Monday, 31 October 2011

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Days 48 & 49: Mandalay Days

On the road to Mandalay
Every mistake I've ever made
Has been rehashed and then replayed
As I got lost along the way

So sang Robbie Williams in his 2001 song "The Road To Mandalay". Fortunately my own experience of the road to Manadalay was a little less fraught, as I took an overnight bus there from Yangon which didn't get lost, and didn't replay all the mistakes I've ever made (the journey was ten hours so I simply didn't have the time).

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Day 47: Restructuring Of Cynicism

In an earlier entry, I wrote about the erosion of cynicism, something I hoped would be achieved through travelling. I stand by it; at the same time, I am building the walls back up big and high.

Burma, not being a tourist hotspot, is not especially filled with touts. Sure, tourists are charged a little bit extra for things, as much as government as an on-the-street policy, but unlike some of the tourist areas of Indonesia, no-one is trying to take you to their art gallery, or pull you into their restaurant. The only obvious exception are the money-changing touts, concentrated around the city centre, all of whom are offering better rates of local currency to change for your US dollar.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Day 46: Walking In Yangon

Poor old Burma - aka Myanmar - doesn't have the best of international reputations these days. Although not included on the Axis of Evil list because it doesn't pretend to play with nuclear bombs, it's still regarded as one of the world's "bad boys". Not unjustly either - the military government does not allow free speech, multiple political prisoners languish in prison, genuine democracy is an impossible dream and sanctions have been imposed by the EU, America, and others. In fact, even writing this is probably an offense and posting it in a public internet cafe is a folly. But a slap on the wrist, a scare, and a quick deportation would be my only punishment; were I to be Burmese, my fate would be a lot more grim - and a lot less internationally recognised.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Day 42: Lethargy In KL

We've been in Kuala Lumpur since Tuesday. We've not done very much.

Kuala Lumpur is a great city, but we've not done it any justice since arriving here at the start of the week. In Sydney, I visited the sights, went on ferries, took long walks, and gained an appreciation for the city. The same for Singapore, in which we explored much of the city, and in Indonesia we even went to the lengths of hiring bicycles and mopeds for mini-adventures, and barely spent an afternoon in sleepy apathy. But sleep apathy seems to be all we've done in KL.

The main reason is the heat. KL is stifling right now. Jakarta might have been draining and Singapore sweaty, but KL seems to have managed to reach a level of humidity that just saps the energy as soon as we walk outside. Or stay inside - our room for the last few days has been without air-con and just a ceiling fan, which tries valiantly but cannot beat the KL heat.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Days 37 & 38: On The Road In Bali

"Let's hire a scooter! It means we can get out of Kuta and see the real Bali!"

"I'm not sure..."

"Come on! It's great fun! You'll love it!"

WRONG, Burness.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Days 33 to 35: Ticking Boxes

Welcome to the cattle truck.

One of the joys of travelling is the sense of freedom. It's just you and a bag: wake up and you can choose to go anywhere. The world is a big place and every road goes at least two directions. But get in the cattle truck and you're on a fixed route.

Burness and I made the mistake of joining this three-day tour for the best of reasons. We were in Yogyakarta and wanted to go to Bali, which is some distance plus a ferry ride away. En route are two sights that generally came highly recommended: the still-smoking crater of the Bromo volcano, and the sulphur lake of Ijen, reputedly the most poisonous lake in the world. It was quite possible to do all these ourselves, but it involved changes of buses, a degree of hassle, and would be likely quite time consuming. Outside our hostel was a travel agents who happened to do our exact route of choice, in just three days, for just £45 in total, including accommodation. It sounded great.

It was a mistake. (Maybe.)

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Days 31 & 32: Yoga Days - Mount Merapi and A Yogya Stroll

Mount Merapi is the most active volcano in Indonesia - it's name, literally, means "Fire Mountain" in Javanese, and as such it has featured much in local history and mythology. It has a significant roll in Borobudur's history also, with one of the reasons given for Borobudur's abandonment so soon after its construction - not to mention the decline of the Javan civilisation - being attributed to a major eruption in the 10th Century. Dramatisations of its history might focus on this, an entire civilisation wiped out by the cataclysmic power of the volcano, but the truth is likely more prosaic. Rival kingdoms were putting pressure on the central Javan civilisation to the point where it became sensible to up sticks and leave; an increase in foreign trade also meant that having a coastal palace was more desirable and practical. This was possibly in association with Mount Merapi's eruption, which if affecting Borobudur in some manner, such as a thick covering of volcanic ash, might have been seen as a bad omen by the people. Civilisations don't usually end in one dramatic finale, they change and decline. So while Merapi perhaps didn't wipe out all of Java in a Hollywood explosion, it very possibly had a role in their decline, and in Borobudur's neglect. And it's not finished yet. Just last year, in late October, it began a series of eruptions that led to the deaths of over three hundred people and displacement of hundreds of thousands.

With all this in mind, myself and Burness decided to climb it, at night.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Day 30: Yogya Days - Prambanan By Bike

After our couple of days in Borobudur, Burness and I returned to our base of Yogyakarta.

Yogyakarta, or just Yogya to its friends, is a city in central Java, regarded as a cultural centre of Indonesia. I have mixed feelings about it. I really enjoyed my time there, but on reflection the best times I had in Yogya were when I wasn't actually there. Yogya has a wealth of riches around it, from ancient temples to live volcanoes, and acts as a superb base to see all these riches, but Yogya itself I never really took to.

In fairness, like a girl you only see at bedtime, I never got to know Yogya and only spent one very underwhelming but exhausting morning looking around it. My accommodation was half the problem. Yogya reminds me of a few other backpacking places I've been to, such as Dahab in Egypt, and Istanbul, in that it was a little like a backpacking resort. Our actual hostel, the astonishingly cheap Anda Losmen (£3 for a twin room), was grubby, basic but oddly comfortable, and was down a small lane called "Gang II". Along with the nearby "Gang I", all the facilities a traveller could ever need are packed: an array of upscale and lowgrade hostels, small shops, travel agents, restaurants, bars, and mosques. Ok, mosques perhaps aren't a backpacker staple, but they were certainly an unmissable feature of Gang II, as each morning at 4am I - and everyone else in the surrounding area - were woken up with the very amplified call to prayer: "AAAAAAAALLLLLLLLAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!" Oh Allah indeed. It was like the mosques were in competition to outcall each other.

3. Wonder: Borobudur

(For the Borobudur preview, please click here.)

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Day 29: Joko And The Slow Erosion Of Cynicism

Meet Joko.

Joko runs Joglo Home Stays & Tours Travel in the town of Borobudur, which is gathered around the more famous temple. He is responsible for a great deal of assistance during myself and Burness's two days' stay in the town, but more importantly he is responsible for chipping away a large chunk of the stone of cynicism that has been surrounding me.