Bandwagon Blogger says Follow Me on Instagram! Story time is just getting started…

I will admit it – I have been a bandwagon blogger. I started the blog when I had an abundance of free time on my hands. More than enough. Too much, if there is such a thing. I’m sure some reading that sentence might cringe, or disagree in some way. But I was adrift.

Today, I am happy to say, I don’t have that problem! Free time is once again something precious, to be hoarded, and treasured. I am a graduate student. So you see, it’s not that I have stopped writing.

To reinforce this lifestyle, my tried and tested Nikon D60 has finally gone caput after a lot of use, and from time to time, abuse, at my hands. My trigger finger is getting itchy: and so my love for Instagram has finally taken flight.

So Follow Me on Instagram! 

More travel photos from around the world, as well as a whole bunch from my home, Canada, as well. Photos from Home and Away! Food, travel, the great outdoors.

I’m hooked you guys. So I’m here to say that I haven’t given up on the blog, just put it on the back burner on a very gentle, slow cooking simmer. It makes me happy to see that people still come to the blog as it is through search engines and other external links! The most popular posts continue to be those that I had some sort of experience or story to share – factual or fictional.

There are a ton of travel bloggers out there to be sifted through online, but true storytellers among them seem few and far between. That is something I am trying to keep up with on Instagram by sharing my photographs. Instagram is like the Travel Years, just distilled and concentrated down. Check it out!

 

 

 

 

Photos on Monday’s – Vivaaa Da Nang (Vietnam)

Viva Da NangSometimes a good photo is all about the place and time, and has little to with the photographer or their equipment – as is the case here. I snapped this picture out the window of a speeding van with my broken down Samsung Galaxy S3 one sunny morning leaving Da Nang, Vietnam. It is also the subject of my most popular tweet to date on Twitter (small victories). Da Nang was lovely because we had the place to ourselves. It was a slow city, and our first real taste of the beach on that trip.

West Java, Indonesia: Experiencing Pangandaran with a Local

I don’t think I was ready to say goodbye when we did. I had grown attached to Vietnam, learned to appreciate the beautiful countryside, the moto-packed cities, and learned about the ease of making fast friends on the road. I was just getting a feel for a new country when a taxi drove us through town to the international airport, heading for Indonesia.

Eighteen hours later, we touched down on the rainy tarmac in Jakarta. Thirteen hours more and we were unloading from of a bus that had taken us across the island, from the capital to Pangandaran, on the south side of West Java. It was about 12am, and pitch black outside the gates of the ocean side town.

The bicycle rickshaw drivers spotted us immediately.

“Where you going?”

This is, of course, how all conversations with drivers start. We countered with the usual, “How far is it to town?”

After a small haggle, we took the offered ride – drivers almost always know where you want to go. After stopping at the gate to pay the entrance fee to the town, we made straight to the doors of Bamboo House. The group decided on the family-run guest house based on the general consensus of Trip Advisor. Bamboo House was my first sight waking up in one of my favorite locations of the trip and home for the next three days. It featured a gorgeous courtyard, reset-them-yourself breakers, and excellent banana pancakes.

Waking up in Indonesia after 30 hours in transit washed away any thoughts I had of missing Vietnam. Where life in Vietnam had been busy, fast-paced and full of things to catch your attention, Indonesia appeared to be more laid back, casual, and about relaxing. Maybe it was because it was so hot there being near the equator. Whatever the reason, it didn’t take long for us to seek out the beach.

A note of caution here people: DO NOT forget the sunscreen. The sun is big time hot. Especially if you’re coming from a cooler climate in the dead of winter. Anyways.

The beach at Pangandaran is wonderful. The darker black beaches of Pangandaran may not photograph as well as the picturesque white sand beaches of Bali, but they are no less desirable for swimming, suntanning, and acclimatizing to beach life. Hanging out on the beach is also a great way to interact with local people from the town and with other Indonesian tourists. Be prepared to possibly have your photo taken. This happened quite often on West Java, as well as in Vietnam.

