How to travel Indonesia – HARDCORE style

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Indonesia has a special place in my heart, as it was the first country I “Really” traveled through. From a young age the love and necessity of travel was drilled into me. I grew up listening to stories, of my mum backpacking through Mexico, going weeks without a word of English, My dad sleeping on the beaches of Asia, living off 11c a day, and my uncle chancing a monkey through the African desert that had stolen his very valuable box of Weetbix’s, (the best Aussie cereal in existence) only to realise he that they had seen a cheater in the area 20 minutes earlier, and promptly returned to his camp defeated and empty handed. As such my first visit to Indonesia had more forest treks, out door squat “toilets” and bamboo beds and than it did beaches, hot showers and banana splits. This trip is where I contracted the incurable “Travel Bug” that 60 countries latter I have not yet shock and hope never to. Having recently returned to Indonesia I have developed a new appreciation and perspective. One thing that hit me almost immediate is how much the country and changed a developed, It is not the same Indonesia I visited as a school kid, this is why you need to visit It NOW, not next year, not when you retire, not when you win the lottery or quit that crappy job, you’ve been talking about leaving for past two years, Now!

Every day we are loosing more and more of Indonesia’s rainforests, little villages, and culture to modern development and Tourism. Have a look at my ‘leave the right footprint’ post to learn how important it is to be a conscious and considerate traveller.

 

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For starters Indonesia is made up of over 17,508 islands! That mean if you were to visit a different island every day it would take you almost half a century to get through them all. I’m going to make a wild guess and assume you don’t have a spare 50 years to travel Indonesia, so here’s a breakdown on what you should expect while exploring this crazy country.

You can’t talk about Indonesia with out mentioning the notorious Bali. Bali is on almost everyone’s bucked list, and so it should be, it’s an amazing place. Bali has become a major tourist attraction, and as such it is extremely tourist friendly, there is countless hotels, restaurants, activities, and markets selling everything from wooden penis bottle openers (Why are these everywhere is bali, just why???) to high-end fashion (Same, same, but different).

Additionally there is 101 different activity’s that are made extremely ease to book, with a tourist office, or a couple on every street, making it a very desirable place to spend a week snorkeling, partying and getting amazing massages at.

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But don’t get stuck, its very, very easy to find that time has just slipped away and before you know it you’re a leathery 60 year old that never returned, chilled Bail lifestyle having absorbed any desire to return to reality.

So get out of Bail and try out Bali’s neighbour; the Island of Java. If the first thing you think of when you’re here Java is coffee your on the right track. Indonesia is the 4th largest producer of coffee and most of that is grown in Java, so make sure you try out an espresso or two while you’re there, or better yet go for a coffee tour around a plantation and learn how the globes most widely used drug is goes from cherry to the sweet nectar of life residing in your mug.

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As we head east, and away from the tourist hot spots the first thing you’ll notice is a change in the people. As we’ve established you’re a “hardcore traveller” and enjoy getting into remote areas, but like anything else this comes with a few complications and consequences. Remember when you were a child and wished you where famous, well your dreams have come true, through only in this reality you have all the fame and next to none of the skills and talent. There’s going to be a lot of cat calling and a lot of photos and your going to get bloody pissed off. Try hard to remember that to them your just as rare as seeing Justin Bieber or Kim Kardashian walking down the street, and if you can say you wouldn’t be wiping out your phone and grabbing a few shots, then you’re a liar and can’t be trusted, because you would, you and I both know it.

This kind of sucks, but take it with a grain of salt because it’s absolutely worth the visit. Java has some truly amazing sights unlike anywhere else. Check out Yogyakarta, Borobudur, Prambana and Kawah Putih. Get your bargaining on and hire a driver to take you around, I recommend starting real early like 4am early (Crazy, I know) this way you can skip the clouds, get more out of your day and get to watch the amazing sunrise over the mountains.

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Next stop… Sumatra.

Sumatra is just as cool as it sounds, but if you think the attention was too much in Java ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet’. You’ve been bumped up from Justin Beiber to the Queen of England, none the less, you’re a ‘hardcore traveler’ and can handle it.

IMG_8690.jpgYou can’t visit Sumatra with out spending so time at Lake Toba. It a bit of a pain in the ass to get to but do it you wont regret it. So Sumatra is an island and at its cater is the worlds biggest volcanic lake, Lake Toba and at its centre is another island ‘Samosir’ and to make things even trippyer there’s another lake at its centre with another Island in that. After about an 8 hour bus from Medan, and a 30minute ferry and a 10minute motor bike ride you will find your self in a 5 start cabin watching the sunset over the lake with a cocktail with a little umbrella in one hand selfie stick in the other, cause lets face it, did you even go travelling if no one see’s your cliché selfie pop up on their social media with a few #wonderlust #Moday #lovelife #followforfollow hashtags.

So that’s three islands done, only 17,505 to go.

Happy Travels!!!

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Why you need to see Kazakhstan now!

This is a country I never really expected to visit, and only really did because of its geography; basically it was in the right place at the time. Although having said that, I’m so glad I did. This was the first “Stan” I had visited, but would defiantly not be my last. This diverse country sparked a new fascination, interest and curiosity in this part of the world that I did not posses before my visit.

