Visiting the Gulf countries

Tony is now in the Middle East, visiting the Gulf countries. Starting on 9th November, he headed to Kuwait and spent six days exploring this small Gulf state. Tony stayed with a lovely kind Canadian lady for three days before couchsurfing with a nice guy from the US.

Although Kuwait does have public buses, it is much easier and effective to take taxis as they are reasonably inexpensive. Tony attempted to visit the Grand Mosque, thinking he could get a tour and gain some history and information. However, the security guard took him into the main mosque to pray! He even gave Tony a chair to sit on, after several minutes of contemplation Tony departed and exited the mosque. He tried to walk in the city but people told him it was dangerous and tried to get him to take a taxi. Tony caught a ride from a local guy to the historical area and had a brief walk to try to find some buildings of interest. Another local man helped him to the National Museum but it was closed. When Tony visited the museum on another occasion it was also closed. On another day Tony took a two hour long ferry ride to Failaka Island and planned to walk around for an hour or so and return to Kuwait City, however upon boarding, an elderly gentleman asked where he was staying, Tony replied “I’m just going for the day”. The man invited Tony to stay the night as his guest and together along with several elderly locals Tony experienced real Arabic culture, using a toilet as a hole in the ground and squatting, eating food off a plate whilst sitting on the carpet. Rice and lamb with spices for lunch, fish and rice for dinner. Failaka is a peaceful abandoned island with few cars, an old mosque, Heritage Hotel and a camel farm and also ghosts and beaches. 

Tony also experienced local culture of a different kind one other evening when he met up with local couchsurfer Abdulwahab and some of his friends. They met in a local park and heard travel stories by other Kuwaiti people. Afterwards, Tony accompanied his new friend for pizza Kuwaiti style in a nearby noisy pizzeria. It was fun talking with young Kuwaiti ladies who spoke English with an American accent!
After Kuwait, Tony flew to Bahrain for six more days of interesting adventures. He mostly travelled Bahrain by local bus; asking people he met on the street for directions as he travelled. Tony visited Bahrain’s lovely Grand mosque: where a kind and helpful lady from Egypt gave Tony an enlightening and informative tour informing him about the positive aspects of Islam. Tony was invited to talk with her students and share some of his life stories.

Tony also visited by foot Qal’at al-Bahrain, Bahrain Fort, rebuilt several times. First constructed by the Dilmun Civilisation, (Circa 2300 BC) and later rebuilt and strengthened by first Persians and later, in the 15th century, by the Portuguese. The present structure dates from (C 600 AD). It was meant to defend the island from the sea, but eventually ended up trying to contain uprisings from the locals. By the 16th century it was almost obsolete! An excellent audio guide provides information on the various parts of the large area, which contains a Tel as well as palace remains, fortification walls, guard/watch towers and a moat amongst other structures of importance.

Now Tony is in country 105, the United Arab Emirates. He has already visited Dubai, full of skyscrapers, gold, shopping malls of huge size. He’s been up the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.  He’s also witnessed the World’s largest dancing/musical fountain, which performs nightly from 6-10 pm. Tony is now in Abu Dhabi, capital of the UAE. He next goes to Sharja and Ajman, UAE, before heading into Oman.

Ambon, Timor and Flores

A lot has happened since Tony’s last update in Ternate, north Maluku. He headed to Ambon, a small island in the central Maluku group famous for the wars over spices. Tony was hosted by a lovely large family, and also met two nice local girls, together they visited Amsterdam Fort on a hill a two hour bus ride from town. It rained as seems to be the story of this trip and the group were nearly stranded as all the buses and minibuses had apparently returned to the capital town, it being Easter weekend. Finally a bus arrived and all was well.

