hadn’t already noticed. One of the ladies then stood next to me and took off her high heeled shoes. She was now shorter than ever, and just about came above my belly button. “While you’re down there love!” Would be the popular sexist phrase wouldn’t it?

After a while of walking around aimlessly, we reached the indoor market area. This was a ridiculous place that frustrated me to no end. If every shop up until now looked the same, these small stalls were practically mirror images of each other. The first section seemed to sell nothing but sarongs, yet Ann and Sarah spent a good 15 minutes looking at everything. We then moved on to the next area which sold slightly different merchandise, but for the most part it was pretty much the same. Masks, penis bottle openers, children’s clothing, plates, sarongs… I can’t emphasise enough just how many sarongs there were. I’d had enough when we were nearing the half an hour mark. Upstairs I managed to buy a couple more pairs of shorts, but this didn’t make me any happier to be there. The lady initially started off the bidding at 250,000 (£17) for both pairs. Seeing as I’d only ever paid 40,000 (£2.71) each, that’s all I was willing to pay. She put up a good fight, coming down to 200,000, then 150,000, followed by 100,000, before finally matching the price I was used to. Shortly after that purchase we called it a day. We made a quick cash withdraw ready for Lembongan tomorrow, then made our way back towards Inata.

At first we feared we’d have to walk the whole way because we hadn’t rang the resort for a shuttle. By a stroke of luck, when we reached Cafe Des Artistes, the shuttle happened to appear behind us. It was a new driver behind the wheel, so he didn’t recognise us, and nearly didn’t stop. After much hand waving and frantic jumping, he hit the brakes. He was then kind enough to take us the rest of the way, saving our tired legs the additional 15 minute walk. Back in our room Ann helped me with my online banking again. It took a while, but eventually we sorted everything out. After that, Ann returned to her room, then I Skyped my mum. Over the period of our conversations she told me about a film she’d recently watched, and in return I told her about “The Mentalist”. Together we would solve the mystery of Red John. Around 7:45pm we caught the shuttle to the Cafe Des Artistes area. There was a nearby restaurant we hadn’t tried yet, and seeing as it was our last night in Ubud, we gave it a go.

Their food was nice, if not slow to arrive. I wasn’t feeling all that hungry so I only ordered a chicken sandwich. We had the pleasure of sitting around a paraffin powered candle, which Simon toyed with throughout, making the flame roar and simmer. To both Sarah and I the smell reminded us of the flame dancers from Phi Phi. When it came time to get the bill, because of how long it took to arrive, we were against the clock. We told the driver we’d be ready by 10pm, and it was already getting on for five to. Sarah and I popped to a nearby convenient store, while Ann and Simon settled what we owed. We grabbed a few items, and made yet another withdraw ready for Lembongan – there are no cash machines there, so it was better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it. When we got back, Sarah’s parents were waiting on their change. With everything sorted we walked up the road to find our driver. Back at Inata we said goodnight to Ann and Simon at our door, then went about packing our final items. I took a quick shower, then concluded the evening by writing the blog. I even checked it over ahead of time, as I wanted to be completely free tomorrow for one reason, and one reason only, it was my birthday. Like the famous song goes… “It’s my birthday and I’ll not check over blogs if I don’t want to!”

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Day 219: What a Liberty

So today involved a lot of time in the car. Our private taxi driver showed up first thing this morning ahead of time, and stayed with us right through until 5:30pm. We decided that today we wanted to visit Tulamben so we could do done snorkelling. Because we were staying in Ubud it meant a 3 hour drive to reach our destination. Seeing as I’ve already explained countless times how green and pretty Bali is, I will save time by not repeating myself over and over again. Everywhere is green, and rich with rice, and water, and wildlife. There are only so many ways I can say that without coming across like someone with Alzheimer’s. it truly is a stunning place that needs to be seen to be believed. It’s almost as if you enter a world in HD. Now, enough about that, lets get started with the day.

It was the earliest start yet, the alarm rang at 7:15am. I had accidentally set it for the wrong time, as that was when we’d scheduled breakfast to be served. This meant we had little time to get ready and meet Sarah’s parents at the restaurant. I quickly packed a day bag, then we headed over for food.

Sarah didn’t like hers and ended up leaving the majority of it. I wasn’t all that hungry either, but shoved it all down to clear the plate. At just gone 8am, while I was returning to our room, I saw the driver pulling up. Quickly we darted around the room and grabbed the last of our things, before climbing into our taxi for the day ahead.

Our plan was to visit Tulamben, where we could snorkel the shipwreck Liberty. The ship once belonged to the US Navy, and was used to carry cargo. It was torpedoed in January 1942 by a Japanese submarine near Lombok. It was then towed and beached at Tulamben, where its cargo of rubber and railway parts were saved. This was prevented by an invasion by the Japanese, and the ship sat on the beach until the 1963 eruption of Mount Agung broke it in two, leaving it just off the shoreline. Nowadays it’s home to many sea creatures and encrusted in coral, much to many divers and snorkelers delights. The journey to reach Tulamben was very peaceful. There were hardly any tight windy roads like the day before, and instead we had long smooth straight roads for the 2 and a half hour journey. During which time the three of us put the world to rights by covering the various topics of religion, politics, supernatural phenomenon, and many others that nobody really knows the answers to. The reason it takes so long to get anywhere in Bali is because there are no motorways or other forms of fast road. Not that this matters, as you’re never really in a rush to get anywhere, and the views outside the windows are forever captivating. Around 11am, to midday, we had arrived.

We initially stopped outside a dive centre hoping to hire some snorkel gear, only to be directed down the street to a more popular area. One of the guys showed us the way on his scooter, shortly followed by another man when they switched out. The end result saw us parking up in a car park just beside a pebbled beach. Here we could hire the gear from a nearby shop, as well as buy food and drinks from the neighbouring shops. At first we wondered if our driver had brought us to the correct place, because there weren’t that many tourists around. After asking a couple people we found out it was, it just happened to be a quiet day. Immediately we walked over to the shop to get our gear, but were staggered at how much they were asking for. 100,000 rupiah each. Like usual Sarah bartered them down, saying it suggested a price more along the lines of 30,000 in the Lonely Planet. The guy came down to 60,000 after that, and although we weren’t happy about it, we paid. Ann then paid an additional 20,000 when she requested a life jacket. The price for that was also negotiated, as to begin with he wanted another 30,000.

