Archive | February, 2012

Home for a New Adventure

24 Feb

And I’m back home. In 8 weeks I travelled to 5 countries, over 21300 kilometres and had 14 new passport stamps. I travelled by foot, plane, bus, tuk-tuk, mini van, motorbike, bike, becak, jeep, long boat and ferry, meeting amazing people from a wide array of countries along the way.  I saw the unimaginable horrors of the Cambodian genocide and Vietnam War and the amazing recoveries that those nations have made. I also saw amazing natural beauty from beaches to mountains and had the fantastic experience of completely immersing myself in Indonesian life and culture. Things didn’t always go to plan with a close run in with a snake in the Cambodian jungle or far too much time spent in an Indonesian hospital.

I learnt that working for an NGO is not all glitz, glamour and saving the world and for every day spent in a disaster area takes weeks of sitting in an office planning. I also learnt that this world is an amazing place and I have so much left to discover and that sometimes taking a risk to get off the beaten track can be incredibly rewarding.

So what’s next for me? I have a thesis to write so I’m thinking the next year will be a challenge but perhaps another adventure. Ultimately life is an adventure after all. Travel wise I’m looking at going to India for a few weeks at the end of the year to expand my horizons and to get away before having to put that degree to real use and find a job. India has always appealed to me and lately I seem to constantly encounter Indian themed things so I think it’s time (and it’s fairly cheap). There are a number of other places that are tempting like Laos, China and Africa as well as the Middle East and a dream of mine is to go to the World Cup in Brazil so we will see what happens. I don’t see any more 2 month trips in the near future due to lack of funds and the realisation that travel is really tiring and I’ve had a fair bit of time away in the last 3 years. Until then though I’ll keep updating this blog as I have plenty of other stories and tips to share from my travels so I hope you continue to read and enjoy.

Make life an adventure!

Courts xx

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Photo of the Week #3- Becak Man

23 Feb

Where- Semarang, Indonesia

I had gone to Semarang for the weekend and was walking around the markets with my camera when this man approached me on his becak and started following me. I turned around to tell him that I was happy to just walk around but he shook his head and pointed at the camera then pointed at himself. I snapped a quick photo and showed him and he thanked me and rode off happily. I’ve never forgotten him.

A Night with an Indonesian Legend

22 Feb

About halfway through my trip I saw a sign for a concert in Jogja. Having only seen it in a fleeting glance I scoured the town trying to find another one. The poster was for Iwan Fals- one of the greatest Indonesian musicians who was also voted a Great Asian Hero a few years ago. Sure enough he was performing in Jogja on my last night in Indonesia in a performance called Nostalgia Cinta Untuk Jogja. This was a strange coincidence as he was also in Jogja on my last night there last year but I missed out on tickets.

That was it. I decided I had to buy a ticket which itself was a somewhat confusing process and I headed to the Grand Pacific Hall last Saturday to witness what was one of the best concerts I have ever been to.

Iwan Fals live in concert

Iwan Fals is nothing short of a legend in Indonesia. You see graffiti around which says “Iwan Fals for President”. His music unites Indonesians no matter what religion or ethnicity they are in a career that has spanned from the early 80s until today. During the New Order Regime he criticised  Suharto, something that was almost unheard of without severe consequences.

The venue was packed with all kinds of Indonesians from government officials to student activists, young and old and of course a few Westerners. Then as the smoke began to roll across the stage and the first few chords played the cheering began and continued for the next two and a half hours.

So many camera phones

The audience sang along with every song and the backing band were great (particular mention to the drummer who did some epic solos). I had awesome seats about 6 rows back from the stage and dead centre. My highlight of the night would have been when he played his song Ibu which is a beautiful song but there’s a particular part halfway through where he powers out one of the verses which gives you goosebumps and I saw a few of my fellow audience members shedding a tear or two.

The concert was truly sensational. You couldn’t help but feel somewhat inspired by it and there is no doubt as to why the Indonesian government saw him as such a threat back in the 80s and 90s. There was a real energy in the room unlike anything I had ever experienced before and it’s a feeling I’ll definitely treasure for a long time.