Pangandaran is a surfer’s destination, with decent if smaller waves, and a sandy bottom. These two things make it a popular learn-to-surf destination – a fact that local Indonesians have not overlooked. On our first morning in Pangandaran, we had the good fortune of stepping out onto the beach next to Yoga’s Learn-to-Surf Camp. This meeting shaped our time in the town for the better.

The boys rented surf boards and hit the waves, after a on land theory lesson about paddling, catching a wave, and making use of the current. “Maybe later, I will come out and show you how it’s done, ah?” says Yoga. While the boys surfed, Yoga told Amy and myself about life in Pangandaran, asked us questions about our homes, and helped us become acquainted with the restaurant menu. We talked about the giant tsunami that ravaged the area in 2006.

Meeting Yoga and his brother is a huge part of what made visiting Pangandaran so special. Experienced travelers will tell you that seeing a destination through the eyes of a local can make all of the difference in the world, and really bring a place to life. This principle became clear to me that first afternoon on the beach.

Yoga came over and asked, “You know rambutan? ”

No… Who or what is a rambutan? A type of fruit, as it turned out.

“You want to pick some fruit? My brother has a fruit tree, with extra. You can come pick!”

A bit skeptical, we asked a few questions. How do we get there? “I pick you up, in my van.” How much for the ride? “Nothing, just come see the tree! Pick the fruit.”

It seemed too good to be true, so we packed up and left the beach for the late afternoon while the tide was low with our surf coach turned tour guide at the wheel.

The drive alone would have been enough. After Vietnam in the middle of winter, Indonesia is so green! You can look anywhere and see a mountain or a volcano on the horizon and the rice fields are lush and green. Yoga took us into a part of the town normally not accessible to tourists. The entrance is guarded by a lady manning a bamboo gate!

Driving through a wooded part of town, we eventually came to a group of houses with the promised rambutan tree centered in the front yard. For 30 minutes or so we picked our fill of the red spiky fruit, and met Yoga’s family. I poked around a bit, checking out the chicken coop and exploring with my camera. These ladies even asked me to take their picture! I didn’t have to be told twice. All told, it was a great introduction to Javanese culture and set the pace for Indonesia.

Pangandaran was also our first taste of Indonesian food. Some of it was standard, like fried noodles and rice, but served with a fried egg on top in Indonesia. Some of some of it was particularly memorable. The rambutan picking experience definitely qualifies as memorable. But so does the spicy as hell chicken dish we ordered for the first time at 1 in the morning after arriving in Pangandaran. The dish I dubbed ‘Beach Soup’ also qualifies – a rich, clear broth flavored with hot sauce, and floating tofu, meatballs, and fish balls ladled out by a man wandering the beach (10,000 IDR). Our first encounter with the local rice liquor, arak, was definitely memorable. Even more so the next morning.

Like many places we visited, I wanted to spend more time in Pangandaran. I would happily return to the beach town. We stayed three days, but two French Canadians we met there were spending two weeks there – “Who knows, maybe we stay longer.” Life was easy, relaxed, and uncrowded after the well-trodden backpacker loop we had gotten used to traveling in Vietnam. All that mattered was eventually getting to Bali, and beyond that to the Gili Island’s. And so we pushed on to Yogykarta.

You're waiting for a train...

You’re waiting for a train…

Vietnam Photo Gallery 2

Visiting Vietnam was a wonderful experience, and a true challenge/eye opener for my first ‘real’ travel experience. Cruise ships, and crossing the border don’t count. I particularly enjoyed the northern parts of the country – the City of Hanoi, the northern mountain region of Sa Pa and surrounding communities, and Cat Ba Island. Even in winter, beautiful and unique flowers could be found blooming everywhere – a dramatically different type of winter than I am used to, coming from Central Ontario.

After releasing my first set of favorite images from Vietnam, I decided the time was ripe to give you some more! Traveling for many is becoming a way of life, and many people ask me about my time there. Please enjoy – your feedback is welcomed and appreciated.