We left a few things with our driver in the car, then Ann began trying to put in her contact lenses. This was something she’d not had much practise in, and it took a good 10 minutes before the first one was in properly. It involved a lot of blinking, eye watering, and frustrated attempts before it stuck to Ann’s eyeball, but we all cheered her when she accomplished the task. It’s not an eat feat, but like anything, it gets easier with practise. The hardest part is always remembering to remove them after a night out. With Ann’s contacts in, and our gear in tow, we went to the beach. It was here that I wished I hadn’t left my flip flops behind. The pebbles were all different sizes, and this made for an extremely painful experience as I walked across them. Sarah and I were the first to get our fins and snorkels on, and went on ahead. By the time we were 20 metres out, Ann and Simon were still figuring it out on the shore. Instantly we saw all the usual fish we were familiar with, angel, parrot, clown, trumpet, as well as many others. All of which were minding their business sucking on rocks, a sound that could be heard anytime you put your head under. As we swam out a little farther, that’s when we saw it, the two pieces of the shipwreck Liberty. Surprisingly the individual rivets on each panel of metal were still visible. Just as promised, all around it were different types of fish swimming in and out of the many clusters of coral. Deep down, near the bottom, were divers. As we snorkelled about on the surface, every once in a while their oxygen bubbles would float to the surface and tickle our stomachs. It was amazing to see a ship wreck up close, and have it be so near to the surface. Usually people would have to be advanced divers to get this experience, I was happy because it meant I now wouldn’t have to pay an additional £200 to upgrade my divers license. I could tick “explore a shipwreck” off my bucket list and be happy about it. Sarah and I couldn’t have been at the wreck for any more than 5 minutes before I told her to stop looking, and instead pay full attention to a far greater sight. Ann was now making her way into the water. In an uncoordinated manor she began walking backwards whilst wearing her fins, all the while Simon was walking forward holding her hand and guiding her. It was like watching someone who’d had one too many drinks. You knew she was going to fall, you just didn’t know when. Every few steps Ann had to regain her composure before advancing a couple more steps. Eventually Simon left her to it, and she stumbled down in. Sarah and I then made our way back towards her, where she became an even more uncoordinated mess.

Because of Ann’s life jacket, it made turning from her back to her belly damn near impossible. She then said the other reason she didn’t want to turn over was because she didn’t want to get her face wet. Like the timid little mouse Ann is, she feared the water would get under her mask and she wouldn’t be able to see. Sarah helped roll her over, and held her hand as they began swimming out. At first she kept her mum in the shallows to build up her confidence, then when she was ready, Sarah guided her over to the wreck. There was a constant current throughout our visit which made staying in one place very tricky. When I saw a group of divers at the bottom of the ship I swam down to say hello. It was so deep that I almost feared I wouldn’t make it back, I had to clear my air spaces 3 whole times before I reached the bottom. I grabbed a handful of sand while I was down there, then when I looked up, I had to have been a good 20 foot down at least. Quickly I began swimming back towards the surface, and I gave Sarah the ash like sand as a gift. She was also scared I wouldn’t make it back to the top. Sarah and I were the only ones to be constantly stung by the sea lice, every so often we kept feeling quick sharp stabbing pains whenever they touched our skin. After a while we’d had enough, and decided to go for dinner.

It was a trickier process to get out of the water than it was getting in. Eventually we all managed it, but because of the current, we ended up farther away than planned. I was the first one back, so I threw Sarah her flip flops, followed by Simon’s and Ann’s, then we returned to the car park to shower off. We would’ve liked to have visited Ahmad after lunch to snorkel some of the coral there, but our driver told us it was too far away to go both there and back to hand in our gear later on. Instead we told him not to worry about it, then found a restaurant on the main road. The food was great and hit the spot, the only qualm was the amount of flies around us. Every two seconds they were pitching on our skin. When everyone had eaten we returned to the waters.

This time however, we weren’t there for long. Probably around 40 minutes. Simon sat on the beach the whole time, while the rest of us went to see what we could see. By now the current was moving in a different direction, and we allowed it to take us on its current, observing the coral reefs as we went. Ann was fortunate enough to see both Nemo and Dori during our time there, and there were also giant starfish of various bright colours. I grew tired and bored after a while, because for me, nothing’s been the same since the Perhentian islands. We saw so much there that I’ve spoiled it for myself anywhere else. I left Sarah and Ann to swim around and returned to Simon, but ten minutes later they’d also had enough. I found it quite difficult to get out, but nowhere near as difficult as the others. Sarah had her toe pinched by a crab. She screamed so loud that it set of some nearby dogs. Whereas Ann could barely move two centimetres before she looked as though she was going to fall over. It took them about 5 minutes, but eventually they reached us. We then returned the gear, and showered and dried off, before getting in our drivers car. I think he was happy because we decried to leave earlier than planned, this meant he would get back in good time to do his chanting at the dance show later on that night.

It took longer to get back than it did to arrive because of the weather. An hour in, the skies turned black and the rain began to fall. It took about 3 hours, most of us were tired on the way, so conversation was scarce. Our driver asked us at one point if we wanted to stop at a silk factory to see how the locals made it. Inside, the factory looked how I’d imagine a sweat shop to look. It wasn’t, it was all above board and belonged to a local family who all worked there together. The silk products were created using wooden machines which weaved tiny strands of thread into beautiful one off items. These varied from cloths to scarves, which we got to see in the shop upstairs. After a 15 minute stop we got back in the car and returned to Inata resort.

When we pulled up at the entrance the staff ran to our aid with umbrellas in tow. Simon made the joke that they didn’t need to worry because we were from England, and such weather was a normality. We each selected what we wanted for breakfast the next day, then returned to our rooms. We needed a shower to help warm ourselves up, as the rain had left us feeling somewhat chilly. There was so much rain in fact, that it caused the road outside our resort to flood. The showers were cut short when Ann showed up at our door requesting help with the removal of her lenses. I tried my best to pinch them from her eyeball, but she squirmed to much for me to get a grip. I gave her instructions, then she returned to her room to try again. I spent the rest of my time watching films, while Sarah took the phone to her parents room to FaceTime her sister and niece. After an hour or so, everyone was ready to go out for the evening.

We caught the shuttle into town and got dropped off in a different area of Monkey Forest Road. Sadly, in the area we were dropped off, most of the shops were closed. I say sadly, what I actually mean is thankfully. Because of this, we spent what time we would have used visiting those shops in a supermarket instead. It was worse than I’d thought, after collecting the usual toiletries and snacks, Sarah and Ann spotted an upstairs section, and like moths to a flame they went towards it. The upstairs section sold such items as clothes, shoes, sunglasses, and my personal favourite… knock off toys. They looked identical to their authentic counterparts, but had much more exciting names like “super warrior”, and “robot terminator”. After finding nothing to spend our money on, we headed back downstairs to pay for our goods, followed by finding somewhere to eat. I don’t recall the name of the restaurant, but the food was served twice as fast as the previous evening. Although the food wasn’t the best, at least we got to listen to the truly unique sounds coming from a woman in a nearby temple. No, I’m not talking about hymns, chanting, or prayer, instead this woman was hocking up something from 5 years ago. At least that’s what it sounded like. Every 5 minutes, just as we were about to place a forkful of food in our mouths, we heard the attractive sound of “harrwwwkkkkkkkk”, followed by the even more attractive sound of it leaving her mouth. It was the perfect soundtrack to our meals. After we settled the bill, we got the staff to phone our resort requesting them to send the shuttle to pick us up. I barely had enough time to grab a bottle of water before it arrived.