Ambon is a mostly Christian island so Easter was a quiet affair with many young people going to the churches to sing. I mainly relaxed with Eky, my host, and then flew to Kupang, capital of Timor, Indonesia. This should not be confused with Timor Leste, which is a separate country on the eastern part of Timor Island. Flying around in Indonesia is a relatively inexpensive affair for foreigners, especially if one books in advance, but it can often be a little confusing with passengers often going in the opposite direction of their final destination before flying to the city/town in question. Tony met another traveller from France who was couch surfing with the same host. Therefore on arrival in Kupang airport they met up and shared a taxi to the host’s house. This was slightly complicated as the taxi driver didn’t speak any English and houses in Kupang often don’t have any numbers. We were slightly overcharged but arrived safely, which was the main thing. 

Melsi, Tony’s host is a lovely lady and her mum continuously attempted to feed both him and the French guy. A couple of days were spent exploring. The first day coincided with the Easter parade, a lively affair with many trucks dressed with live performers aboard. Kupang is also largely Christian. Many speeches were conducted citing the Christian religious story. All in Indonesian, of course. On Tony’s second day, Melsi’s parents took him to Crystal cave where he climbed many rough rocks to reach the entrance. Later they visited a delightful waterfall several kilometres from town.

Next came travels across Flores, a large and interesting island to the west of Kupang. Tony stayed with a kind small family for three nights and was taken to a small hill with a large cross on top. They also travelled to Mount Kelimutu to visit the three crater lakes, that change colour due to atmospheric changes. Tony’s first stop in Flores was Maumere, before visiting Kelimutu, Moni Hot Springs and a nearby waterfall. The last stop was at the ‘Blue Stone’ beach, half way between the towns of Ende and Bajawa.

Tony’s next stop was in the largely Christian town of Bajawa where he stayed two nights at a family run homestay. This area has several volcanoes to climb plus traditional villages such as Bena and Luba. Tony visited these villages on a motorbike tour and learnt that each house required a buffalo horn to give it protection and other such items. Houses are made from bamboo with thatched roofs. Bena village is constructed from megalithic stones, some of them quite large. On Tony’s final morning in Bajawa, he accompanied a local guide and climbed Mount Wawo Muda. It took around two hours to descend to the crater lake and another hour and a half to return to Bajawa.

In Flores, people can travel by public bus but also take shared cars. Tony took one of these and stayed one night in the small town of Ruteng. He visited the Spider Rice Fields and also the Hobbit Cave, where remains of small people have been discovered. Next and final stop in Flores was Labuan Bajo in the far west to visit the Komodo National Park, home of the fascinating Komodo Dragon, the world’s largest lizard. Tony was met by his local host, Abdur and taken to Fisherman Island, about an hour’s motorboat ride from the mainland. Tony spent three interesting nights in local hospitality. Fisherman (or Misa) Island is unusual in that it is mostly flat, yet most inhabitants live inland and not just by the shore like on other islands in the area.  Abdur makes a living from taking tourists to places in and around Flores and also fishing and other odd jobs. He has five children who he is trying to get educated. Therefore all his money is spent on the kids. His roof was damaged in a storm roughly three years ago and he hasn’t been able to get it fixed. The house is on stilts with a rough concrete floor. The family sleep upstairs in one room on the floor. When it rains, everyone and everything gets wet!

The island’s main income and livelihood is fishing. They dry much of the fish which produces hundreds of thousands of flies. Sitting outside in the sun all day relaxing, Tony was beset by flies constantly, like fleas to a dog. The locals are used to it, so Tony also adopted a similar attitude. On his second day Abdur accompanied Tony to Rinca Island, one of the islands in Komodo National Park. Here Tony was taken on a short tour to inspect some of the dragons sleeping in the sun. These large lizards, which can grow up to three metres and weigh 70 kilograms, can be dangerous, especially if hungry. They have a ferocious bite containing a poisonous saliva. If bitten, medical attention is required immediately. One tourist was killed in 1987 after becoming separated from his group. And a ranger was attacked in the office, but luckily survived after being flown to a hospital. Baby Komodos climb into the trees to escape being eaten by their parents and return to the ground after five years. Many people visit the national park to snorkel and dive in the vast area of marine life that is abundant in this area.  From Flores, Tony flew to Bali and the adventure continued. 

