Shoemans Trail

The quest for liberation

Ubud – Art capital and temple area

The last days I spent in Bali, but not south, this time I went further north to Ubud, the art capital of the island, a lot of painters, sculptors, wood carver and artists live close by. The whole area is surrounded by rice fields and a lot of temples can be seen. I went to the most important ones and was templed out after a long day, it was a bit touristy but not as bad as the Uluwatu temple

First I went to Tirta Empul  with it’s hot springs and dating back some 1000 years. It was too crowded with tourists but a perfect start, the next temple I visited is called Gunung Kawi, the Poet Mountain Temple, some pretty good rock carvings can be seen plus an older temple completely carved out of the rock – quite impressive! The Goa Gajah elephant cave is carved in the rock too with a nicely lit lingam and a Ganesh Statue inside. But the quietest, slightly off the beaten path was Pura Kehen with its big 11-tiered meru towering the inner courtyard.  Chapeau for all the rock carvings in the area, of course a legend tells the story that most of it has been carved out by a supernatural being called Kebo Iwa within one night…

The best experience I had at a smaller non touristy temple 2 minutes from the resort I stayed. I first discovered the place in the evening when a group of musicians was rehearsing special Balinese temple style – I never heard before, check this out: http://youtu.be/0IglFlEUc7E   The main ceremony was on the day of my departure and I managed to attend for 2 hours, men in white wearing sarong to cover the knees, a sash around their waist and a typical white hat. Women were wearing colorful dresses and carrying donations – mostly on the head – each of them very beautiful. Children accompanying their parents, behaving, everyone showing grace.  Priceless !

I also checked out the local chocolate factory Big Tree Farms, all organic with coconut sugar, no milk and a perfect tour with tastings from raw cacao beans to the final product. the tour was very informing and changed my view of chocolate!

I really liked the slow pace and restfulness of Ubud and its citizens, going around in the country side with loads of temples and rice paddies is so relaxing on its own. The only stress I had in traffic – an hour before sunset, when everyone wants to go home and the roads are jammed for 2 hours.

It’s been a sweet ride the last months I look back half sad and with pure joy, but more looking forward to returning home, meeting all my family and friends, eating the good cheese and breathing the slightly cooler air of Germany again. Indonesia you’ve been a blast!

Labuan Bajo – Last days in paradise

For my last days in paradise I didn’t plan anything I relaxed totally not doing much, just some hours exploring the area with a bike every other day or swimming. From my sweet home I had a pretty good view over the bay of Labuan Bajo, the gateway to Komodo National Park. Life could be worse…
Lots of tourists walk the main street but as soon as you get further away it gets quieter and the typical Indonesian hospitality takes over again 😉
The peninsula is the most beautiful spot around town I could find, the locals also know that and I had a couple of chats and photo sessions 😉

Komodo – Dragon tales

I went for a daytrip to Rinca island to see the Komodo dragons, I also wanted to see the flying bats in the evening and as this is not a typical tourist program I ended up chartering a boat for a day- felt good to be in control of the trip and not depending on the tour operator!
The biggest lizards on earth belong actually to the monitor lizard family and without any natural enemies on the islands in and around the national park they could get that big, as usual in the theory of island gigantism, the largest male measured 3 meters and weighting 70 kg!
The animals are only active during the cooler hours of the day, the other time they lay around pretty lazy, so it’s hard to track them down in the wild after say 10 o’clock, that’s why I only got to see them near the ranger station.
The snorkelling at Tempe island was nice, of course I’ve already seen the marine life during diving but considering it a normal snorkel session without prior experience, it was pretty sweet! The best was the beach walk though, especially along the rocks. Some goats are also living on the island and they were checking me out as I was dancing on a rock when the sun reappeared behind the clouds and kicked the rain away.
The best moment of the day was just after sunset when hundreds of thousands of flying fruit bats return to their sleeping place on Flores and leave Kalor island one after the other, a lovely spectacle. I was climbing on the roof of the boat, laying down and gazing at the sky as batmen were flying right above, whhooohooo!
On our way back I was playing with the light over the waters and plenty of fish jumping looking for the light and trying to catch it.

Komodo Nation Park is just a lovely piece of land, so many thing to do and see, I loved every bit!

Komodo – World-class Wicked Diving

I always wanted to go to Komodo to see the dragons and since I’m addicted to diving now, the area is even more interesting as in the tropical waters host some of the world’s best dive sites. The Pacific to the north and the Indian ocean to the south are actually at different heights, so the flow of currents from the Pacific to the Indian during tidal exchanges makes the currents among the strongest in the world and creates a rich marine diversity!
Staying on a Live aboard within the boundaries of the national park makes more sense as it’s a day trip for the best spots from main Flores.
Wicked Diving has the perfect budget option and offers great service, safety and knowledge for the money, no I don’t get paid commission but I really liked my stay on the boat called CB, it was the good people and the sweet energy they spread. So cheers Marcus, Connie, Mike, Katie, Becky, Rod, Sarah, Marcel and all the others that made the time unforgettable!

