Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Buenos Aires and on

I landed in Buenos Aires four and a half hours before taking off, which is a useful trick if I could work out how to use it.
The immigration officer decided to question me about the design of my passport, which had me wondering if there was "must know obscure shit to enter" rule but eventually he let me go.
Once through I headed for the official taxi desk and was accosted by a man offering to take me to the city centre for US$45. I waved him away and booked at the desk, where they gave me a slip of paper with the cost in various currencies, it was $14!

The hostel struggled to find my booking at first but eventually decided I was the Matteo Leban someone had put in their system and I was shown to a bed on a kind of mezzanine reached by a ladder. I promptly went to sleep for an hour, got up to have a pizza then went back to bed.

Food portions are often ridiculous, I ordered what was on the menu as café con leche, tostadas, y jamon. Apparently it wasn't worth mentioning that the ham came with two fried eggs, or that I also got a glass of orange juice, a fruit salad and a slice of cheesecake.

I was pleased to discover I did remember enough Spanish to navigate the subway to the bus station and book an overnight bus to Mercedes.
Less pleased to find that Monday is when every museum and tourist site in the city closes so I spent a long time wandering the streets. The city seems very European, if I didn't know and was told I was in a suburb of Madrid or Barcelona I would have accepted it.
My bus seat was what they call suite meaning it could be laid flat and I had the best sleep I have ever had on a form of transport and got to Mercedes at 7am. Now waiting for the onwards bus to Colonia Carlos Pellegrini, which might be at 8.15,  8.50 or indeed 12.30 depending on who I ask.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

What time is it?

Due to my own stupidity I ended up with a little over a day in Auckland, not enough time to do much let alone adjust to the time zone before going on.
Overall impressions, a bit like home but there are definite echoes of Australia in the culture. Both are what you get if you try and build a copy of England fast, on top of a completely different place and people.
Yesterday I visited the Pasifica festival and saw dancers and music from around the Pacific. I was disappointed that what was on offer as typical Po3lynesian food seemed to be chop suey - I was looking for a change from east Asian cuisine. I did try the taro, which turned out to be the blandest food ever. Think plain boiled potato with a drier texture and less flavour.

In the evening lookingfor somewhere to eat I was taken aback when I had my bum pinched by a man wearing a feather boa in rainbow colours, speedos and a big grin. Not something that would have happened in ruralSumatra I think. Plus that bar didn't even do food!

Today I wanted to go to Rangitoto island but with it being a Sunday decided not to risk being trapped or delayed by a lack of public transport. Instead I walked through the city to the highest point at Mount Eden, which turned out to be an extinct volcano, complete with grassed over crater.

Now already back at the airport.

Yours in exhaustion

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Once there were tigers

Singapore always comes as a shock. The high technology, English road signs and cultural diversity - it could almost be London or New York if not for the climate.

The streets are not as clean as I remembered but otherwise it is all ultra modern but withtiny patches of natural vegetation. It's hard to believe Wallace was stalked by tigers here - so much gained and so much lost.

Singapore zoo is worth seeing,  despite my doubts about polar bears in the tropics and whether they can really describe orang utans on a small island with a climbing frame as "free ranging in the treetops".

In the evening I found somewhere to try the famous chilli crab, which required some navigation as the Chinatown train station seemed to only have exits into a shopping centre, not to outside.

From there I went to the Gardens by the Bay. I know there are many bits I didn't see but the supertrees alone were worth it with incredible views.

Woke up in the morning to a panic. 24th is meant to be the date I land in New Zealand, not the date I set off. Currently ar Changi airport, they can get me on tonight's flight but I need my travel agent in the UK to organise it. Really hope he starts work early. 

Tuesday, 21 March 2017


In the absence of any obvious surface route between Medan and Singapore I flew to Penang, setting off far too early. Malaysia feels so much richer than Indonesia, it's hard to imagine the roads here being unsurfaced or getting random power cuts. No more 5 star accommodation though, I slept in a pod bed that was like being in a box.
In Penang I went to the top of the tallest tower on the island, complete with glass walkway and laughed at the people concerned it was too cold and rainy (it was like a warm mist).
On the way down I passed several bizarre floors including a replica of a Japanese street, a room where children rode robot dinosaurs and a 7D cinema  (any ideas?).
Then I visited the nearest museum, which turned out to be an upside down house.
In the evening I met up with Hannah from the Orang utan project, who was in town to sort out a visa and we had dinner.
This morning I got up too early again and walked down to the free ferry to the mainland to catch a train to KL and eventually, via getting off in the wrong place and a lack of signs found my guesthouse and promptly fell asleep for an hour. I know I should try and see something of the city but I really don't feel like it so will try and save my cash for Singapore. 

Sunday, 19 March 2017

And now for something completely different

For the midpoint of my trip I decided to break from backpacking to try out a bit of luxury. The five star Marriott in Medan has bed and breakfast for  £70 a night,  a lot for budget travel but in the range of a two or three star travelodge or Premier Inn at home.
So I've been enjoying the huge buffet, roof top pool and views from the 28th floor. The real luxuries for me though are a powerful shower, a toilet where you can flush paper  (if you don't understand this you don't want to) and the quality of the aircon, which keeps my room at 16 degrees without a big noisy box on the window. 

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Orang utan Orang utan!

Just got back from five days jungle trekking with a total of 17 orang utans, 11 of them fully wild?
On the first day we visited the edge of the national park to see the semi wild Orang utans,  who were released from a rescue centre. Then we followed the river about four hours into the forest and set up camp on the banks. It was very basic, the toilet arrangement was "here's a stick, dig a hole and bury everything, washing was in the river and food was cooked over a campfire.
The second day we went up a very steep, very muddy hill and along the ridge. As we were descending we found our first truly wild Orang utan a young male. After a bit he was joined by a mother and baby, then another male arrived and the first left. Finally as we were returning to camp a male and female crossed in front of us.

Day three saw us back at the same fig tree by a shorter route , where there was a different mother and baby
 Later joined by the mother and baby from the day before. We stayed until we had a faecal sample  (this is research) and then headed back.
Day four and instead of crossing the river we stayed on our side and climbed the hill behind camp. On the other side we saw a dominant male and another mother and baby. We headed back via a waterfall.
Today was walking back along the river followed by lunch in Bukit before returning to Coconut Island, sweaty, covered in dirt and insect and leech bites but very very happy. 

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

To the forest

I stayed a night in Medan before being picked up for the Orang utan project.
The base is a small bamboo house in the middle of rice fields. There is electricity and wifi but no mains water so we shower with rainwater and flush the toilet from a well.
Today we did a practice trek of four hours. We passed through rubber plantations before wading across a river, then headed uphill into the forest. No orang utans today but we did see a nest.
The down was steep and slippy and then we walked along the river, crossing loads of times. At the final crossing everyone stopped and we sat down in the water for a bit.
Then we walked back to the tourist town of Bukit Lawang for lunch. The river by the town looked very fast and rough but we still saw people rafting on it.