Back in Papua Indonesia

After crossing back from PNG to Papua Indonesia. I took an ojek (motorbike taxi) and then three separate buses to get back to Jayapura. I stayed one night with my wonderful couch surfing friend, Indra before flying to Manokwari, capital of West Papua. Once there I met up with Edwin, who took care of me for three interesting days. We drove into the Arfak mountains along bumpy steep track roads, crossing rivers without stopping or slowing down – a very bumpy and bouncy ride. Eventually we arrived in the small village of Anggi. Edwin is an engineer and oversees a project to bring electricity to the mountain area. Once his work was done, we proceeded to Lake Anggi. A lovely peaceful spot. The following afternoon, accompanied by a funny nice guy in his early twenties and a lovely girl named Evo, and Edwin, we headed to Mansinam Island. This is where the first German missionaries landed in the mid-nineteenth century. We walked up a steep slope after taking a small local boat to the island. At the top of a steepish hill stands a white statue of Christ with his arms outstretched, similar to the statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A lovely afternoon spent with nice people.

The following day I flew to Sorong, the westernmost town in Papua. I spent one delightful day and evening in the company of Edwin’s sister and brother-in-law, in their luxurious hotel before heading to Ternate. Here I had no couch surfer so spent three hot days in a reasonably priced hotel in the main town. A young guide named Batri took me around Ternate and Tidore islands for a small fee. A nice guy. On Ternate we visited the former Sultan’s Palace and mosque, plus several old forts built by the Dutch, who fought for control of the island of spice against the Portuguese, Spanish and British. The Dutch were eventually removed in the early twentieth century. Whilst visiting one fort we heard a traditional musical performance and headed down to watch the dancing and in my case hear and feel the music. First just drumming and metallic instruments, but later replaced by something sounding like a violin, but not, and drums and also accompanied by loud singing. This went on for over an hour. My guide also took me to Batu Angus, a rock of lava which had spilled from Gamalama Volcano high above. The lava had hardened into this large black rock. Two crater lakes were also visited where I was able to enjoy the tranquillity away from the traffic din of the many motorbikes that traverse this island.

The following day we travelled to Tidore by a basic simple wooden boat, a journey of roughly 15 minutes in hot sunshine. Once on the island, Batri got his motorbike, and off we flew for an hour’s drive in strong sun and wind to explore, Soasio, the island’s capital. And we visited more forts and another grand palace. Here we climbed many stone steps to each building – some of the steps were broken and dangerous! Lunch was rice and fish, which was delicious, before another long drive back to the small port of Goto for the even hotter boat ride back to Ternate.

Next came Abon Island.

More adventures

After my trip on the lower Sepik River near Angoram, north Papua New Guinea. I relaxed with my local friend Dony before getting ready to take a night boat to Bogia in Madang province. Unfortunately no boats were available due to rough seas and strong winds. I was low on money, and Angoram being run down and having no bank, off I set back to Wewak at 3AM to get money. I bumped and bounced for three hours reaching Wewak at dawn. I hoped to meet up with Francis, owner of the Wavi guesthouse in Angoram. He was eventually found and we had rice and chicken for breakfast. Once I had obtained money from an ATM machine with Francis’s help I took another PMV bus back to Angoram, this one taking nearly four hours in blasting heat. I arrived in Angoram in late afternoon and returned to Wavi guesthouse where Dony met me and we had a lovely dinner prepared by the lodge’s lovely staff.

