Friday, 31 March 2017

Iguazu falls

The first thing to say is wow!
The area around the falls may be a bit of a theme park but that is completely lost in the sheer scale of them.

Two huge horseshoes of waterfalls, one above the other then further back a third waterfall called the Devil's throat.

I got a shared taxi from the hostel then explored as many paths as possible. There were there broad areas. Round the entrance,  with little view, the lower path and upper paths and the Devil's throat walkway, which went out across the river.

Walking between these seemed to be forbidden but there was a little train included in the entrance price.

I saw everything by 3.30 and spent an hour establishing there were boat trips in my price range before waiting for the pick up at 5, which turned out to be 5.30 as two of the passengers went awol.

Tomorrow, I should cro

Esters de Ibera

The Esteros de Ibera are the second largest wetlands I'm south America after the Pantanal in Brazil and not the easiest place to visit.

First you need to get to a small town called Mercedes. Coming from Buenos Aires the only buses run overnight. Then wait.

At about 12 a dirty yellow bus marked Crucero del Norte leaves for Colonia Carlos Pellegrini in the wetlands. After 30 minutes the tarmac stops and for the next three hours the road is made of sand. Eventually the road crosses a wooden bridge and arrives at Carlos Pellegrini, where I was dropped at my guesthouse.

Very little of the wetlands is accessible to the public. There are a series of walkways that take 2-3 hours and boat tours of the one lake nearest the town. Even in this small area I saw lots of capybara, caiman and some marsh deer, which if I understood correctly are endemic to the Ibera wetlands.

Getting out was a stroke of luck. The only way by public transport is back to Mercedes, which for my plan to get to Iguazu falls would have meant at least four different buses and 18 hours on the road. Instead it turned out a Belgian couple were going the same way so we split the cost and paid the guesthouse owner to drive us to Posadas to the north. Again this was a long, straight sand road. This time for five hours. The landscape gradually changed and we came out of the wetlands and passed huge farms and stands of woodland that seemed to be pine.

Then quite suddenly we came to a junction with a busy surfaced road running into the suburbs of Posadas. From there it was easy to get a bus through to Puerto Iguazu. As I walked out of the bus station there was a place called Tango Inn opposite so I checked into a dorm.

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.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Indonesia -a review

The last couple of days have been pretty much covered by my photos, tomorrow will be getting to Medan and then I'm off to the jungle, so I decided to review a whole country. Because why not?

1. Do not travel by road, you will have worked this out from my previous posts but seriously just don't. Getting anywhere takes about a day, roads are bad and driving worse and let's not even mentioned what pass for vehicles. Take internal flights it will be worth it.

2. Food is highly variable. I had some amazing meals especially in Ubud, but I also had some terrible ones. In Java the sauces tend to be watery and in Sumatra many places think food counts as fresh and hot if it has been cooked the same day. On the other hand Sumatra also provided Jemny's on Samosir, where I just ate freshly caught and fried lake fish, which was great. If in doubt go for the fruit, there is lots often straight off the trees.

3. English is rarely spoken and even people who think they speak it will struggle with questions like "What time is the bus".

4. If you can interact with an Indonesian in a non commercial setting you won't find anyone more friendly and helpful. If they are in any tourist related business you can trust them only after you have paid and even then expect to be given the hard sell for something extra. The big exception bizarrely is actual shops where they seem content to leave the door open and be somewhere in the neighbourhood rather than actually sit behind the counter.

5. Despite being the largest Muslim country in the world an awful lot seems to be non Muslim. Bali is Hindu of course but so is the area around Bromo and the lake Toba area seems to be mostly Christian although with traces of another religion that involved ghosts, magicians and sacrificing bulls.

6. In hotels you will find proper toilets, elsewhere, I was very glad that as a man I don't have to touch anything except with the soles of my shoes. Squat toilets are common and the flushing and washing arrangement is usually an open tank and a small bucket so you can pour the water from it.

7. On the subject. One of the oddest things has been the way so many places like petrol stations have a prayer room in with the toilets.

8. The landscape can be truly amazing.

9. The adverts include the bizarre Pro Mild. Which I think are cigarettes, although that makes the use of the English language slogan never quit all the more questionable. Which brings me to.

10. No I don't smoke and actually yes I do mind if you do, especially in a confined space like a minibus.  

Thursday, 2 March 2017

I might have broken

That last journey was pretty horrible. Six hours in a minibus on terrible roads.
I got to Parapat around 9 last night and to my surprise was dropped at the police station. I explained my situation and was taken to a travel agent, who sold me a ticket for Medan on Sunday, before showing me to my hotel.
By this point I was exhausted and dehydrated so I downed some water and collapsed.
In the morning, with my head still pounding I got a ferry to Samosir Island. Got upgraded to a 'deluxe' room because the standard ones are being rebuilt but I'm not sure what the difference is. Anyway today I am mostly sleeping,  reading and avoiding people.
Feel a bit better now so fingers crossed for tomorrow.