Moments from Vietnam – A Photo Gallery

Where has the time gone… it seems impossible to believe that I have been back in Canada for two months already! That is the length of time I spent traveling in Vietnam and Indonesia, and I have done not even half as much activity!

Lately, I have been thinking about the trip, and reliving some memories through photos. Here are a handful of my favorites from Vietnam – Enjoy!

Photos on Monday’s – The Harbor at Mui Ne

The Harbor at Mui Ne

Today’s Photo on Monday comes to you from Mui Ne, on the southeastern coast of Vietnam. The entire harbor is filled with boats, but my favorites are the small, colorful, round boats used by local fisherman that remain close to shore.

My first cold Monday back in Canada, and I am already thinking with longing of the heat and humidity of South East Asia!

Indonesia – Travel Log: The Gili Islands and Lombok. Turning for Home.

Compared to Vietnam, the pace of travel through Indonesia has been slower and more relaxed. If we like a place, we stay! And that is how we spent two weeks between the tiny Gili Islands to the north of Lombok, and stunning Lombok itself.

Gili Trawangan – Tourist Hot Spot, Island Paradise 

Although recently fairly unknown, the three small islands known as the Gili’s off the north coast of Lombok have exploded in popularity. It’s not hard to see why. When planning the leg of the trip to Indonesia, the Gili’s were a top destination for our group for so many reasons! White sand beaches, clear turquoise waters, great diving and snorkeling, and a popular party spot amongst backpackers. Sign us up!

image

The coast of Gili Trawangan, looking towards Mount Rinjani on Lombok.

Our first stop was on Gili Trawangan, the most developed island of the three and recognized as the ‘party island’. We visited during the off season, so the island was in a fairly relaxed state – but still a lot of fun. The perfect balance. During the off season, the local bars have a different night of the week to host the party so that everyone gets a share and there is always something fun going on at night.

image

Beautiful evenings on Gili Trawangan – before the party starts!

Although Gili T is the largest of the three islands, it is still quite small. It is possible to walk around the perimeter of the island in about 2 hours. With bicycles rented from our homestay operator, it took about 35 minutes. One of the nicest things about the Gili’s is the lack of motorized transport so a bicylce is definitely the way to get around. If you need to go a distance and don’t feel like walking or biking, a horse drawn cart is the only other taxi option available.

image

The main beach on Gili T, looking towards Lombok.

We spent a week on Gili Trawangan touring around the coast, snorkeling and doing a little bit of scuba diving. If you aren’t a scuba diver, the snorkeling is just as good! We were lucky enough to see many turtles, as well as a wide variety of tropical fish. For me, the turtles were a highlight since it was my first time encountering sea turtles (mainly Green turtles, but also some Hawksley turtles as well). With excellent visibility, healthy coral, and excellent species diversity, the Gilis are an excellent place to jump in the water with a mask and fins. Other encounter-able wildlife includes reef sharks, octopuses, manta rays and even whale sharks (if you’re lucky). No matter which island you are on, all of the dive shops visit the same dive sights around the islands.

image

Our edible catch of the day! A snapper, and another type of fish I don’t remember the name of.

Local Wisdom

Wonderful graffiti can be found everywhere in the Gili Islands.

image

Deep sea fishing in the Gili Islands. Not a very big fish!

Gili Air – Gili T’s Little Brother (and more behaved)

After a full week on busy Gili T, we booked a seat on the island hopping boat (40,000 IDR) and moved on to Gili Air for two nights. Gili Air is a slightly smaller island, the closest to Lombok and less developed than Trawangan. People say that Gili Air is about 15 years less developed, but you can tell that is about to change as the Gili Islands are booming in popularity.

image

Our home for two nights on Gili Air at the Fantastic Gili Hostel.

image

A big theme in the Asian countries we visited was the presence of heaps of trash all over paradise. Every morning on Gili Air, a barge boat shows up here to remove the trash from the island.

