Lombok: The Approach to Mount Rinjani

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Lombok is famous for Mount Rinjani and a lot of people spend their entire trip climbing this mountain. I hear it’s not an easy ascent because the mountain is pretty high, a lot of people who ascend too fast end up with mountain sickness. We were wusses and did nothing more strenuous than drive the car up to the highest point we could. But let me start from the beginning.

The road taking us to the mountain was winding and first sloped up one of the foothills, lending us a glimpse of the sea. It was partially hidden under the clouds and we were glad we hadn’t gone to the beach that day.

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As I said, the road was incredibly windy (in the winding sort of way, not the high winds sort of way). I’m glad DC drove and all I needed to do was navigate. It was quite easy for most, because there wasn’t a huge choice of roads here!

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We stopped occasionally, most times to admire the view, this time apparently to admire the amount of dirt that started to cake the car already!

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The sky was all sorts of strange menacing, so we had to get off and snap a pic of me grinning maniacally with a backdrop of steel-grey sea and rolling clouds.

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Then the approach to Rinjani. Here was where navigation was a bit tough as there were actually forks in the road. Sadly, I lost some of my navigation-fu and took us past our destination. Thankfully, there were plenty of friendly locals. A rather dodgy pit stop at a local house later, we finally found our way on the road to Rinjani. We were a bit annoyed that the clouds almost completely obscured the peak.

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At least these bright pink flowers creeping on a tree added some vibrancy to our day.

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We really did nothing but drive till the road stopped, get out of the car to take pictures, and then stop at the most cheerful cafe  we could find for lunch. We didn’t even go to see some waterfalls because we were afraid that we’d be rained on. (Clever me also had in mind that it was going to be a beach holiday and I only had slippers and leather flats. No good for traipsing about waterfalls or mountains! I was obviously not showing my seasoned traveller-dom here.)

Still, it was lovely to soak in the cool weather and marvel that we were still on tropical Lombok. There were still plenty of banana trees downhill from the little cafe to remind us that we weren’t anywhere temperate.

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And then the mist rolled in and I was cold! Here I am all huddled in my trusty shawl…

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… and here you can see the mist roll right in.

And then we drove back the way we came and spent the rest of the lazy day by the pool at Villa Sayang. I told you it was a relaxed holiday!

Lombok: A Great Stay at Villa Sayang

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DC and I needed a break and we decided to really not do much at all to recuperate from all the craziness of the year. Lombok was a-calling. There wasn’t a huge lot to do there aside from hardcore mountain climbing and casual snorkelling or scuba diving and, more crucially, there were still air tickets available at short notice.

DC booked Villa Sayang at Mataram, the main town on Lombok. We made it our base out of which to explore the island and what a lovely stay it was! It was set among the padi fields at the base of Mount Rinjani and we had this lovely view from the restaurant every morning.

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There was plenty of greenery. Every morning we saw birds, like this sunbird, flitting about the trees. There were also plenty of butterflies flitting about in the trees. It was such a serene setting for breakfast.

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Until the resident cat turned up and tried to order us to give us food with its commanding stare.

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Breakfast was excellent, either a generous buffet spread when there were enough guests at the Villa or a la carte courses starting with fresh fruit…

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… followed by toast and jam, and then yummy mains such as the fantastic fried noodles a la Villa Sayang. They had a fresh vegetable garden and included lots of their fresh in-house produce in their food.

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The room was really lovely too, with plenty of space and a little gazebo-porch lounge area outside. The bathroom was such a highlight: it was divided into two, with a spectacular outdoor shower set in a granite (or was it limestone?) wall.

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Inside, there was a low bathtub and a lovely aquarium full of fish to entertain us in times of, ahem, boredom.

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We went out in the day and came back in the evenings, sometimes eating in. They were very obliging and even served us dinner in the lounge area outside our villa. They had some delightful dishes such as the fish palumera, a soupy stew with plenty of ginger, local herbs and Thai basil.

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One of the evenings, we had a delightful nasi tumpeng, compliments of the Villa. It was a very yummy combination of rice in a cone shape, representing Mount Rinjani, and plenty of dishes to go with the rice. We had fish satay – served on sticks, the fragrant herbal fish mixture was grilled to perfection; curry chicken, begedil – heavenly fried potato croquettes; spicy beef rendang; egg omelette; fried keropok – prawn crackers; dry-fried sweet-sour tempeh – absolutely lovely with sweet kicap manis, sour assam and crispy, unbelievably good tempeh; and stir-fried vegetables.

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On our final night, we had yet another evening of good food, with specialities like urap urap – a salad dish of blanched vegetables accompanied by a spicy coconut dressing, kangkung pelecing – more about that in a later post, more fish palumera, more beef rendang and yummy fried chicken.

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What made our stay extra special was the personal touch of Ibu Rosa, the lady boss of Villa Sayang. She was amazing at making arrangements for us, from getting us a rental car, to sending us to various really yummy restaurants in town (notwithstanding them being competitors to her in-house restaurant), and getting hold of our crazy shopping items. We went home with 10kg of Lombok mangoes and 5 kg of their signature belacan – again, more of that in a later post.

Villa Sayang was a lovely place to stay, a great place to eat and had such lovely people, we’d not hesitate to go back.

Villa Sayang
Jalan Sonokeling
Lingsar, West Lombok
West Nusa Teggara 83371
Indonesia
Tel: +62-370-6609022
Email: info@villasayang-lombok.com

July in Vietnam: The Madcap Motorbiking Adventure

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Maybe my hide had been toughened by the experiences of the last week, maybe my sense of reckless adventure got the better of me, but still I don’t know what got into me. After being harangued for my previous experience, the travel agent suggested I take a motorbike ride down to my next stop, the Cuc Phuong National Park, where I was up to more monkey business. He assured me that the motorbike driver, Hu, was absolutely proper and wouldn’t even try to touch me. Excellent that we got that sorted out and we were off.