The second site we dove the first day is called “Makassar” or “Manta Point” and that is exactly what we saw, so many manta rays gently floating in the currents that we lost count, maybe it’s been 40 to give you an idea. The currents although at medium strength – for me full on ;).  At one spot we just hold on to the rocks and watched the spectacle, unbelievable! The giants came so close and circled just some centimeters above my head, so impressive!

The most spectacular dive site the next day: Castle Rock!
After fighting again with the strong currents and hanging on to rocks we got to see an incredible amount of white tip reef sharks swimming past and getting cleaned, maybe it was 30. Also big schools of fishes were playing with the current.

Another great spectacle out of this world was diving at “Batu Bolong” or “The Fish Bowl”.  A rock in the middle of the ocean, strong downward currents on each side – this is what the fish cherish!  And already when entering the water I couldn’t believe what’s going on down there. Such a high concentration of fish, sometimes it was hard to spot the big fellows due to the massive amount of small ones swimming all over! Again we saw white tip sharks, sea turtles, colorful hard and soft coral and a lot of shit while zig zagging our way up. Such a great way to start the day!
When finishing the dive my eyes were wide open with a big smile on my face!

The other dives were also great with awesome hard and soft coral, turtles en masse, moray eels, unicorn fish, pygmy seahorse, frogfish, stingray’s, sea slugs, nudibranchs, sweetlips, napoleon wrasse, scorpions fish, puffer fish and the typical reef suspects – simply an unbelievable amount of marine creatures,  such a colorful world down in the Komodo waters. In the evening a dugong mother with his child was even swimming in the bay where the CB is anchored!
Together with Raja Ampat I had the time of my life diving in Indonesia, best diving ever, simply WORLDCLASS!

Don’t worry there will be a video, I just hadn’t had the time yet, so stay tuned, there is going to be an update to this page soon!

Bajawa & Ruteng – The Flores highlands

Perched high up in the mountains above 1000 meters, Bajawa is the Ngada trading outpost, the climate is rather chilly and it’s a welcoming change to the hot & humid lowlands. The little town is framed by forested volcanos, the biggest being Mt. Inerie at 2245 meters. Traditional villages, home to the Ngada people, are just close by and make for a good daytrip. So I went out exploring the area with a scooter.
On a small road close to Gunung Inerie I drove past small villages, was greeted by the friendly locals and school kids gathered round my bike when I made a break, begging for pictures.
Later I arrived at the traditional villages Luba and Bena, with characteristic huts, a distinct layout and friendly villagers. Normal village life can be seen, women’s weaving the Ikat and livestock is being held in the back of the huts. At the northern end of the village I discovered a brilliant lookout next to a small chapel and paid respect to the place for some time.
Further along the Malanage hot springs, hot volcanic waters mixes with the cold in a river, by carefully choosing a spot I sat and laid in the river enjoying the warmth, it smelled a bit sulphuric though.

Some hours along the curvy mountain road Ruteng, a market town – even less touristy than Bajawa, is situated at the base of a forested mountain range, actually a cloud forest with rain every afternoon. I didn’t walk the streets alone for a long time, young locals approached and asked if they can accompanying me and practise their English. I got to meet 5 different youngsters within 1 hour all asking the same questions 😉
Again the scooter is the best way to explore the area of rice fields, caves and traditional villages.
The cave in Liang Bua literally meaning cool cave is pretty huge but not very deep and stalactites in different sizes and shapes hanging from the ceiling. The remains of the Flores Hobbit have been found here in 2003. Further reads: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homo_floresiensis .
All around the city rice fields are cut in the mountain slopes, some even in the shape of a spider web.
The traditional village of Todo is a 90 min ride away from town through beautiful green and hilly landscape, the last bit of the road was a rough ride as pieces of the road were missing. The iconic cone shaped houses used to be the kings residence overlooking the ocean at 750 meters above sea level. 4 traditional houses are left and have been renovated not too long ago, but the whole place is pretty commercialized, they ask for 50.000 rupiahs to see the village and try to sell you more clothes, you get the 20 min “tour” with one of the village elderly, speaking Basic English and that’s it, I was a bit disappointed.