We stayed at the Fantastic Gili Hostel, a set of bamboo and grass huts set just back from the harbor and close to a wide variety of food options. Newly built, the hostel has a decent common room complete with hammocks and satellite TV. Sometimes sitting down to a movie on a rainy or lazy afternoon is a good thing. That being said, power outages were much more frequent on Gili Air – something we began to anticipate when staying on the islands. Power outages are a fact of life on the islands, and businesses often have portable generators to adapt.

image

Morning view on Gili Air.

Lombok – An Island on the Bubble of Development 

To leave Gili Air, you can either jump on the island hopping boat (leaves at 8:30am for 10,000 IDR), pay for a fast boat (100,000 IDR leaving multiple times a day) or wait for the public boats to fill up (leave when they are full, 12,000 IDR). Since we slept in, we defaulted to the public boat to cross the straight between Gili Air and Lombok, to Bangsal Harbor. Bangsal has a reputation for being ‘seedy’ and full of persistent hawkers, and we wasted no time finding a car to take us to Senggigi, on the northwestern coast of the island.

image

These ‘fast boats’ transport people between the three Gili Islands, Bali and Lombok.

image

Vegetable and shrimp fritters served with chili sauce in Senggigi.

Lombok is stunning! Before you even arrive on the island, the jagged peak of Mount Rinjani can be seen for miles around. The coast line is equally jagged, full of beaches, coves, and little inlets. The land itself is mountainous, and mostly jungle, with small towns and villages breaking up the route. We spent our first night in Senggigi before moving to Kuta to spend a final week in heaven.

image

An early morning view of Mount Rinjani, at a rare time with no clouds shrouding the peak.

image

The beautiful beach coastline of southern Lombok.

Kuta is a little beach town on the southern coast of Lombok. There are no hostels in town, but it is still filled with plenty of cheap hotel options for backpackers. The streets are full of vendors, restaurants, hotels of varying quality, and surf shops. The best way to see the are is by renting scooters from one of the many services offered around town. Talking to your hotel is the easiest way to get this done. Then pick a direction and follow the road!

image

image

The best way to see Lombok, and many other parts of Indonesia – from the back (or driver’s seat!) of a scooter!

There are beaches everywhere and beautiful views along the way. Some are good for surfing, others for swimming and some are good for both. Heading east out of town towards some of the larger beaches on the coast, you can also visit a large bat cave. A local family lives on the land next to the cave, and can take you in if you don’t mind the heat and the smell. Plenty of things to take pictures of.

image

Belanak Beach outside of Kuta, Lombok.

image

A perfectly calm, cove beach surrounded by highlands to the west of Kuta.

We explored the coastal roads and beaches around Kuta for our final week in Indonesia, and our final week on the road (for now). I really loved it there! And I can honestly say I can’t wait to go back. There was something wonderful about waking up in the morning by the ocean, picking a direction and driving around in the open air on a scooter for the day. Only stopping for gas, or to catch some sun or the waves at a good looking beach. I didn’t do any surfing this trip, but Kuta is a great place to do it if you’re interested!

image

Some surf spots are harder to access than others, like this one that had to be accessed with a boat only.

image

Our view of Kuta from breakfast every morning. Complete with trash digging goats to complete paradise.

image

One last sunset (?) from South East Asia. They never get old.

And just like that, two months of traveling around South East Asia is over. I was  excited to come home, but that was mixed with some sadness about the end of a journey as well. A year ago, we decided we were going to travel and see some of the world. Today, I am sitting at home again. But this time I am planning my next trip, although I have only been back in Canada for two days. Everyone tells you this is going to happen, but I guess it’s another
one of those things you have to experience for yourself.

image

Arriving back in Vancouver, Canada on a dreary Thursday to catch a connecting flight back to Ontario. After a long three days in transit, I hadn’t imagined I could be so happy to see a West Jet plane waiting for me on the tarmac.