The driver and Simon spent the whole journey back talking about football, and as we neared the resort the roads had worsened. The mud and water together had created a murky river floating across the surface. Fortunately for us we were in a 4X4 and it didn’t slow us down at all. When we got back I just managed to catch my mum on Skype before she headed out to work, then I got to work on solving one of life’s biggest mysteries… “Who is Red John?” For those of you not in the know, Red John is the name of a serial killer on one of mine and Sarah’s favourite American tv shows. For 5 series now the viewers have been kept in the dark, as the stories protagonist “Patrick Jane” tries to figure out who the murderer of his wife and child is. It’s a brilliantly made tv show, and does a great job of keeping you guessing. After an hours research I am still led to believe my first hunch, that Patrick Jane himself will turn out to be Red John. It’s just an idea, but there is evidence to support it. Obviously this means nothing to those of you who don’t watch the show, but to those of you who do I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the subject. Drop me a message on WordPress if you like, or add me on Facebook (Ben Norris) and together we’ll solve this mystery. After my detective skills led me back to what I already believed in, I got to work on the blog. It took forever and a day to complete, and my eyes are on fire from the constant battle between concentration and fending off sleep. It’s been a long time coming, but now I’m truly ready to catch some Z’s. Maybe in my sleep I’ll solve the Red John case once and for all.

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Day 218: Oh My God, Is That Sarah Duxbury!?!?!?!

I’m going to start off today by putting my honest foot forward and say that I wasn’t the biggest fan of what we got up to. Unlike the volcano experience, which was new and exciting, today’s trips didn’t compare. We hired a driver for the entirety of the day and got him to take us to four separate locations. Each place was about an hours drive apart, so to save time, I won’t bother writing about the journeys in between, instead I’ll just write the names of the places, and explain what we did and saw at each one. Because of all the driving involved, today has felt quite long, here’s hoping it won’t take as long to write about.

We didn’t have the luxury of a lie in this morning. With the alarm waking us up at 8am, we got up and went for breakfast. We each enjoyed our meals and had only a small amount of time afterwards to return to our rooms and pack a day bag.

With such items as sunglasses, cameras, and mosquito repellents packed, we went to reception to find our driver waiting for us. When we were all sat inside the car Sarah told the driver the plan. He then devised the best route in which to take. From where we were in Ubud, he told us it would be easiest, and quickest, if we drove to the most northernly location first. It took an hour or so to reach Git Git, and we all felt a little travel sick by the time we’d arrived, after going around all the windy hilly roads.

Git Git: had three separate waterfalls to admire. Because I’d already seen a mightily impressive set of waterfalls in Laos, I felt as though I could check it off my bucket list. So at first I wasn’t that excited about seeing any more, although that all changed as we were guided around the grounds. The man spoke very good English, and he’d stop us at every plant we came across. Most of which were coffee related. He showed us Bali coffee, vanilla bean, as well the many banana trees. It was very educational. He surprised us when he said he’d been travelling himself. Through his job at the waterfalls he’d met many people from all over, including Sydney, Australia. He explained that he was able to visit them because they’d pay for everything. He also told us how he’d worked in a kiwi factory in New Zealand. He was a very nice man and had been doing his job for the past 10 years. What he really wanted to do now was move to a different area of Bali and become a taxi driver, he said there was more money to be made doing that, as currently he had to rely on tips as added income. We only paid to look at 2 waterfalls, the third was a 2km walk away which was too far. When we reached the first one we could’ve got in the water if we’d wanted, but after learning the temperature was only 16 degrees, we changed our minds. The second waterfall was the most dangerous. Our guide explained that there had been two deaths in total. Both tourists got too close to the edge and slipped on the wet rocks. The water underneath the waterfall acted like a whirlpool and they couldn’t get out. After seeing both falls we returned to the beginning. Just as we were about to get back in the car, it hammered down. The roads were so wet and windy that the two boys on the motorbike in front of us slid and fell. We were lucky not to run them over. It was about another hour drive until we reached Bedugul temple and lake.

Bedugul Temple and Lake: was an area which happened to be massively overpopulated. Where all these tourists had come from was anyone’s guess, but it mostly appeared to be teenagers on school trips. Although it was hot and sunny when we arrived, there were dark clouds making their way across. This in turn ruined the photo we took of the temple, as the mountain in the background was hidden behind fluffy black characters. While Sarah and I were trying to take pictures of a certain part of the temple, we were both approached by an Asian couple. They asked us if we’d mind posing for a photo with her husband. We did, but then I was shoved aside for the next photo when the guy wanted to stand closer to Sarah. I’d never felt so rejected. We presumed they were done and swiftly moved on, only to run into them again two minutes later. This time the lady wanted a photo taken with Sarah, while I was left on the sidelines looking like a fat kid waiting to be picked for a sports team. The grounds were beautifully preserved. All the grass was mown, the flowers were extremely colourful, and all the statues and buildings were in great shape. There happened to be a ceremony as we walked around, but we couldn’t go and watch because we weren’t Hindu. That didn’t stop me peeking over the wall though. We didn’t stay at the temple and lake long, but before we left, something truly magical happened. If ever Sarah wanted to feel like a pop super star, today that dream came true. As we headed towards the exit we saw a large group of Malaysian teenage girls. Instantly they spotted Sarah, and in unison shouted over “hello”. When Sarah said hello back they begged her to take a photo with them. This had to have been some sort of record, there were at least 12 girls crowding around to pose with the golden haired one. Sarah only allowed the one photo to be taken when she realised she’d be there for a while otherwise. As soon as the first one was taken, the girls began fighting between themselves to get as close to her as they could. Obviously I wasn’t going to let a moment like that pass without documenting the moment on camera. We then returned to our taxi with the infamous Sarah Duxbury hidden underneath a coat. Not really.

Jatiluwih: was the name of the large rice paddies we visited next. Ubud was mostly made up of these, and this is the main reason why the place is so green. But Jatiluwih was slightly different in the sense that it was ginormous. Most of the rice fields you see around Ubud are small, but the ones here went on for as far as the eyes could see. It was a shame the weather was so miserable, as otherwise we’d have taken a stroll around to admire it in all its glory. There was every shade of green conceivable, from lime through to emerald. While we were there we remembered a recommended restaurant in the Lonely Planet. It encouraged tourists to try the suckling pig. Our driver dropped us off right outside the front door. Before getting out we gave him some money for his dinner as well. Apparently when you hire a driver for the whole day, it’s considered kosher to pay for their meals. Simon handed the guy some money then we went inside to eat. We had an astonishing view of the paddies while we ate, and the food was just as nice as the view. The pork was so tender that it practically fell apart in your mouth. When we’d finished, the loudest clap of thunder happened right above our heads, we could feel the vibrations it caused. It was so powerful that it set off some car alarms down the street. Our driver returned from where he was eating and took us to the final stop of the day, Munduk.

