Monday, November 2, 2015

Planning for Nusa Tenggara

Well folks, I've begun the planning stage for my next great Indonesian adventure.

It all started with an email from Air Asia advertising cheap flights to Bali. I'm pretty sure I was still skiing in New Zealand at the time, but I figured a $125 flight from Perth sounded too good to pass up. I'll probably add checked luggage, I'm yet to decide if I want to do the seven kilo challenge again.

On my last trip I was trying to decide whether I would head east from Bali or go back to Java. I went to Java, so this time it's definitely east!

Nusa Tenggara is the provincial name given to a whole line of islands stretching east from Bali to Timor. Those at the very eastern end (Flores,  Alor, Sumba and Timor) are renowned for their traditional villages, animistic beliefs and customs, and beautiful hand woven textiles called ikat. If you know me, you'll know that's ticking a lot of boxes. And then there's volcanoes to climb!!!

Travel isn't quite as easy off the main highways in these far flung places. Whilst Flores gets a fair smattering of western tourists, the rest of the region is considered well off the beaten track. It looks like I'll need to brush up on the Bahasa Indonesia, and expect to do a lot of walking!! My legs should be in pretty good shape, seeing as I'll have come off a summer of windsurfing and a month skiing in Japan. Yeah I know, retired life is the pits....

So I'm back in research mode, which starts with combing old travel guides, because the latest Lonely Planet isn't even worth wiping your bum with (not that I bother carrying paper books anymore, and anyway, I do it the Indonesian way, with water, if you know what I mean), then moving on to various websites and travel forums. There's a lot less information on this region out there in the inter webs than for Java, so I guess I'm going to have to be a little adventurous.

I'll be flying straight out to Maumere, in eastern Flores, then making my way further east to Alor and West Timor before heading back west to Bali. At this stage it's looking like a 3 month trip as there'll be quite a bit of island hopping and I do rather like to explore those wee villages. It seems most people visit a couple of villages, enjoy the snorkelling and diving and beaches, visit Kelimutu crater lakes, and that's about it. I'm looking at doing a helluva lot more than that!

As usual, I don't intend to spend too much time doing the beach thing, but I will be packing the mask and collapsible travel snorkel, plus my scuba certification, because this region really is world class for its underwater delights. I spent 6 days diving Komodo on a live aboard many years ago so I won't be visiting the dragons again, but I may well be tempted further east at Alor.

There's a fair few volcanoes worth climbing too, and most of them can be done in a day. Which means little need to bring camping gear. That's a bonus!

But first I'll be visiting Juffry in Bali. Remember him? My couch surfing host in Surabaya has moved to Bali and is working in a restaurant there. I'm really looking forward to catching up, and sampling his cooking again, especially as Bali is hardly renowned for great Indonesian cuisine.

Can't wait!

Monday, October 26, 2015

2 weeks in the east

After my trip to NZ I planned to spend a couple of weeks over in the east of Australia catching up with family and friends. In the past, with the pressures of getting home to start work, or just the sheer annoyance of having to stopover and schlepp around all my ski gear, I usually just flew straight home. But now I'm retired I can take things a bit slower and easier.

I'd managed to find some good flights ( Christchurch to Sydney for $250, and Sydney to Perth for $185) by keeping an eye on the specials. Yes it can be cheaper to not fly straight through, but you've got to be flexible, and there's a good 18 days between those 2 flights. The domestic flight was originally much cheaper, but I needed to add 35 kg of baggage, plus I purchased the Qantas points for $20, as it was with Jetstar. They aren't my favourite airline, but at that price I was willing to suck it up.

I'd prebooked my car hire at a reasonable rate of $25 a day, and again took advantage of my corporate travel insurance which covers me for interstate domestic travel as well as for international trips up to six months duration. But first I had to get my luggage and self to the car hire pickup bay at the airport. I smilingly squeezed past the aggro stares of fellow passengers queuing for the park and pay buses and found my bay right up the end. I'd forgotten that smiling is a criminal offence in Sydney...

Just as my minibus drove up, a strapping young man, presumably an airport employee passing by, turned up out of nowhere and helped me load my heavy ski bag into the back of the van. I thanked him and went to load my other bag, by which time he'd promptly disappeared. My faith in humanity restored!!

At the car hire place I signed the forms and handed over my credit card, and then we had fun loading a 1.7m long ski bag into a Hyundai i20! Through the gap between the driver and passenger seat seemed the safest option, and then it was off through the night time streets of Sydney to Wollongong. Not much has changed, I've driven that road so many times over the years it came as second nature.

In Wollongong I stayed at my friend Mary's house. I met Mary in my first year as a doctor, and we became firm friends after she sold me her old windsurfer and threw in some lessons as well. We'd lost touch over the years as she'd moved away and had a very controlling (ex) husband who isolated her from her friends and family. Now she's a single mum with just one more child to finish school and getting on with her life. It was so good to catch up with her and it didn't feel like it had been 20 years since we'd last seen each other.

After a day in Wollongong I drove down to Canberra to visit family. Originally I had planned to spend a few days there catching up with mum and teaching her how to use the iPad I'd bought her for her birthday a year ago. But whilst I was in New Zealand she had become critically ill, and before I had a chance to jump on a plane she'd gone from almost dead to rapid recovery. So I'd put off returning immediately, and stuck to my original plan, allowing my brother to take a holiday with his young family and for my older sister and I to do shifts at the hospital with mum whilst she slowly recuperated.

Needless to say, I stayed a lot longer than originally planned, but I did manage to achieve my main objective, which was to teach mum how to use her iPad. There is nothing quite like being bed bound to wear down the resistance of an octogenarian to embracing new technology!! She got to read all the blog posts she'd missed out on whilst being seriously ill, and had a good chuckle at Lambie and Rammy's Grand Adventure. She even got to meet Lambie!

It was also awesome to attend a school reunion. Only a small group of us met up at the old "Boot and Flogger", now renamed and refurbished, our old drinking haunt back in the day. So nice to reconnect and reminisce. Some of the stories....

Having all the family around supporting mum was great. We rarely get to see each other as we are all geographically dispersed, so it was a real treat to spend time with siblings as well as mum. Inputting mum's address book onto the iPad became a grand discussion about all the people in there and who was still around. Lots of crossed out names as mum's friends fall off the perch...

After 10 days with mum it was time to head back to Wollongong, as I had an appointment with my accountant in Sydney. It's been over 10 years since I've visited Peter and Maureen in person as we usually do my tax over the internet. I got some good news and some slightly bad news, discovering I'd made a capital gain on the albatross sale (more tax to pay), but my capital gains tax bill on selling my Sydney property will be a lot less than I was expecting. So, overall, damn fine news indeed!

Then that evening back in the 'gong Mary arranged a surprise dinner for me with 2 other of my Wollongong friends. So good to catch up with Kath and Neen after all, as I'd thought my prolonged trip to Canberra had left me no time to see them.

Then I flew back to Perth, had a couple of days with my awesome little friends in Scarborough then drove home to Geraldton.

It was a wonderful 18 days. Seeing family and reconnecting with old friends and schoolmates, spending some really quality time with mum, and a bonus good piece of news from my accountant.

The garden looks great, nurtured by my wonderful house sitters Jill and Perry, so it's back to eating organic food from the patch.

That's next.