Next I took the betel nut boat to Watam village at the mouth of the Sepik River. I sat on bags of nuts and tried to get comfortable. We slowly motored down stream.The six boay from the betel nut industry who were taking their product to the highlands to sell at market and me. It was another motorised banana boat, basically a long wooden canoe with an outboard engine. It took eight or nine hours to reach the mouth of the river where it meets the open sea. Here a driver change was made and with extremely calm weather, we set off across the sea to Awara on the other shore. Some four hours later we were almost ashore and roughly a hundred metres from land when the petrol ran out! Another boat brought us the needed fuel, but then the old spark plugs refused to work! The boys paddled us to shore and I rested in a small forest. A bus arrived four hours later to take us plus several villagers to the nearby villages and eventually onto Madang, the nearest city. Was dropped at Bogia, a small village on the coast. I spent one night at Anua Negu Lodge owned by Jackie, a lovely lady who lives in Madang. Charles and his wife looked after me and feed me more local food, this time fish and rice. I had a lovely self-contained room to myself and could hear the ocean lying in bed.

The following morning, Charles took me in a small banana boat to Manam volcanic island, about an hour’s cruise away. Unfortunately, we were unable to land due to more strong winds and large waves. I was soaked several times and burnt yet again by the strong equatorial sun.  Later Jackie sent a car to bring me to her lovely family home in Madang. They were wonderful and treated me like family. I stayed two nights and visited a machine gun used by the Japanese army when they occupied PNG during World War II. And also a memorial to the coast watchers, who secretly gave information about impending bombings and Japanese ship movements during the war.

A day later I was collected by Joel and we took a local bus 17 km to his lovely village, Hobe. I had more local food cooked on an open fire built by stones to keep the heat. Joel took me around the village to visit local homes. The buildings are mostly made of wood with sago leaves for roofs. The kitchen is separate from the house in case of fire. Many husbands and wives sleep separately in traditional conditions. We walked down a long steep hill to where a large WWII bomb dropped by an Australian plane disguised as an American plane dropped on hiding Japanese solders. However, the bomb failed to explode and remains. We walked the forest to a Japanese fox hole, now full of water, but once used by Japanese solders to hide from the Australians and Americans. The Japanese occupied the village but treated the villagers respectfully in this part of PNG.

The following morning Joel escorted me back to Madang where I caught a PMV bus to Goroka, capital of Eastern Highlands. Unfortunately, several bridges had been washed away due to heavy flooding. A guy who was heading to Lae, a large city on the north-east coast decided to help me go to Goroka and ensured I crossed the bridges safely. I later paid for his bus to Lae. We drove for about two hours before crossing the first bridge, many rocks and two narrow pieces of wood hastily constructed by locals. We had to pay two kina, 50 pence to cross each bridge! Once over the bridge we walked through several large pools of rain water that had flooded the road. Once across we trekked for about two km along the rough road in the midday heat before tackling the next obstacle. The second challenge was climbing over a large mud landslide. The mud was thick and sticky. I was stuck on several occasions as we climbed over the large mound. Once across and after stepping over more large rocks, we re-joined the bus and continued. The third and fourth broken bridges were similar to the first but easier and more stable. I took photos of the loud bodies of moving water, one sounding like a waterfall. Once all obstacles were crossed it was back into the PMV for another 3-4 hours of bouncing and bumping up into the highlands and at last after ten hours of travel, I reached Goroka.

I had arranged to meet a couch surfer, but had been calling the wrong number, so on arrival in Goroka instead of meeting my local contact, a guy named Martin, from Asaro Mudmen village was there to greet me. As it was late, around 8 pm and dark, I travelled the twenty minute drive to Asaro. Martin’s lovely family fed me with lots of cooked veggies and some fruit before I retired to a simple but comfy bed. Early the next morning after a hearty breakfast of rice and more veg, I climbed a large mountain with the help of a lovely guide named Jona. It took me about an hour to reach the first part of the mountain where I rested before ascending to the top, nearly 3,000 metres above sea level. We visited several caves and I climbed down several very steep rock steps cut into the mountain. The Mudmen wear masks made of mud to scare their enemies and then take their land. They used to hide in caves when under attack. One cave for women and children, another cave for the men. I crawled on hands and knees into a small hall over rocks to enter the men’s cave. Once inside, I was able to stand. It was nice and cool inside. After exiting the cave again on my belly, we walked down the upper level of the mountain to the village mountain hut. The Mudmen, about five in number, eventually performed a dance in front of me, I couldn’t hear it, but they let me wear a mud mask and I had my photo taken.