Munduk: was the name of the temple we stopped at on the way back to our resort. It took a while to get there, because on the way we got stuck behind a large group of Hindus walking down the street playing music as part of a ceremony. Much like a hearse carrying a coffin, it would’ve been rude to overtake. Meaning we had to stay behind them for a good 20 minutes. The temple happened to be the briefest stop of the day. This was mostly because the time was almost 5pm, and we only had our driver for another half an hour. The blessing was, because of the time, it meant there weren’t that many people there. We paid the admission price, then walked around the designated pathway for tourists. It took us around the outside of the temple where we could see some Hindus praying. They were dressed all in white, and the temple itself was beautiful. It looked like a well preserved ruin – if that’s possible. The bricks looked very old, and the whole area was surrounded by a moat. Because the sun was beginning to set, at certain angles it made for very good pictures. After we’d walked around the perimeter, we returned to our taxi. On the way we spotted many cockerels in cages, when we later asked our driver about this he told us they were used as part of a pre ceremony event. Unfortunately the event was cock fighting. Apparently it’s only illegal when betting is involved, but it’s perfectly fine so long as it’s for religious purposes. It makes me sick. When we got back to the car we were driven for another 40 minutes before we reached Inata.

He dropped us off at the gates, then we asked him if he’d mind taking us somewhere else tomorrow. Only this time it would be at the earlier hour of 8am. I hate early starts. The poor man’s day wasn’t over just yet, he told us that in the evenings he is involved with the dance shows as one of the chanters. He’d also be doing the same tomorrow night, one thing you couldn’t call him was lazy. Sarah and myself then spent the next hour or so in the swimming pool, while the others watched from the loungers. Like usual, around 6pm the Mosquitos came out and we retreated to our rooms, where for the next hour and a half we remained.

At 7:30pm we caught the shuttle to Cafe Des Artistes for tea, that was the initial plan at least. On the way Sarah spotted an Italian based restaurant. Outside was a sign which read “margarita pizza, 30,000 rupiah”. That was the equivalent of £2. SOLD!!! I was so hungry by this point that even the place mats looked appetising, and much like the Cookie Monster, I’d have gobbled them down. The food was so cheap that I ordered two dishes, a pizza and spaghetti bolognese. Little did I know they’d take forever and a day to arrive. There are three words I’d use to describe that place… SLOWEST. SERVICE. EVER. The food took so long to arrive that I almost went full circle and came right back around to being sated, it also made me regret asking for the bolognese to arrive first. When it eventually showed up, I don’t think I breathed between mouthfuls. It can’t have taken me any more than 2 minutes to clear the mountain of noodles. I then had the misfortune of waiting another 15 minutes on my pizza. They did apologise the whole time, so I can’t be that mad, but it felt like an eternity every minute I had to wait. Because we told the shuttle driver to come get us at 9pm, Ann and Simon went on to the shop while Sarah and I waited on my food. When it came, I cleared it just as fast as the spaghetti. Sarah and I then settled the bill and met her parents outside. Two minutes later our shuttle arrived.

Back at the resort we briefly discussed what time to get up in the morning to have breakfast… 7:15am. SEVEN FIFTEEN!!!! I was now beginning to wonder if we’d ever get a day off travelling again. It was only 9:15pm and I was shattered. We said our good nights outside our room, then somehow I managed to muster up the energy to write this post. It’s now 11pm and I am looking forward to sleep. I’d need all the energy I could get, as tomorrow we’d be snorkelling a shipwreck.

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Day 217: The Day With No Name

By comparison to yesterday’s action packed shenanigans, today was slow and boring. We did nothing bar eat breakfast, sit by the pool, go into town, and go out for tea. That is it. Literally, that is it. I don’t even know what to name today, I can’t think of anything witty at all. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about it at all, it was quite nice to relax for once. Since Sarah’s parents arrival we’d been moving nonstop. I think they were quite happy to do nothing as well. I will do my best to elaborate on the day’s happenings, but don’t be expecting a lengthy read by all means.

Our day started at 8:55am. The alarm was set for that time because Sarah’s parents preferred to have breakfast early. Thanks to all the walking and swimming the previous day, I was out for the count. I was in such a deep sleep that when I awoke and stretched, I thought I was a balled up piece of paper unravelling itself. For once Ann was impressed when she came to our door because we were up. When Sarah and I were dressed, the 3 of us went for breakfast.

For the first time since our arrival, new guests were beginning to check in. Because of this, before having breakfast, Simon and Ann did the trick of putting towels on the loungers in the hopes of reserving some. Something they’d probably leaned from the German couple during their bike ride yesterday. Ann, Sarah, and myself all had the same meal, strawberry pancakes. To say they were small, we all struggled to clear our plates. Afterwards we went over to the pool area where we spent the majority of the afternoon. To be honest there’s not very much for me to say. I started off listening to my iPod on one of the loungers, and because of the heat I sweat buckets. I sweat so much in fact that the material of the lounger cushion left an imprint of my body on it. It resembled the chalk outline of a body at a crime scene. The funny thing about the heat, although it was hot, Sarah and I didn’t mind it. It wasn’t until her parents came out that we realised we’d acclimatised. They always chose to stay under the shelter of a parasail, and it’s too cold for us to go in their room because of how frosty 18 degrees feels to us now. At the beginning of this trip we were the ones setting the a/c that low, nowadays it’s all about the 25. I spent the afternoon lying in the sun working on my blog and going for a swim when I was too sweaty. Around 4:30pm we thought about going out for dinner. We returned to our rooms to get ready, then walked down the cobbled hill to town.

There was a slight problem at the bottom. A solemn monkey from the sanctuary was busy eating leaves. Ann was petrified of them after our visit the other day, and stayed close to the others as they passed. We followed a different street this time around and bought a few items. I bought two new pairs of shorts for the beach and pool, while both Sarah and I bought gifts for friends. Again, I can’t say what they were in case they’re reading this. By now shopping enraged me. I never enjoyed it, and every other shop sold exactly the same things, yet we still found ourselves stopping in each one. Fortunately, during this visit there weren’t that many to look at, but we were walking so slowly that it drove Simon and I crazy. After about half an hour a storm came over head and forced us into the shelter of a nearby cafe. This was where Ann was introduced to Pad Thai, but sadly it was a bad one. It had no flavour and was full of spicy evilness. Ann then said she’d never have one again, the poor thing didn’t know what she was missing. After dinner we continued up the road, only to come back on ourselves. There were no more shops to look at, so we ended up going back in the ones we’d already visited. Eventually we reached the slip road which took us back to our resort. I told Sarah this was my stop, then Simon and I left the girls to visit a spa, while we returned to Inata.