Truly a Great Asian Hero

Roadtrip to the Beach

17 Feb

Last Sunday it was Nick’s birthday so we decided it was time to go exploring. After the polluted, rough beaches the week before I wanted to find the elusive white sand beaches of Jogja that I had heard so much about. Despite only having 3 hours sleep the night before, I threw my swimmers in my backpack, stocked up on sunscreen and off we went in our car. From Jogja it’s a bit over 60km down to the beaches of Gunung Kidul and it is a truly spectacular drive. As you start going up into the hills you are granted a view over the city and you realise how big it actually is. On the way through Wonosari we stopped by the side of the road and picked up some fruit (in fact several kilos of tropical fruits) for around $3.

The first beach we arrived at was Baron where we parked amongst several tour buses. This wasn’t exactly what we were looking for but we decided to check it out anyway.

Pantai Baron

There were thousands of people there and we were mobbed with requests for photos and people wanting to practice their English. After chilling under some palm trees and drinking coconut juice and eating some of the delicious fruit we set off in search of a quieter beach.

After driving about 10 kilometres we found Krakal beach and managed to find an amazing quiet spot with only a few other people. We went for a scramble over some rocks and found some incredible little bays where cliffs and rocky outcrops rose dramatically out of the water. We splashed around in the beautiful warm water and sat up under the palm trees playing guitar while looking out over the water in a very Jack Johnson-esque scene.

Pantai Krakal- truly beautiful spot

It was the perfect relaxing afternoon after a crazy few weeks.

Next it was time to eat so we drove around to Indrayanti Beach to a great BBQ restaurant and sat at the beach eating bbq prawns. I only started eating prawns recently so I’ve definitely been trying to make up for lost time at some of these places. This was the beach with all the foreign tourists and we ran into the first foreigners we had seen all day (including a couple who entertained us with their inventive ways to open a bottle of wine). After our rather lunch it was back into the car for the drive back to Jogja in the rain so there was nothing left to do but recline back in my seat and take a well-deserved nap.

Pantai Indrayanti

A lot of people heading to Jogja only really go down to Parangtritis an while that beach has amazing spiritual background to it and is incredibly important in Jogja culture, it’s dangerous, black sand beach has nothing on the beaches at Gunung Kidul. While it takes a bit of effort to get to them due to their remote location it’s definitely worth the effort. It’s remarkable to think that here, on the most densely populated island in the world you can find a beautiful secluded beach all to yourself.

Photo of the Week #2- Wonderful Hoi An

16 Feb

Where- Hoi An, Central Vietnam

I love Hoi An. I would safely say it is one of my favourite places in the world and possibly the most beautiful town I’ve ever visited. Most people I know to visit have also fallen in love with the place. Amazing food and architecture, shopping heaven and a photographer’s dream. Looking forward to heading back hopefully sometime in the future.

The Jogja Clubbing Experience

14 Feb

Some Southeast Asian nations have reputations for their nightlife. Bangkok is famous for its wild clubs just like the party islands of South Thailand. I’ve been to bars in Jakarta which are pretty crazy but when a few friends (Australians studying in Jogja) suggested we check out a few Jogja night clubs I couldn’t resist. The image of Jogja is not one that lends itself to clubbing with the ever present call to prayer from the mosques and traditional Javanese culture. Little did I know I was going to be in for a massive surprise.

We met up at 11 which was incredibly late by Indonesian standards at a Café near one of the big universities, there was a massive group of people from my university back home who had been having a farewell celebration for one of their friends. Massive coincidence number 2 of the trip occurred when I heard someone call my name only to run into someone from Sydney who I met at Uni Games way back in my first year of university and hadn’t seen since. A few beers and an introduction to the card game hitam atau merah (black or red) got the night off to a good start before we piled into a bunch of taxis to take us to a few clubs out near the airport.

When we got there it was madness. We paid the cover charge (55 000 Rp inc 1 drink) and were let into the smoky club (which was actually 2 clubs joined together). Slowly moving through the packed club I was shocked to get into the second bar where we saw paid dancers grinding around in very little clothing (read underwear) up on the stage. Now this is just your standard night club not anything intentionally seedy but this is something I wouldn’t expect in Australia let alone in the middle of Java! I should say from what I’ve been told this isn’t a common occurrence in other clubs. Then we ordered some drinks (which were ridiculously expensive- we only ordered one round) more shocking was when I tried ordering a bottle of water and they charged me 35000 Rp for a 300ml bottle as opposed to the 1.5 litre bottle I bought on the way home for 3100 Rp. We had a bit of a dance alternating between the two clubs and hung out on the lounges before heading home just shy of 4am.