All in all the highlands gave me the right energy I needed for the rest of the trip, I enjoyed the cool climate and the friendly people, looking forward to the next encounters…

Mt. Kelimutu and around – Volcano diaries

The island of Flores is boasting with volcanic peaks and the main attraction being Kelimutu with its 3 crater lakes that change color during the day and due to its mineral composition even during the years, blue, grey, red, black, you name it.

Moni, a small village at the gates of the national park is the place where all tourists linger, basically it’s a street with houses to the left and right stretching along for half a kilometre, beautiful perched in the mountains and surrounded by rice fields. I found a room with a pretty sweet lookout and decided to relax for a couple of days, enjoying the different light throughout the day in the rice fields and surrounding hills, gazing at village life and the football and volleyball games in the afternoon. A concrete canal is being built and school finishes round midday. Everyone is greeting and the children are asking for pens and books – it’s not a good advice to give it away as long as you don’t give every kid something! Otherwise all are jealous of the one who has the valuables.
Krysia from Georgia moved in the room next to me and we got along pretty well from the first time we met, both being travellers we had enough stories and spirituality to share. Together we went up the volcano the next morning to check out the sunrise.

We drove up the mountain in complete darkness, my first night ride, I loved going up the bends. From the carpark it was an easy 30 minute walk to the top called Inspiration Point. Once reached the sky got light up and the sun was about to rise soon, we could just guess where all the lakes were, the greyish one we saw right in front and we could also smell the sulphur being emitted. Some orange light fell through the clouds for seconds before they completely took the place, totally misty and mysterious a great spectacle in the morning.
At exactly seven minutes to seven all of a sudden the misty clouds vanished clearing the view to the surrounding valleys, in the distant some peaks above a layer of white clouds were now visible and also all of the 3 lakes, one completely forested and in a dark blackish color, the main greyinsh one we saw before now was more of a blue lit by the sun beams and just next door the 3rd lakealso is some shade of black was visible.  We went to some more lookouts as the sulphuric air really made us cough and our throat became sore, it smelled like new year’s though and the Thai new year was just about to end that day, what a coincidence! Or was it meant to? 😉 The people from Flores belief the spirits of the dead decent in the lakes, which spirits goes where is not clear though.

Going down we properly saw where we were, the national park is lush green with multiple fern and even fern trees, just like in New Zealand! The smell though reminded me of the woods back home in the Dresden area! Magnificent, I inhaled completely!
Slowly we went down the curvy road and straight jumped in a natural hot spring for relaxation, the best hot spring I’ve been so far, right in the middle of a rice paddy and all natural with the best temperature ever! The perfect thing to end the gorgeous morning!

The other day I went along the street to explore the area, rode up and down the hills, through small villages and past lookouts of lush green rice paddies and volcanic peaks in the clouds. A lot of tall bamboo plants on the way as well as construction sites. The area is prone to landslides and the workers clear the debris to allow the constant flow of traffic on the islands main road.

I left on a Monday, which is market day, I was so reminded of India, strolling across the busy place early in the morning, locals from the surrounding villages came to sell their goods or to make a bargain, it felt so authentic to stroll along although some villagers hadn’t had their smiley face put on.

Flores is a beauty to the eye and this was just the start, more volcanoes will guide my way…

Southern Bali – the Australian Mallorca

I heard and read some stories about Bali before even getting there, those stories lowered my expectations. And it is really touristy especially in cities near the airport. The beach is crowded and surfer wannabes ride the waves. I met a lot of Australians and there are plenty of restaurants, bars, t-shirt vendors, hotels, hostels and home stays.
On the narrow streets of Kuta every 100 meter you get offered a massage – of course not for free… Or people shout “Yes!” to look at the shop or change some money, or “Scooter?” followed with a gesture of the right hand that cranks up the gas handle. Everyone rides a scooter here and that’s the only way to get out of the mess for cheap.

So I rented a two wheeler for half a day and went south to Uluwatu an ancient place of worship. But first I needed to find a way out of the maze of narrow one way streets and heavy traffic in the heart of touristy town, damn! Some 20 minutes later I rode the two lane highway south, past the airport, where a plane just flew right above my head. The rest of the way was easy to find, up on the hills passing buses and vans on the narrow road. Once I arrived I understood, this place isn’t used for worshiping anymore, well to be fair the small temple compound inside still might be. Lord Ganesha acts as the bouncer at the door but a more effective mechanism are the locked gates 🙂
The beautiful compound is restless filled with hordes of tourists, busloads of them – I never saw that many westerners at a holy site in India…
The place is still spectacular as the temple sits right above the mighty cliffs overlooking the ocean and big waves roam in, crushing ashore – a magnificent view and sound. Wandering a couple hundred meters south, high above the ocean floor and out of the compound I escape the hordes and inhale the place properly.