When we got back all we did was sit on the loungers beside the pool. I briefly signed into Skype to see what was happening, and as luck would have it, my nan was online. I gave her a quick ring to see how everything was going, and I showed her our resort. When my uncle showed up at her house I gave him the same treatment. He predicted the beautiful resort cost us £60 a night… sucker, it only cost us £30! The phone call lasted around 40 minutes. When I’d hung up I returned to find a sleeping Simon. Together we tried to figure out why the tablet still wouldn’t read my sd card. I gave it one last try by wiping the card clean and blowing into the sd port, Ureka, it worked. Sarah would be happy, all our tv shows were back, as well as our photos from the early parts of the trip. In that moment I felt like a technological genius. Next up, the build of an Ironman suit. Around 6pm the Mosquitos came out, so we returned to our rooms.

I took a quick shower then got into bed to watch a newly saved tv show. After it had finished I began writing about the day. I managed to write the first paragraph before Ann and Sarah came back. 7:45pm was the time, and those pampered princesses had been out this whole time getting various treatments. My mind was elsewhere when Sarah got in, and she began asking me what I’d been up to since she’d been gone. I sort of answered them, but I’m not fully aware of where my mind was. 5 minutes previous I was in bed in my own little world typing away, then out of nowhere Sarah disturbed the peace. She then sarcastically said “yes the spa was great, thanks for asking!!” My mind was everywhere and nowhere at the same time, and I hadn’t thought to have asked her. I was thinking we’d be going out for dinner and we’d talk about it then. With a newly p***** off girlfriend we got ready to go out.

Sarah and Ann had made a plan for what we should do the next day. They had discussed it with their taxi driver on the way back from the spa earlier on. Everything they had in mind was a good 2 or 3 hour drive from the resort, so if we wanted to do the various trips they’d have to be spaced out over two days. We all discussed it with the staff of our resort to get a better feel for everything, then caught the shuttle bus into town. We were dropped off outside Starbucks, then walked down our second different street of the day to locate a lovely restaurant. It was called “Nomad” and prided itself on selling foods that contained no additives. There was a brief explanation at the front of the menu which told the story of the owner. He looked to be a successful man having founded several different businesses throughout Indonesia, and named the restaurant “Nomad” because of the many places his job takes him. Their food was great, and afterwards we walked back to Starbucks to get our shuttle back. Because we were running 5 minutes late, the driver had walked up the street to greet us, at first I almost mistook him for another taxi driver trying to get our business. I had to stop myself from shouting over “no thank you” when I recognised his face. Back at the resort we booked a taxi for another all day session tomorrow, and returned to our rooms. Sarah and I then got into bed and concluded the evening with a movie called “I give it a year”. To say its an example of a British comedy making a comeback is an insult. Neither of us found it funny, in fact, I imagine it was about as enjoyable as reading today’s post. If so, I am terribly sorry!

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Day 216: DRAAAAAGOOOOO!!!!!

Today, much like Rocky in Rocky 4, we climbed a mountain. But unlike Rocky In Rocky 4, we didn’t run to the top and scream the name of his Russian opponent. Also unlike Rocky in Rocky 4, we didn’t do it for training purposes, instead we simply climbed to the top for s**** and gigs. I was mighty impressed with myself and the others with me, because we found it surprisingly easy. None of us were out of breath when we reached the summit. The day started really early. With an alarm set for 1:40am we crawled out of bed and began getting ready.

Sarah and myself stood at the entrance to our resort a little later than 2am, I think it was closer to ten past by the time we got there. At first we thought we’d missed the pick up, as on our receipt it said to be ready between the hours of 2am and 2:15am. When the clock read 2:30am we began to worry. To find out what was going on we had to wake the sleeping receptionist. He was led on the floor behind the counter, as I got close he sprang to life, startling me slightly. He rubbed his sleepy eyes and put on his glasses, then told me I’d have to phone the number because he couldn’t read it. No sooner than I was about to pick up the receiver, a car pulled up. It was our ride.

The driver apologised for being late, and told us he’d made the mistake of going to a different Inata resort first. There was already one other tourist in the car, his name was Tony, and came from Finland. If you want to know what he sounded like, just say this sentence in your best Count Dracula impression:
“My name is Tony, and I come from Finland, mwoa ah ah!”
Ok, he didn’t say “mwoa ah ah”, but you get my point. There were four of us doing the day trip in total after we stopped to grab Matilda from her hotel. Matilda came from Cambridge, and as soon as she got in the car she began chatting. Whereas Tony kept to himself all day, and only spoke when spoken to. It was now close to 3am, and the first thing on the agenda was breakfast. Our driver took us to a coffee plantation on the way to Mount Batur. There we were each served a banana pancake, and had to endure the awkward moment when the plantation owner brought out samples of the many coffees he sold. They never reveal their true intentions until you start sampling their products. There were 5 different coffees in small cups placed in front of us. At first we feared one of them was the Luwak poo coffee, after seeing a poster advertising it behind us. It turned out none of them were, as it was too expensive to give away as samples. As soon as we started drinking, the owner came over and began putting his packaged coffees on the table and said, “if you like, you can buy? I have many different sorts”. None of us wanted to buy any, yet we felt obliged to because of how awkward we felt. Sarah was quick to respond saying we had no money. Then the owner walked away leaving the products on the table staring at us. Eventually our driver came to the rescue and took us away.

The drive to the bottom of the mountain was only 15 minutes from the plantation. When we got there our guide introduced herself to us (although I forgot her name instantly I’m ashamed to say). We each took a quick bathroom break, and were given torches afterwards to light the way. It was pitch black all the way to the top, and because there were no buildings to cause any light pollution it meant the night sky was painted with billions of little white dots. The stars shone so brightly above our heads, but our cameras couldn’t pick them up, and it was a shame we didn’t stop frequently enough to appreciate them. I liked the pace our guide set for us, it was very quick. There were many other groups attempting the same feat as us, but we passed them every time they’d stop. I think we stopped all of two times on the way up. Once to have a drink of water, where we met a cute little girl selling water, named Kirsty, and a second time for our guide to make an offering at a shrine. She thanked us for waiting for her, then marched us up the rest of the way. It was tricky in sections because of the loose rocks. I was surprised, because of how fast we were ascending, that none of us were out of breath. To say the only exercise we get these days involves lugging a holdall between accommodations, we did very well to feel as good as we did. Perhaps all that walking in Singapore had prepared us for this. The higher we climbed the more clear the air was to breath in. I’d forgotten what brisk air felt like, because of our altitude, and the time of day, the air was thinner and less humid. For a second it felt like home, and almost as if someone switched on a giant air conditioning unit in the sky. Just before we reached the halfway point our guide slipped on a wet rock, and cut one of her arms and legs. It wasn’t bad, but she made one hell of a thudding sound as she hit against the rocks. Afterwards she told us she walks to the top of the volcano everyday, and that was the first time she’d slipped. At 5:30am we’d reached the halfway point and the world around us was flat and smooth, no more jagged rocks to watch out for. It was here our tour guide gave us some bad news.

