Volcanoes and Water

Posted on September 6, 2017

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It’s been an astounding few months. Hence my abscence from the blogosphere. I’ve packed so much in I have decided to try to write just the highlights, if possible. My short week in Papua New Guinea was wonderful and i will most definitely be returning to explore this captivating country on land and under water soon!

The diving at Walindi (in Kimbe) did not disappoint and while it was not as challenging as Taveuni, I was very happy. I saw huge schools of barracuda, bat fish, dog tooth tuna fish and white tip sharks. It was also in these amazingly warm waters (32 degrees) that I did my longest dive to date – 88minutes on one tank. Staying at the resort was like staying at a family home. Guests ate together around communal tables every night swapping stories about the day and opening up about themselves; and the managerial staff who live on site also joined us. The food was a fantastic spread of several different dishes to help yourself to everynight. No one went hungry. Quite the opposite. We even had a screaming-at-the-television-night when the rugby was on. It’s a brilliant atmosphere there and the cottages are gorgeous and affordable. I would recommend it for anyone visiting the region and i’d love to go back.

The day before I flew back to the mainland I did a long forest trek up to Volcano Abuna. A group of young volunteers arrived at the resort to do the climb. Company! I spoke too soon….they were hardline Christians. I don’t have an issue with religion or people having a view but they were fierce republicans, ultra homophobic and climate change sceptics. All were married very young and most were around 25 years old. I said very little for four hours.

Abuna is still smoking and churning out toxic sulphur fumes and the guides (who all walk bare foot) refuse to get close to the crater. If you want to go, you go at your own risk. You can’t actually see the crater if you hike closer, so it’s rather pointless. The most recent explosion was only a few years ago. The area all around it is scorched dry and is barren. A marked difference from the lush green rainforest I trekked uphill for a good two and a half hours. The week at Walindi evaporated and before I knew it I was back in the grimmy city of Port Moresby. 

Before leaving for Kimbe, I had asked the landlady of my guesthouse in Port Morseby to see if she could find me a guide to take me hiking through Varirata National Park –  it’s the only national park in the country. I never like to do these things solo incase of an accident and well it is PNG and I was still gauging the temperature of the country. 

Despite my career and the voracious solo travel I am not a risk-taker but I like to find out what’s real and what’s exaggerated. I never believe the first person to tell me something. And I really didn’t feel my safety was compromised while I was there a week earlier. Plus everyone believed me when I told them I was Fijian. It defintely pays to be dark skinned this side of the world.

She had warned me off doing the trip saying that Sogeri Road was nortoious for car jackings and that it would not be safe to go and her drivers wouldn’t take me. So a quick message to a local I know now living in Australia and an internet search revealed it was no more danagrous than Johannesburg. I asked her if the guide was still free and if he could find me a driver with a beat up car, that was road worthy, I’d been keen. I had no intention of driving there in a suped-up people carrier looking like a mugger’s target. That I’d leave to a party of bird watchers who had arrived with their very expensive cameras and lenses. 

Variata is a stunning park with streams and waterfalls, dense leech covered forest filled with more than 700 species of birds and reptiles. But few people visit. Other than the twitchers/ birders who stayed in one spot all day, there was no one else there. A heart thumping six hour trek across fast flowing streams, up and down muddy inclines and through moss blanketed ungrowth was just what I needed to tire me out for my evening flight to Bali.

Touching down in Indonesia I was met with the high pitched sing-songy sounds of the Balinese men and women. Immediately there is a sense of safety despite the chaos and nightfall. It’s the easiest place to travel for an inexperienced solo traveller wanting to break their backpacking cherry.

I loved Bali when I visited briefly three years ago so I was hoping my month would be just as good. I had a friend flying in to meet me for ten days of diving and exploring and an ex student from Fiji holidaying with his family who wanted to reconnect and do his first wreck dive – the USSR Liberty in Tulaben – with yours truly.

The first week was spent in Pemuteran a quaint, quietish town with a laid back charm. We dived in Menjangan a marine park which should have been more impressive but left me disappointed. As I slowly tick of the best dive sites in the world I’m making a rod for my own back. But I loved the atmosphere of the area with its small intimate restaurants and sleepy beach bars. We took a night ferry to Java to climb the volcano Ijen and see the blue flame and turquoise coloured acid crater for a sunrise hike. There were hoards of tourists and most were wearing the most inappropriate clothing and footwear, I didn’t know whether to pity them or mock them. The sheer numbers of people on the precarious narrow paths put me off the idea of climbing Mount Rinjani in Bali; which I hear is worse. So that idea was biffed.

On leaving Pemuteran we visited Bali’s botanical gardens – wonderful. For a few hours we explored the vast park and I thoroughly loved gawping at the magnificent varieties of bamboo. It’s my new favourite plant. I’ve become somewhat obsessed with it actually and wherever I eventually retire I want lots of it everywhere. Other species of plant were so huge you could say they were Jurassic.  Another thirty minute drive took us to Munduk. It wasn’t part of the agenda but a couple we met recommended it to us so we stayed for two nights. Munduk is in the mountains and the cooler air offered some respite from the strong sun. Being high up also meant we had amazing sunsets over the mountains. We did a waterfall hike, got drenched in an impromptu down pour and slurped up spicy local soup to get warm. Two days later we were in Ubud. What the hell has happened to this place?

There are more single women walking the streets of Ubud than there are Hindu deities. And that’s a lot. They are not the problem, it’s just become so commercial and gentrified that it’s lost all of its Balinese charm. I blame Eat, Pray, Love. Yes I’ve read the damn book and I roll my eyes everytime someone cites it as a potential mirror for my travel story. Not likely. So please, please stop saying it. The only people I meet are old ladies, screaming babies and loved-up couples. Any sniff of testosterone usually comes in a package aged 28-34, with zero interest in commitment.

The highlight of Ubud was good coffee and great food. I left without regrets and headed to Kerobokan for yoga and diving. It was hard saying goodbye to my friend after ten days and it took me a couple more to get over the fact that I would be alone again.

While I was in PNG I met a superb diving instructor at Walindi who convinced me that if I was in Indonesia I owed it to myself to get my ass to Komodo. She promised me it would be the best diving of my life and I would be challenged unlike anywhere else in the region.

So a few hours after arriving I booked a liveaboard and a plane ticket and headed for Flores.

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