Hinduism in Bali is different to India, when the religion swept to the island the new influences were simply overlaid on existing practices. Temples can be found in every tiny village – they look different to the Indian counterparts, what mostly catches the eye is the significant gate.
The gods might be the same but the way they are honored differs from India, incense sticks are burned and offerings brought every morning and placed on the ground to placate the bad spirits. The people believe that spirits are everywhere, the good in the mountains, giants and demons lurk beneath the sea and bad spirits haunt the woods or empty beaches. So the Balinese live either in the cities or up in the hills, leaving the beach to the tourists 🙂

It was a short intermezzo but just about right. I’m happy to leave, seeking for a tranquil place further east…

The Philippines – How I felt the country

The last cities I visited after Legazpi and before heading back to Manila were Naga and Lucena, both not touristy at all and me being the only white guy around.
Naga was the most honest city in the Philippines I’ve been at, the tricycle was 8 pesos for one ride, everywhere else it cost at least 20, mostly 50! At the time of writing 52,5 pesos convert to 1 euro. I saw poverty on the street, children begging, the prices for goods the lowest ever and still people were friendly wearing big smiles, pavement dwellers next to western dressed college guys walking past the fruit lady selling mango’s for 20 pesos, crowds of worshiper heading for the evening prayer and the street jammed with everything that moves – that’s the Philippines!
I could feel the stares, being the only European person all around made the people check me out – a few might not have seen a stranger like me with a big red beard 🙂 at some stage the stares were pinching and I felt distracted, I could not look the people in the eyes anymore…strange energy!

Quick facts about the country:

  • English is spoken throughout the whole island state
  • Churches are dominant all over the place, big catholic belief!
  • Jeepney’s (old converted American truck’s) used as public transport – most of the time they have a Mercedes or Volkswagen emblem in front – tuning is king 😉
  • The tricycle is the Filipino answer to the Thai Tuk Tuk and the Indian moto rickshaw
  • Double moral: Riding a bike with a helmet is mandatory but riding on top of tricycles is allowed too
  • Loud two-stroke bikes keep noise-polluting the streets
  • Generally a lot of fumes in traffic and bad traffic jams in the big cities
  • Everything looks fancy on the outside but if you look behind the façade it’s crumbling, that applies to material things but also to people…
  • More expensive than India and Indonesia and also
    • More chains in restaurants, fast food and groceries, like 7 Eleven, Mc Donalds, BK, Wendy’s, …
    • People are dressed more western and got bigger bellies
  • Food is all about meat with lots of fat and oil
  • Karaoke is widespread and somewhat of a national sport, it also happens that people spontaneously start to sing on the street
  • Whitening products are heavily used, which results in white faces but a more darker taint on the rest of the body
  • Liberal in terms of gender topics, being gay is not a big deal

But what really struck me the most; it’s a retirement place for mostly western man. You’ll see so many with a Philippine lady on their side. When I talked to them, most seem to hate the country and consider the local dumb and lazy. Of course some people aren’t the smartest and I saw a lot of women working their asses off while the man fool around but the ignorance of those westerners was just so wrong! The only thing which came to mind: White trash!

Although the Filipino’s are very friendly and talkative I’m sick of answering the same questions: “Where you’re from?”, “Name?”, “Age?”, “You’re single?”, “Not married?”, “No wife?”, “No children?”, “Why?”  I did that for half a year now but still in India it wasn’t that offensive and Indonesia was more gently, somehow I’m tired of repeating it over and over again. I’m also sick of the typical American words and slogans used more often. Every guy is a “Sir”, but I don’t want to be a Sir! “Thank you for shopping with us, Sir” or ”Come again, Sir” no I won’t come again, even if you’re crawling more up my ass! That’s a thing I didn’t like in the states either…

I won’t miss my experiences; even the bad ones made me grow! Some brilliant moments still happened and a handful of good people I met, but I’m looking forward for a change, Indonesia here we go again…

Legazpi – home of a perfect volcano

Mt. Mayon looking over Legazpi, wherever you are, you’ll spot the perfect cone shaped stratovolcano. Measuring 2.462 meters in height and being super active with the last eruption just 3 years ago Mayon is a buddy to count on. More info https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayon_Volcano