She told us that our trip ended there, something we hadn’t been told at the time of booking. The people we’d booked with also said water would be provided, which it wasn’t, hence why the young girl, Kirsty, was flogging the stuff. Our guide then explained that if we wanted to go to the peak we could, and it was up to us how much we wanted to pay her to take us there. After a team huddle, and brief discussion, the decision was unanimous. Of course we wanted to go all the way to the top, what would be the point in climbing all that way only to stop at the halfway point. Seeing as it was only another 20 minute walk we agreed that 50,000 each would be sufficient enough for her. It’s always difficult when they say “it’s up to you”, as you never know what’s considered fair. The last thing we wanted was to come across as offensive. Even at the halfway point we didn’t stop for a rest, our guide knew that if we wanted to make it in time for sunrise, we’d need to leave ASAP. The sun was already changing the colour of the sky in the distance. So off we marched up the steepest slope yet, overtaking more groups as we went. This section was slightly more dangerous than the last. Instead of loose rocks to worry about, we had to go careful not to slip on the black pumice. If we did, the only thing to grab ahold of was the sharp volcanic rocks. Fortunately we all made it without any injuries, all except for Sarah, who got a slight boo boo on the palm of her hand.

To be at the top of the volcano gave me a great sense of elation. They say “nothing in life is worth having if it comes easy”, and I’d just like to say that the view we got to witness definitely didn’t. It was unlike any other I’d seen on earth. As we sat at the edge of the mountain, overlooking all that lay before us, our guide told us we were very lucky that it was so clear. All this week it had been cloudy and raining. I didn’t envy previous climbers in that moment, it was very cold already, had it been raining as well it would have been close to freezing. We could see for miles around. In the distance was the tallest mountain, Mount Agung. Off to the side of that, a little farther away, we could see Lombok, one of the Gili islands. At first it was fairly dark, the sun was still low in the sky at this point, and all that shone from behind the clouds was a red and orange wave of colour. We could just about make out the silhouette of Agung, and see the sheet of clouds praying at its feet. More and more became illuminated with the suns appearance. At first it took its time to rise, but when it started moving you could practically see it climbing higher and higher. The sky looked as though it was warming up. Colours of red, orange, yellow, pink, green, blue, purple burst through the clouds as if someone had spilled paint pots everywhere. Even with all the photos we took, we couldn’t capture what we saw. It was like heaven’s doors had opened, and out walked an angel. In the very moment the sun peered over the clouds, it was almost as if Mother Nature herself was being revealed. It was a moment that will stay with me forever. Much like the Perhentian islands of Malaysia, it’s something I’ll never truly be able to put into words. I felt something that morning, and suddenly I was more grateful than ever for everything I’d seen and done these past 7 and a half months. This truly was what travelling was all about, and to think that if I hadn’t taken the redundancy at work I’d still be there now, missing all of this.

With the sun above the clouds we could finally see everything transparently clear. The clouds floated gently above the lake below like an inviting bed from the gods. They were so close that we were tempted to see if we could run across the tops of them. All around us was nothing but greenery, the hills, the fields below, the rice paddies. It looked like Eden. Now, years of drawing cartoon volcanos as a child gave me extensive knowledge as to how a volcano should look, and what we were sitting on certainly didn’t coincide with my pictures. Instead of the grey quadrilateral looking shape with a wavy line of red lava, and a cloud of smoke bellowing from the top, the real thing was grassy, grey, and no sign of lava anywhere. There wasn’t even a giant pit with lava at the bottom. This was probably a good thing, because had it looked like my drawings, we’d all be singed to a crisp, and in years to come we’d be a tourist attraction like the poor people of Pompeii. While we were sat admiring the view our guide brought over our second breakfast of the day. It was an unorthodox meal to say the least, banana sandwiches and one hard boiled egg. I ate mine, and ended up eating Sarah’s when she couldn’t stomach it any longer. It wasn’t long after that, that our guide suggested moving on.

It wasn’t that much farther to the highest peak of the volcano, and when we got there we were surprised with what we saw. Monkeys. There were actually monkeys at the top of a volcano, I’ve seen it all now. I think it was probably because food was being cooked there that they stayed, but where they’d come from in the first place was the biggest mystery. Mind you, there were a coupe dogs walking around when we were eating our sandwiches. The people who prepared the food used the heat from the volcano to cook it. There was a cavern which they used as a large oven. The top made for very nice photos, not only because we could see down the volcano (which was a grassy hill with steam coming out) but because from the other side we could see all the open green land. It resembled what I’d like to imagine Canada looks like. After another short stop to take more photos, we continued along the rim of the volcano.

This part of the trek was the most precarious. We had to walk along a thin stony ridge. One wrong move would see us falling to our deaths. Had we been in England this sort of behaviour wouldn’t have been allowed. Health and Safety wouldn’t be able to cope. Although it was dangerous, it didn’t stop Sarah and myself stopping to take photos every 5 minutes. Poor Tony had to stop every time because he was behind us the whole way. Once again the trolls made their appearance. By now they’d travelled farther than my uncle, who in his 40 something years has never left England. I was slightly embarrassed as I tried to take a picture of them, because people who passed me were staring. They only laughed, but when you’re almost 25 and you’re playing with trolls, people tend to judge. The sights only got better as the walk went on, which you’ll be able to see at the bottom of this blog. After we’d circled the entire rim we made the descent back to the bottom. It was even harder to go down, Sarah had to hold on to the tour guide’s hand because she found it so difficult. The black pumice gave out underneath our feet at every step. It was a similar experience to walking down a sand dune, there was nothing we could do about it but move slowly. To compensate for the loose terrain I found it easier if I walked with my legs slightly bent, meaning they were tensed the whole way – something that caused them to feel like jelly later on. Eventually we were back on the path we followed up, and the ground below us was rocks again. This wouldn’t have been so bad had sarah and I been wearing a different pair of shoes, but the dap like material our trainers were made of meant we felt every stone. By the end I was used to it, and treated it like a reflexology treatment, but because Sarah’s shoes were knock offs, it was nothing but agony for her. There was an annoying moment when we were close to the bottom. A group of hikers decked out in full hiking gear (I’m talking sticks, boots, brightly coloured waterproofs. They looked like skiers minutes the skis) were rude enough to push passed us. Well I say a group, the majority were polite enough to say excuse me and thank you where it was due, but there was one smaller older woman who wasn’t. In that moment we all wanted to grab her sticks and smash them with a rock. As we walked a little farther we were greeted by Kirsty again.