Our route took us past the spectacular Thac Bac (Silver Waterfall) where I spent ages gawking and trying to figure out whether the water droplets falling on me were from the drizzle or the splash of the waterfall.

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It was a steep but very scenic walk up to the top…

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… and the views were nothing short of spectacular.

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We went past Tram Ton Pass which, according to Lonely Planet, divided the warmest and coldest places in Vietnam, Lai Chau and Sapa. As expected, when hot and cold met, you really could see air. It was mistily beautiful and mysterious, one of those places that has to be seen while you’re there. I couldn’t get any pictures because my camera was hopelessly fogged up. As we headed downslope, the mist cleared up slightly and I managed to catch some of the amazing scenery in pixels.

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Some parts of the hills gave way to little pockets of land flat enough for padi. It was the first harvest season and villagers were working hard to dry their harvest along the road, …

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… and subsequently thresh it by hand.

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It was tough work in the fields and it was also tough work staying on the bike. It was my first time for long at the back of the bike. Astride behind Hu, I had to hold myself straight and not grab onto him for propriety’s sake. It meant a mean day-long workout for my abs and thighs. When my abs were tired, I stood up slightly on my knees and when my knees were going to give way, I held my abs in to straighten up. The only alternative to this tough workout was to slump with my face against Hu’s back and I wasn’t about to let that happen. Boy was it tough going. I was so glad to get off the motorbike when we came up to a river crossing.

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Here, there were geese on the banks waiting for us. They must have thrived on the grass growing along the muddy banks.

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After waiting for enough customers at a little shop/tea-shack and chatting with the proprietor to pass the time, we got on board the little boat to get across.

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And after a short two-hour ride more, we were at a village homestay where the pigs very enthusiastically greeted us in the dusk.

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It was also where I very enthusiastically tackled my food (yes, the portion in the picture is only for two!) after a long day’s workout and passed out in the roomy common room of the stilt house.

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More next post.

August in China: The Mountain of Swordfighting Fame

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It’s Father’s Day today and I’m going to tell you how Dad and I climbed Huashan. Enjoy!

No trip to Xian is complete without an excursion to Huashan. We signed up for a local day tour and ended up packed on a tour bus with lots of domestic tourists. We had a mandatory rest stop where we endured a lecture extolling the virtues of traditional Chinese medicine. I couldn’t help being an utter tourist by taking pictures of the lecturer telling us that we absolutely had to buy their herbs grown in the foothills of Huashan.

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Thankfully, the tour bus deposited us at the cable car station and our guide told us to return at the alloted time. The view had already started to be amazing before we got on the cable car. I’d never seen such sheer, stark rock formations  before.

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Looking down from the cable car, we were incredibly glad that we didn’t do the mad Western backpacker thing of legging it up ourselves. The stairs seemed not just steep…

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… but also never-ending!

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There was a lot more climbing to be done after we got off the cable car. True to Chinese form, mountain climbing was as usual stair-climbing. Here we clambered up behind ancient porters carrying up supplies the age-old way. Everything at the top was very expensive simply because it was pure human power that brought them up the last leg. I was put to shame how fast these porters overtook me on the way up.

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There were lots of routes up to the various peaks, some shorter but steeper than others. This one was so steep it was almost vertical!

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The main route up was yet another incredibly steep and unbelievably unending stairway. There were signs all along the way exhorting people to either stop and take pictures or concentrate on moving up, not both. A lot of people gave up around this area. Mum got up that flight of stairs, became really tired and then headed back down to wait for us.

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Dad and I soldiered on. I ran on ahead and waited for him just at the peak because I wanted a bit of a workout. Dad had to take it easy because of his heart. It’s just as well that we warmed up from the exercise as the temperature dropped quite drastically as we reached the top. I had to put on the spare top I had in my bag.

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Towards the top, the mist started rolling in and the stairs stopped. It felt a lot more like I was climbing the mountain rather than stairs at this point.

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Dad was really sporting as he posed at the last push to the top. Look, no hands!

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And here we are at the West Peak, we made it!

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We enjoyed the view on the much easier way down and took many photos of each other.

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After a while I got a little grumpy at having to smile and pose for the photos, my bad. Dad was very happy to take loads of them though! Here’s me looking slightly more cheerful.

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We then headed to the much easier North Peak before calling it a day. This was a cake walk and we covered it in 45 minutes compared to about three hours or so for the West Peak.

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This peak was also the one that shot to fa me in Louis Cha’s swordfighting novels. There were too many people waiting their turn to take a piece with this contrived piece of rock so I didn’t do the classic swordfighting pose. Such a pity!

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After that we headed back down and collected Mum before heading back to the cable cars. Here they are, Dad’s doing his victory hands and Mum’s amused as usual.

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Happy Father’s Day all!

November in China: Nanjing’s Zijing Shan

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In the grounds of the Sun Yat-sen Memorial, there lies the Open Air Music Hall. It’s a charming garden where tourists go to relax and not feel like they have to do any serious work appreciating historical figures. Here, there is just a fountain, patches of grass and space to sit around and enjoy the white pigeons.

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This being China, lots of vendors were on hand selling grain for the birds. Crowds of feathery white surrounded the ones who splurged the most on pigeon food!

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The feathery fellas were quite fearless and of course their feeders were quite happy to be clambered upon.

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Of course, there was much photo-taking to be done and many poses  and rigid smiles all round.

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Mum didn’t fancy it much: she was worried about bird flu.