The one thing I found a bit scary about the clubs here was the complete lack of Responsible Service of Alcohol which is such a big deal in Australia. It’s not surprising that this doesn’t exist in a country where drinking is done by a minority, due to religion and it being super expensive, and somewhat frowned upon (for Indonesians not so much bules) but seeing paralytic Indonesians dragged out of the club unconscious and being bundled into cars was shocking. There was no help whatsoever from the bar staff or bouncers while we watched and a complete lack of understanding of what to do in that situation by the general patrons. It’s barely surprising when you see people swigging from bottles of spirits in the clubs. I won’t deny that I like to drink when I go out with my friends but I’m just glad that my friends and I have been taught what to do to help someone in that situation (standard lesson in PE in high school) and that clubs have the legal responsibility to prevent that from happening.

That aside, I had an awesome night. I wouldn’t say Jogja is my favourite place to go clubbing compared to places in Thailand or even Canberra but it truly was an interesting experience and we had a great group of people out with us so it was definitely fun. I wouldn’t say no to going again but I think I might stick to the chilled out bars of the backpacker district from now on.

Dealing with a Dangerous Land

13 Feb

It’s funny coming from the west how we tend to over think things in terms of what is best for a country. We look at an area that we view as “undeveloped” and think well they don’t have cars or infrastructure or malls we need to develop this area! Send in the aid organisations and let’s bring them up to Western standards!

This morning I went to a village. It was tiny and while I’m bound to forget it’s name I will never forget the village. We rode for about an hour from Jogja into the hills of Bantul down truly atrocious roads to this house where we sat down with the head of the local farmer’s organisation. He was an old Javanese man, fit from years of working the fields but his face was worn and his teeth broken and stained. Over five years ago there was a severe earthquake in the area which left over 5000 people dead and completely destroyed over 35% of the building in this village with not a single structure escaping damage. This man’s house was totally destroyed twice, both in the initial earthquake and a more minor one in the following months.

We started chatting with my questions in Indonesian being translated into a hybrid of Javanese and Indonesian by one of my friends from the office. I was really surprised by the answers. He said they were lucky. An earthquake doesn’t destroy your livelihood as a farmer. The fields are still there to tend to unlike in the case of an eruption or flood. I asked him what were his hopes for the future, what did he want for his village? He replied, “We want to be independent, to be able to overcome these disasters by ourselves. We receive aid from the local government but it isn’t enough, it’s much better if we receive more independence.” then he added, “and maybe the road could get rebuilt.” This road I mentioned before was horrific. You would struggle to get a car down it and it was a constant struggle to actually stay on the back of the motorbike from all the bouncing around. The road is essential for every aspect of life. Improving the road means better access to education, healthcare and to the markets in other towns to support the local farmers and home industries. All it takes to improve life there exponentially is a simple thing like a road to be fixed.

Overlooking Bantul and Gunung Kidul

Driving around the village you noticed the dramatic landscape of the area, steep terraced hills which present a real risk of landslides and constant green as far as you could see. It’s really not the safest area to live but for these people, the locals told me, there are no other options. They’ve lived here for decades and have nowhere else to move so make the most of their situation.

After looking around a bit more and drinking the obligatory glass of tea we headed up on the bike to the top of a hill at a fruit orchard. From there we overlooked both Bantul and Gunung Kidul, two of the five districts of Yogyakarta (The other 3 are Sleman, Kota- the city and West Prog) and as far as you could see there were forests, rivers and steep terraced hills as well as tiny villages. Such a beautiful area which faces dangerous threats from natural disasters constantly. It was an eye opening morning to say the least. It’s really easy to look at a disaster and think the recovery effort ends as soon as you rebuild the houses and that financial aid is the solution to everything. Almost six years on we still see ongoing issues in this area from a threat we really can’t do anything to prevent. I really hope that village gets the road and the independence that it needs.