On the way up she’d asked us if we wanted some water, at the time we said no, but Sarah said we’d buy one on the way back down. However, she’d changed her mind because Matilda gave us a spare bottle. Not wanting to let the little kid down, I paid the extortionate price of 25,000 rupiah (almost £2) for a bottle of coke. It was her cute husky voice that won me over, and the fact she’d been lugging a backpack filled with glass bottles up and down the hill. She put us to shame, because she made it look easy, even jumping down rocks in places like a mountain goat. When our guide was ready she took us the final 20 minutes to the bottom. It all looked so much different in the light of day, although we’d walked it earlier on, we could only see our surroundings via torchlight. Everything was so colourful, and the lake below was reflecting the mighty Mount Agung perfectly on its mirror like still surface. Along the way she informed us that the volcano erupted back in the early sixties, killing 2000 people in the village below. After that, many of the villagers left to find a safer location, but even to this day there are families still living there who refused to move. When we reached the car park it was hard to believe we’d climbed all the way to the top, as we looked back to see what we’d accomplished. I was thankful it was dark when we’d arrived, as its gargantuan stature was intimidating. The four of us then paid our guide the 200,000 rupiah for taking us to the peak, then she walked us to our driver. We shook her hand and thanked her sincerely, then climbed in the minivan to sit on the soft leather seats, and enjoy some a/c.

We made one stop on the way back on a bridge overlooking both volcanos and the lake below. Mount Batur stood around 5600 and something feet, and we’d scaled it all the way to the top. After taking some more photos we got back in the minivan. Tony was dropped off at his hotel first, followed by Matilda. We got her details for Facebook and said our goodbyes, we were then taken around the corner to Inata Resort. The staff at our resort were so nice to us, even though the time was 11am they still served us breakfast. Their usual hours were between 7 and 10am. I guess it was extenuating circumstances for us, we had just climbed a volcano after all. We sat by the pool while they prepared it, then moved over to the restaurant area when it was ready. I uploaded one of the photos to Facebook during the meal, which annoyed Sarah slightly. She claimed it meant she had to eat alone, “hypocrite” is all I’ll say. After breakfast we spent the majority of the afternoon by the pool.

Ann and Simon were out on a day trip all day, riding push bikes around Ubud. So pretty much all day it was just Sarah and I. I think I may have an addictive personality. I’ve said before that I’m not one to do things by halves. Even though my legs felt like jelly from the volcano trek, I pushed myself to spend the afternoon swimming. I did breast stroke, front crawl, back crawl, butterfly, every type of movement possible. Although the pool wasn’t very big, it was enough to make my body ache afterwards. The whole time I was doing that, Sarah was working in her tan. The sun wasn’t out for long, and for the most part, the weather was overcast with a chance of rain. Yet Sarah still managed to get some colour, perhaps it was the new tanning oils her parents had brought out. When we grew tired of the pool we returned to our room to watch a tv show. By now it was around 3pm, and Sarah’s parents STILL weren’t back. We went back to the pool for a further half hour, to an hour, then called it a day and waited on their return in our room. Somewhere around half past four they showed up.

They appeared to have enjoyed their trip. Ann seemed ecstatic about the whole day. She said it was very educational, as they learned fun facts from their guides. They shared the trip with a German couple. Although, they said they didn’t do all the uphill sections like they did. For which they were glad, because by the end they said the Germans clothes were ringing with sweat. They also happened to enjoy the dance show the previous evening while Sarah and I slept. I think they liked the show more than the bikes though, as Ann isn’t the most confident on the two wheeled vehicles. We all spent some time telling each other about our trips, and Ann and Simon couldn’t rave about the dance show enough. Although Sarah had already seen one on her last visit to Bali, it sounded like something we’d have to do again. We were all tired from our excursions, plus Sarah and I had been up since 1:40am. Instead of going out immediately, instead we stayed in our rooms for a couple hours. I used that time to rest while writing my blog.

At about 6pm Sarah, Simon, and I went out for tea. Ann wasn’t feeling too good after picking up a bug from somewhere. All evidence pointed towards the tap water. They’d been using it to fill their kettle for cups of tea. So Ann stayed in bed, while the three of us went back to Cafe Des Artistes. Now that my cold had gone I’d be able to eat, taste, and enjoy one of their many dishes. Rather than have the steak again, I chose the marinated BBQ chicken for the same price. It was amazing. At the end, when we asked for the bill, we also got them to phone our resort for a pick up in an hour and a halves time (9:15pm). This would give us enough time to look around the shops. This time I didn’t mind shopping as much because we were looking for presents for our friends. We managed to find a couple little things, but nothing worth writing down here (besides, it needs to be a surprise for our friends). One thing I did notice as we walked the streets were the amount of beggars. The most popular being the mother carrying a baby, if it wasn’t her it was young children sat with their hands out. As heartbreaking as it is, and was, to see, we kept walking, ignoring their pleas. I always feel so bad though, if I could afford to I’d give them the world. Plain and simple. We briefly stopped in a convenient store for some water, then walked back to Cafe Des Artistes for our pick up.

Fortunately the drivers arrive ahead of time to get you, as when we got back there were still 15 minutes to spare. I don’t think we were waiting any longer than 5 minutes before he showed up. We had to pick up one more guest from our resort before heading back, the driver apologised for this, then we drove no more than 500 metres to find her waiting on the pavement. With a car full of passengers we returned to Inata. Ann was still sick and looked very uncomfortable in bed. We discussed how she felt, then Sarah remembered we might have some tablets from the time I was sick at the beginning of this trip. We both returned to the room, and she began searching the various medicine bags. She found some form of pill or another, before rushing back to her mother’s aid. I remained in the room getting ready for bed. When Sarah got back we watched some tv shows, and around 11pm she fell asleep. When “Family Guy” ended, I began typing up the rest of the day’s activities. It was 12am by the time I’d finished, meaning I’d nearly stayed up for 24 hours straight. Funnily enough I’m not that tired, although, my eyes do sting, and I am now able to transcend both time and space, but that’s normal right?

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Day 215: Trucking Banker

Even when our intrepid hero thought he could finally rest, the opportunity was stolen from him. His day was ruined by the banking crisis. Not to the extremes of countries like Greece, but enough to require two to three hours of his time. Even after he solved the issue, with the help of the sage banker beside him, there were still other tasks which would plague him. After slaying the heart of the problem, he and his fellow men… and ladies, explored a palace to see its many treasures. When they’d seen all there was to be seen, the foursome dined like gods upon a mighty banquet. The day was relatively short for our hero and his woman, because in the early hours of the following morning, they had a behemoth quest of conquering a volcano. After their feast, the bravest and toughest hero of them all left his warriors to scour merchant’s stalls for goods. As he strolled back toward their homeland he had to cross the gauntlet of temptation. This place was home to many sirens who beckoned any man that passed with the cry “massage sir?” Our hero was too strong willed, and respectfully turned down the invites, as ultimately he knew where he needed to be. Thanks to his long legs the journey back took no time at all. He was then given a key by the fabled receptionist which granted him access to his home. The mighty warrior, with great hair, then led on the bed and began writing what he’d experienced that day as a memoir for all the people of the land. When he was done he attempted to rest, as tomorrow he’d be facing his mightiest enemy yet, the omnipotent and fiery Mount Batur.