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Astana

I flew into Kazakhstan’s capital Astana from Russia, as I had previously read it was relatively easy to get a Mongolian Visa from here. Have a look at my ‘Getting a Mongolian Visa in Astana, Kazakhstan’ post from details on this.

Getting around.

Astana is a large city, as such many of its attraction are rather spaced out, I’d recommend taking advantage of the public transport. Even without speaking the country’s native tongue catching the local buses are relatively easy and super cheap, the standard fare converting to less than 0.30c. There is also the classic ‘Hop on Hop off’ Bus. If you’re tight on time these are a great option, allowing you to view the best parts of the city and its attractions as well as hear about its history all in a matter of hours.

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Chimkent

I was eager to get a real feel of the country and escape the mundane of a city, after a few hours of searching Kazakh tours I found myself communicating with a local guide I found through ‘Indy Guide’. Convincing me to take the 12-hour train south to Chimkent was easy after a quick Google image search. The south region of Kazakhstan has absolutely breathtaking natural landscapes that I was eager to get amongst, and boarded a train the next day.IMG_7044

I shared a cabin with a young woman and her two cheeky kids, an hour latter I found my self baby-sitting the 2 and 5-year-old boys while she had took disserved nap. None of us understood each other, however they soon came to refer to me as ‘Apa’, meaning sister. After a bumpy nights sleep I found my self swapping phone numbers and Facebook’s with my cabin buddies and saying good bye, as I jumped off the train and into the dusty hot air of the south.

I spent the day exploring the city and the night in a creepy looking hostel. The next morning the adventure began.

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To be entirely honest my guide was rather annoying and never seemed to know when to shut up, but undeniably loved his country and knew where the best place to visit where. On top of that he knew almost every fact, story and spiritual meaning for everything from the many amazing Mausoleum we visited to Carpet, like seriously this guy spent a good part of the afternoon taking me around a caplet factory and explaining the origin of Kazak carpet, the guy could not get enough of it, and confessed that his home was covered in it, floor, walls and roof???? (True story). During my week with him I was taken everywhere from the steps of the desert, to the mouthman’s and even spent a few nights with a local family in a small village with their 7 children, and couple of horses, cows, chickens, sheep and donkeys. Here I was spontaneously brought to the local school of 160 students from 5-18 to teach a lesson of English, as even the English teachers could not speak it, there was also a whole school assembly to show me of as a westerner, with a Q and A season.

In this village I also tried Horses Milk a delicacy of the area and many Kazak sweets as the locals believed that western people loved sweets would offer them to me constantly. I trekked a mountain and had a picnic at its snowy peak, explored ancient ruins, rode a rather grumpy horse, picked fruit from wild apple trees and watched men squat with a baby camel on their back (apparently it’s a traditional sport)

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After a crazy, weird and adventures week it was time to move on, and the city of Almaty seamed as good as any. I boarded yet another train and 13hours later I was wondering the streets in search for my hostel. After asking a handful of people if they spoke English, I found a woman with her mother in the park, that not only called the hostel for me, but helped me but walked me to it, and helped carrying my overly packed front-pack.

 

The city of Almaty has some unique and beautify sights; however just beyond its rim is untouched beauty that deserves to be on everyone’s bucket like. As I was to be spending my birthday in this city, I made a point make my time here memorable and found that to challenge. I organised a tour with some others in my hostel a few of Almaty’s best natural locations, including the famous Kolsi Lake, Charyn canyon and Kaindy Lake all of which are bewildering, exceptional and astonishing there own remarkable way. It took several hours in a craped car, on some of the bumpiest roads I’ve travelled on, with a guide that spoke next to no English, however he did spit out “Kangaroo”, when I told him I was from the land down under.IMG_7083

Before I know it I had spent over a week in Almaty and almost a month in Kazakhstan. And as my visa was due to expire I was to move on, next stop Mongolia. If you’re humming and Harring about visiting Central Asia, I’m hear to assure you. You will not regret exploring this antique part of the globe.

Happy Travels!

Trekking The Himalayas

The Annapurna Circuit

 

Okay so you’ve made it all the way to Kathmandu, Nepal, and you’re ready to get some serious bragging material under your belt. Is there anything cooler than starting a conversation with “This one time when I was trekking the Himalayas”?

Rhetorical question, the answer is obviously ‘No’. So if you’re ready to add this line to your vocabulary then take the road (or mountains) less traveled and trek the Annapurna circuit in the HIMALAYAS!

Lets not kid ourselves; there is a reason that line is the coolest opening in the English dictionary. This isn’t going to be a stroll in the park (excuse the pun). This is an intense trek and should not be underestimated. Some serious thought should go into the preparation of this quest, as you will be sure to face some harsh climates, real low oxygen levels and some extremely steep terrain! Additionally this won’t be a trip you can pump out in a week or even two, this trail has an estimate time frame of three weeks even with a steady eight hours of trekking each day.

It is possible to shave off a few days, however there is only so much altitude you can climb each day before you get seriously sick, so just because your body can climb it, doesn’t mean your brain can.