In the afternoon, after rain, I returned to Goroka and met my host, Martin. A cool young guy who lives with one brother and a sister. In the evening we had a party and they all got drunk, stayed up all night playing local music, great fun. The following morning I bought a ticket to Port Moresby, PNG’s capital and early Sunday morning the guys escorted me to the airport. An hour later I was in Moresby and back to the intense heat. I relaxed with my couch surfing host Rob and in the early evening met a lovely Australian lady named Celina. She works for a hotel resort in Tuffi and helped me plan much of my trip around PNG. We visited the yacht club and had a delicious pizza, western food for a change! Next morning, Monday 23rd March, I flew back to Vanimo, met Mr Wasa the lovely funny teacher I had stayed with at the beginning of my PNG trip and after acquiring my visa for Indonesia and two days later returned to Jaypura, capital of Papua, Indonesia. Tony is now in Manokwari, West Papua. 

Papua New Guinea – continued

Tony has now been in Papua New Guinea for roughly 16 days. After crossing into PNG from Indonesia, he spent two nights in Vanimo then took a banana boat to Aitape along the north coast. Sitting in the hot sun getting soaked by constant waves of seawater he didn’t realise he was getting sunburnt until it was too late. Three hours later the boat arrived in Aitape beach. Because the last bus to Wewak was full, Tony was invited to spend the weekend with the boat captain’s family. On the 8th March, a Sunday. Tony’s new friends, including a Seventh-Day Adventist pastor travelled with Tony to Wewak. Unfortunately the road was very rough and on the way, the vehicle became stuck in deep mud. Some three hours later, the vehicle was pulled clear and the journey was continued.

Tony arrived at Gala Lodge on the outskirts of Wewak at 3 am. Tony stayed four nights, hoping the weather would become settled enough to take a local boat to Kairuru Island, unfortunately, the wind remained strong and the ocean rough. On the morning of 12th March the owner of Gala Lodge took Tony to Mission Hill, a site of fierce fighting between Australian and Japanese solders during the last days of World War II. Tony learnt how two individual Australian officers on separate occasions took on Japanese machine guns single handed. They both received the Victoria Cross for their gallant efforts. From the hill, Tony was driven to Cape Wom, where more fighting occurred. It is also the site where the Japanese surrendered to the Australian army in September 1945.

Once back in Wewak, Tony jumped on a PMV and headed to Angoram, a town on the lower Sipek River, about a 3-5 hour drive from Wewak. Angoram was once an important station on the river but is now largely run down. On arrival in Angoram, Tony was taken to Wavi Guesthouse and looked after by two lovely ladies and an interesting local gentleman named Dony. Because the guesthouse is spread out over a large field, Tony was given a bucket toilet to pee in with the water being changed the following morning. Due to the proximity to the Sipek River, all rooms have mosquito nets. Tony was fed rice and fish – local food. The following morning he along with Dony took a local boat to visit a couple of nearby villages. First visited was Shundo, which had a Haus Tambaran, meeting house. Sadly, termites had eaten away most of the wood and only a few posts remained with local carvings. Tony received a description of the villagers making Sago, the local flour, which the people of the Sipek use as their staple food. Sago is a plant, the leaves and tree are used to make the houses. It takes two days to break down and wash the sago to make it into flour to sell at market. Sago can be fried or boiled. The boiled variety is slightly sweeter.

Next Tony and the crew continued along the river and into a lake to head to Kambaramba. Here people live on the lake on houses built with stilts. Tony met some locals and more photos were taken.

More to follow…