Apologies if that didn’t make sense to anyone. I was just trying to see how good my creative writing skills were. Allow me to rephrase the whole thing in modern talk… By the way, I was the brave and mighty hero for all those sill in the dark. It has been a very short day today. In fact, I’d say its been the shortest one this trip. Sarah and I needed to go to bed earlier than usual because we had to get up by 2am to climb Mount Batur. So in total today was only around 9 hours long. Now lets get to it.

• We were woken up at 9:45 this morning by Ann banging on the door. This time however, she’d played knock out ginger by running away. Sarah and I had overslept and would’ve been late for breakfast otherwise. So today we were happy for her presence. Quickly we got dressed, then enjoyed breakfast like we did the day before, with the staff still being utterly attentive.

• After brekkie we spent the morning, and a couple hours of the afternoon, beside the pool. I read over the previous days blog and was so happy when I’d finished it. It meant I could spend the rest of the time in the pool. That was until I remembered I had to do some online banking to see if everything was ok. I felt really bad about dragging Sarah’s mum into it though. Back home Ann works for the bank I’m with, and right now she was supposed to be on holiday. Little did I know at the beginning we’d end up spending 2 – 3 hours trying to figure it all out. I am really really sorry for that Ann. I didn’t fully understand my credit card anytime I checked it online, and always found myself throwing money at it to cover our travels. Ann took the time to explain everything to me, but noticed something was off. There was a direct debit coming from somewhere, and was paying the bills for me. After looking at the other accounts I had with the bank, we still couldn’t figure it out. Not a single one had a direct debit set up. It was then we remembered I was a member of a different bank. Before leaving England, Sarah and I set up an account with a different branch because they offered cheap rates abroad. It wasn’t until we started using it that we realised it actually cost us more money to use their card. So after several weeks at the start of the trip we stopped using it. I had forgotten it was with that bank account I’d set up the direct debits. With our fingers on the pulse we sorted it out and finally got back on track. We happily logged off, forgot about the money issues, and got on with our day. All I had left to do was phone my mum to see if she could sort out the rest back home.

• We all returned to our rooms to get ready for the day, however short it may have been. 10 minutes later we had an idea of where we wanted to go. In town there was a water palace which looked very interesting, so we got the resort’s shuttle bus to take us there. However we ended up having a different driver than usual, as the usual driver had already taken some other guests out. This driver was very friendly, and spoke rather loudly. He made it a bit awkward when he found out where we were from. He told us we were lucky because we could travel to Bali, but he couldn’t afford to go anywhere else. It would be too expensive for him, because in Bali it’s very difficult to save money, he explained.
“There are too many festivals and activities to spend your money on. No sooner than you earn it, you end up spending it” were his exact words. Simon did his best to redirect the conversation, and thankfully our stop wasn’t very far away.

• It appeared as though the taxi driver had misunderstood. We were dropped off at a resort instead. At least that’s what we thought. He explained the palace was around the back, we just had to walk through the resort first. When we reached the gates there was a man who dressed us in sarongs to grant us access. He wrapped it around our waists and tied a double knot. In our new outfits we began exploring the rather small grounds. There were signs around the buildings encouraging people not to climb on the steps. By far Hindu temples were the best. The amount of gargoyles they had were remarkable. Each one was highly decorated and resembled a scary monster of some sort. The reason for their presence was to scare off evil spirits. I couldn’t help but think that might send off mixed messages. If an evil spirit is coming, why would it be scared of something that looks like a monster? Surely they’d be used to that, because they themselves are evil. Maybe I’d just watched one too many movies. All the buildings were red and gold, and the statues between each one were of colossal proportion. I couldn’t get over the amount of detail they had, even down to something as small as a jewel on their belts. At one point my feet began to hurt. As I looked down I saw they were covered in red ants, they were all biting me in unison. Sarah also had the same unpleasant experience happen to her. We didn’t know if we’d stood on a nest, or if they were already on the sarong when we put it on. It was most likely to be the latter, as Ann also noticed she had a few on her legs too. Either way we brushed them off quickly before leaving.

• We didn’t need the sarongs for the next bit. As we left the sacred grounds we found ourselves in a courtyard, where two large ponds were separated by a concrete path. It was also the spot where traditional Hindu dances were put on to entertain and educate. There were two small boys with a fishing rod trying to catch the many aquatic animals below them. The small area made for very nice photos indeed. On the way out, Ann and Simon purchased tickets to watch one of the dances later on that day. Sarah and I didn’t as we’d be sleeping. We then made our way down the street to find something to eat. Although, that plan didn’t happen right away, no thanks to Sarah.

• Before finding the lovely restaurant we ended up at, Sarah spotted a market place. It wasn’t any good in my opinion, each small shop was stocked with items like sarongs, bags, trinkets, and for some odd reason, penis shaped bottle openers. The odd reason had something to do with the religion. Certain people believed the objects held the power to help couples conceive, they’d use it as fertility statue. Sarah could see we were all bored and gave up in the end, saying she’d come back on her own to have a look around. Besides, Ann didn’t like the constant gaze from the shop owners as they followed her around. Not much farther down the street was the restaurant we ate dinner. It was called Ibu Rai, and featured in the Lonely planet for its multicultural dishes. I had a hot chocolate along with my meal, in an attempt to help send me off to sleep in a few hours time. When we’d sorted out who owed what, I left the others to look around the shops. By now I had had enough of walking around the shops aimlessly, and instead chose to go back to the resort. There was nothing I wanted to buy for myself, and I’d seen it all before. Somehow Sarah always managed to find something she liked, even if it served her no purpose, such as a fancy plate or dish. During my walk back I was constantly asked if I wanted a massage from one of the many ladies sat outside each massage parlour. I said “no thank you” to each one, although I did want to shout “NO THANK YOU!” After the 20th person asked me. It didn’t take me long to get back to our resort, and just before I got there I could see the volcano in the distance clear as day. The light was shining from behind the triangular mountain in such a way that it practically forced it into the foreground. I took a photo and returned to the room.

• Inside I went about closing the curtains and switched off any light that was on, in an attempt to recreate the environment I’m used to as I typed. Seeing as I never get to bed until gone 3am these days… no thanks to this blog, I figured if I wrote in the dark, my brain would think it was nighttime and make me tired. That plan went out the window as soon as Sarah got back from the shops. Just as I was coming to an end with the day’s post, she turned on the lights and showed me what she’d bought. It was an item of clothing. In her defence it was a lovely dress, and it complimented her figure nicely… maybe I’m more tired than I thought writing sentences like that. Ann then came in and showed off her newly purchased trousers, before leaving Sarah with a sleeping pill. Seeing as I was up now, I Skyped my mum. After that, I got ready for bed at the early hour of 7pm. I’d not gone to bed that early since I was around 6 or 7 years old.

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