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If you’re continuing to read this, then I haven’t scared you away. Continue to hang in there because the best is yet to come. This trip is truly a once in a lifetime experience; you will continue to tell the story of the Himalayas for many years to come. In 50 years when we’re all driving flying cars, walking around with micro-chips in our brains and fighting the war against computers you will still be throwing that amazing line into your stories.

But lets not get ahead of ourselves; you actually need to do the trek first. There is a number ways to do this circuit depending on your fitness level and the experience you want to get out of it.

 

Guides and Porters

Three weeks of clothing, toiletries, emergency medical equipment, and the extremely necessary Gopro, Selfie stick and the cliché travel guide can get rather heavy, even with out considering the unpredictable terrain, altitude and exhaustion, so to literally take some weight off your shoulders there are porters. Porters will carry your pack for around $20 a day.

Additionally a guide is highly recommended, they will also cost around $20 a day, however you can get a guide that will also be porter and carry your pack for you.

The guides are very experienced and understand the mountains better than most. Altitude sickness is a real and serious threat, and a guide will know and make sure you stay safely within the correct levels. I would recommend meeting your guide/porter first as I met people whose porter was very young and could not a carry the pack.

Don’t Do What I Did!

Take it from someone how tried going it with no porter or guide and just a map, GET A GUIDE!

I was under the impression that I was a tough, independent woman who needed no help and was well and truly proven wrong within the first few hours.

You maybe able to carry your own pack, but the directions along the trail are next to non-existent, and using a map is basically impossible.

I was lucky enough to met some awesome Canadians, that basically shared their guide with me, and if it weren’t for them, I would have either died or had to turn back. As for my choice not to get a porter, I suffered the entire 3 weeks with a terribly sore back, blisters and throw away things I actually liked, as I couldn’t bare to carry it any further.

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Don’t Abuse your Guides or Porters

I’d like to add, that it is important to be kind to your guide and porter. Don’t force them to carry ridicules weights or risk their own health pushing their bodies to climb vast altitudes each day. They have been told not to report any signs of attitude sickness they may be suffering with, and will continue to do the their job, despite there condition, furthermore they can get very ill, and can not afford the health care and medication we take for granted.

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How to get started

PERMITS! Your guide is likely to take care of this, or accompany you in this process, but if not here’s what you’ll need to do:

You will need two permits: In order to obtain these you’ll want to visit the Nepal Tourism Board to get a Trekker’s Information Management System card (TIMS) and the Annapurna Conservation Area Permit (ACAP). It is a relatively easy process and shouldn’t take much more than an hour. With these permits you will be required to check-in at various checkpoints every few days along the trek, so the Nepali government can keep note of where you were last if you to go missing.

What you will need for the permits:

  • 4 passport photos (2 for each permit)
  • $20 or 2000 Rupees (cash)
  • Document paper work (provided at the Tourism Board)

 

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What to Pack

Before you pack your bag remember that whether it’s you or your porter, this stuff will be carried up a mountain. So lay out everything you think you will need and ditch half of it, you don’t need your hair straightener, laptop or collection of cute trekking hats.

Bring the bare minimum:

  • 1 pair trail boots (can be hired/purchased from Kathmandu or Pokhara)
  • 1 pair fitness pants
  • 1 pair of hiking pants
  • 1 winter jacket
  • 1 long sleeve shirt (preferably light material)
  • 2 short sleeve shirts
  • 1 pair pajamas
  • 6 pairs of socks
  • 7 pairs of underwear
  • Sun hat
  • Gloves
  • Trekking pole (hired in Kathmandu or Pokhara)
  • Backpack
  • Camera and charger
  • Mobile and charger
  • Powerbank (the cold drains the battery a lot faster)
  • Power plug adapter
  • Below 0° sleeping bag
  • Silk liner (These are great!)
  • Map
  • Water filter/purifier or water purification tabs
  • Water bottle (1 liter size)
  • Passport & Permits (you’ll be asked for these at every checkpoint)
  • First aid kit (the guide may be able to provide this for you)
  • Towel
  • Cash (there aren’t ATM’s alone the way)
  • Book/journal (e-book is best)
  • Toiletries

 

You can wash your clothing in the sinks along the way and hang them to dry on your backpack as you walk.

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Lets get Trekking!

Talk you your hotel/hostel or guide about getting a bus to the base of the trek. There are a few options on where to start. Pick a date and time that works best for you. The bus from Kathmandu is very long and bumpy; as such don’t expect to do much walking on your first day. It is likely that you wont arrive at your starting point until 4.00pm or 5.00pm in the afternoon. Pick a guesthouse and get bargaining on the price. Accommodation is super cheep and can be as low as $2-$3 a night, however you are require to eat at the same guesthouse and will be ‘fined’ if you do not. Food is where they make their money and will cost you around $10 for a chai, dal baht, and apple pie. The price of food will climb as you do, as porters have carried this food up the mountain, (I purchased a Mars Bar for $10 at 18,000ft).

 

Now, meet the people you are likely to trek with over the next few weeks, get a good nights sleep, and start walking.

 

Happy Travels!