I went all around with a motorbike, the so called Mayon 360°, roughly 80 km. It can easily be done in half a day with stopping at some scenic spots in between, all offering great views of the mighty mountain that killed 5 trekkers on their way to conquer the summit during the last eruption. Since that tragedy climbs are prohibited. Looking at the perfectly shaped mountain from its base, offers better view anyhow…
I stopped at the Cagsawa Ruins, a former town that was destroyed by the volcano in 1814 killing more than 2000 people and Daraga church, the place where all remaining people moved after the deadly eruption.
Riding on the highway was a bit of a mission as cars, van, trucks, tricycles and people share one lane and the highway is busy as, going all the way north to Manila, the capital city. Dust, dirt and exhaust fumes were 50 % of my air consumption 😉 After I followed the signs for Tabaco City I rode in peace leaving the busy highway behind. The road went uphill in a wide open valley, always the symmetrical Mt. Mayon to the right and Mt. Masaraga to the left, an extinct stratovolcano. The clouds were moving in just in the left of the valley and the wind was pushing through, taking care of the chill. I could even smell the rain but didn’t feel it. Tabaco city itself is not a place to hang around for long; the name is still from the former Spanish era where the area was used to grow tobacco. Humidity levels and temperatures rose again when I went the last leg along the cost.
Finally I have to admit the almighty mountain really had the same shape all around, just the texture and color changed when riding it 360!

The city itself has a small beach boulevard with restaurants and again nice volcano views including the sleeping lion hill, named because of its shape, after a couple of beers one could maybe see the lion in the mountain I didn’t 🙂

Views from the tallest peak within the city limits Lignon hill are spectacular as well. But the most scenic spot I found was the Quitinday Green Hills, a bit out of town, small green hills most of the same shape and a lot of them next to each other. The place that offers the climb is very cautious about conservation. Steps just hewn in the soil, no wood or rock was used, bamboo rails, small bamboo huts with palm leaf roofs! And the way to get there, also a little adventure on its own, the concrete road is getting smaller and smaller until a rough dirt road takes you the last kilometers.

Ecologically green and fantastic, if all the touristy locations would be like that more people would get the idea!

Donsol – Swimming with Whale Sharks

A small rural beach town on the main island of Luzon is in the tourist focus from December to May each year, that’s when the whale sharks migrate through the area. There is also another town in the Philippines advertising whale shark tourism but there the animals are fed and they stopped migrating and just stay in the area, plus they’re not properly treated with too many people swimming around them and boat numbers are not limited, this should not be supported!
In Donsol it happens a more ecological way. A so called Butanding (Filipino word for whale shark) Interaction Officer, a BIO, is assigned to each boat, advising the people and watching that the animals are treated the right way (no touching, no feeding, no underwater flash, max 5 min interaction, one boat at a time,…). The big fish still get a bit distracted and sometimes hurt when multiple boats with tourists venture out every morning, wanting to see the gigantic fish and chasing it, the back fin can get hurt by the boats propeller as the whale shark swims close to the surface to feed or the fish just gets distracted while feeding with some humans swimming close by. That’s why the tours just happen in the morning from 7 to 11. One must decide for his own good if this can be supported. The whale sharks come around this particular area every year though and haven’t chosen another spot that looks as they still like it here and are treated not that bad.

So early in the morning I got in the boat with 5 other guys, hardly 10 min later in the open water Jerry our BIO told us to wear the fins, snorkel and mask and sit on the side of the boat, ready to jump. 2 min later we were all kicking with our fins, following Jerry, heads down in the murky water and yes there he was, the first whale shark, massive in size I could not see the complete fish at once as the visibility wasn’t that great but it was a magical moment swimming along the giant which just dove down after a couple of seconds.
Having a white belly the rest being grey, the skin marked with pale yellow spots and striped, individual to each – it just looks friendly. The largest fish on the planet can grow up to a size of a bus! In Donsol they range between 5 and 10 meter. More info’s on the worlds largest fish: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whale_shark

The second time we were more lucky swimming a minute next to it and getting quite close. We cruised around the area for about 3 hours and got to jump in the water a couple of times, sometimes we missed the giants as they dove down, sometimes we saw them so close almost able to touch and there was that moment where we got into the water as we saw another group already swimming with the fish for some time. We could trace the route of the whale shark got in some 20 meters ahead and all of a sudden the only thing I saw was the fish swimming straight at me with its big mouth wide open – uaahhhh!
They use the area as feeding ground and mainly feed on plankton and grill just opening their mouth and swimming. I knew that fact but still in this particular moment I was a bit scared and swam aside as fast as I could seeing the mighty fish slowly swimming past.
The last one we saw didn’t swim that fast so I could keep up with him and let me fall back, filming the tail, a couple of kicks later I would be back at his mouth investigating the cleaner fish around and checking his teeth and eyes, magnificent, swimming a couple of minutes next to the biggest fish on earth and also the biggest one we saw today, maybe 10 meters in length – just an unforgettable experience!

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