So, where did I leave you? Ah yes, Aruba. End of February and I sunny myself in the ABC Islands in the good old Caribbean! I spent three nights in hot sunny Aruba, the most touristy of the three islas. I stayed with an interesting and slightly crazy guy from Brazil, met him on the internet through  On my first night with him, he took me to a music festival, which took place on the beach – Eagle Beach to be precise – on the island’s north-west side. I stood in the sand and wiggled my ass in time to the heavy beat of strange reggae/techno music with verbal “hands in the airs” and “come everyone, clap yours hands and love everybody”!  The fest finished around 2 am. During the gig I met two lovely girls from Holland, one named Celen, who I’d already made contact with via couch surfing and another named Sharon. They’re both nurses and are working and partying in Aruba for a year or so.

The next afternoon, my host and I went jet skiing, see the video on FB. Great fun. First a local guy took me around which was nice as he took the turns expertly. However, he was a little nervous about having a blind person with him. Then my Brazilian friend took over and we increased speed and I bumped and bounced alarmingly, nearly coming off several times, excellent!!  What a thrill and burst of energy! :) That same evening we again partied on the beach and met up with the Dutch girls, it was less frantic than the festival and less people were out, it being a Sunday. The next morning I headed to the airport by bus and flew to Panama. Country 110! 

I’m writing this on Monday 16th March having been in Panama for 16 days now. It’s an interesting country with a mixture of history, nature, jungle and beaches, also mountains. I spent five days in the capital. Staying with a wonderful kind and funny French guy named Oliv. He has a cool place near the main bus station. I also met a lovely German couple named Jule and Tim. They helped me out a lot, taking me to an office to find out info about a tour and also cooking for me and helping me with my emails. I can type but not read as I don’t travel with a talking iPhone or laptop when on the road, it’s too dangerous – I’ll only be robbed!  I use other people’s equipment and ask them to kindly help me. This works in most places, otherwise, I visit an internet café and ask the local people to help me Skype.  I did a couple of tours around Panama city, doing an Urban Adventure day city sightseeing tour which took us to Ancon Hill, full of nature and with good vantage points to view the entire city. A sloth was sitting in a tree and also a small creature which resembled a large rat. Plus hundreds of birds high in the trees.

Next stop was the mighty Panama Canal, first built by the French in the 1880s and later completed by the Americans from 1903-4 to 1914.  Thanks to a Cuban doctor and scientist who discovered that Yellow fever was carried by mosquitoes, the American overseer of the project on the canal was able to reduce Yellow fever and malaria cases considerably.  We visited one of the locks, Miraflores lock, and saw (heard in my case) a large car transport ship entering the lock and 10 minutes later exit.  A short video inside the museum/visitor centre gives an overview of the canal and its history. 

The third stop took us to Casco Antiguo or Casco Viejo, Old Panama.  Vasco Núñez de Balboa sighted the Pacific Ocean in the early 16th century after which a settlement was founded by the Spanish.  However, in 1671 this city was burnt and mostly destroyed by British pirate Morgan. There followed a second city, Casco Viejo. We visited several churches, including San Jose, with its golden altar and the Cathedral, which is not open to the public as it’s under major reconstruction. 

Our last stop was at Amador Causeway, a 5km long causeway comprised of four islands. These were constructed from rubble taken from the digging of the canal. The Smithsonian Institute of Marine Research is on one such island. This is where we visited to see and touch starfish and the like. Turtles are also on display.  I also did another tour on an amphibious vehicle which enters the actual canal on two occasions and also drove around part of the city. It was explained how the canal worked with its lock system, raising and lowering the ships on each side of the canal over the continental divide. It takes 24 hours for vessels to pass from the Pacific to the Atlantic and vice versa. At present the canal  is being widened to allow faster crossing of vessels and also safer passage for larger shops. In places there is as little as a metre between the side of a ship and the canal wall – they even occasionally scrape the sides. 

After my five days in the capital with okay but not totally friendly locals, I headed to Portobelo and the Caribbean coast for history and jungle.  I stayed at Captain Jack’s hostel, a party place on a hill overlooking the historical and now sleepy town. The food is good but a little expensive. A small Colombian place down the hill and to the left has more cheaper options. However, Captain Jack’s offers good dorm beds and Batillos, fruit juice smoothies, which are delicious!  I’d found a small company online called Portobelo Tours. They offer jungle hikes, kayaking, plus full moon nights in the forest and more. I did a half day kayak with them plus a jungle walk and history tour of old Portobelo. The kayaking was excellent, my guide, Austin from America, took me through the mangroves, thin tree-like structures in the ocean just off shore. The mangroves are low lying trees/grass which fish and birds feed off. They’re great for hiding as I’m sure pirates did in the 16th 17th and 18th centuries. Only small boats and kayaks can enter the mangroves, which are like being inside a giant skeleton. The lower ends of the branches were covered in moss, which felt like a gorilla’s furry legs! After the mangrove we paddled into open water, the sea being as calm and flat as a millpond. We stopped on one island, Palmelo for a rest-bite and to spy on the Capuchin Monkeys on an adjacent island. They squeaked and squealed on our approach.  Once back on the mainland, I dried off and had my hike in the jungle. Really it’s the same as European forest, with different plant species and lots of humidity. My guide, a lovely Scottish lady named Heather took me on an educational stroll through trees and bushes.  I touched huge banana leaves and strange fruits and flowers. Heard birds and smelt various fruits.  One smelt like lemon but was orange.  One of the trees I felt uses the trunk of a larger tree to get to the sunlight like a strangler tree, it sprouts many thin trunks itself.  At one point we crossed a dry river bed, which floods in the rainy season, roughly May to November.  I felt a ‘fountain’ plant, so called because it has leaves that droop very like a fountain or sprinkler spray.  The forest was humid but quiet and away from partying young tourists.  An indigenous festival was occurring near Portobelo and many of the other travellers I met in the hostel from various countries – Canada, Germany, France, Switzerland – had stayed for this. The last few days of the event turned into a party and several people dropped acid! One guy told me about it in great details! :)

I had a quick history tour around Portobelo the following morning, visiting the church which was built just before the Spanish departed in 1814-1820. A large structure able to hold up to 50 thousand people apparently. My guide told me about the Nazareno, or Black Christ, as named by African American soldiers stationed there in the 1940s. A large dark wooden statue of a man, found apparently by fisherman one fine day.  This statue only came to be revered after the entire area had a cholera epidemic soon after the Spanish departed. Portobelo was apparently spared and the locals decided it was this deity that saved them. Every 21st October, the statue is put in a boat and then paraded around the town. It takes all day and pilgrims come from all over Panama and even further apparently. 

Next I jumped on a bus, travelled back to Panama city via Colon and headed to El Valle de Anton (Anton Valley). This was my second couch surfing experience in Panama. I stayed with a cool guy named Jhohnie in the foothills of the mountains. His father builds houses and he has also constructed one for himself. There, I had a small concrete house to myself for two nights. Our first day was taken up ziplining and doing a canopy tour. This was over Chorro Macho (Macho Waterfall) apparently 115 feet high. We walked from Jhohnies’s house into town and to the zipline place, we had an hour to wait, so visited the bottom of the fall while we waited. This involved descending several rock steps and transversing over several bridges.  The sound was delightful to my ears. We also visited a small man-made water pool where kids jumped in from off the rocks.  Back up the steps, I was given a harness and a crash helmet and Jhohnie along with my instructor walked me through the jungle canopy. We climbed many rough rocky steps and trampled over grasses, leaves, tree branches and roots. I was slipping and stumbling all the time. One part was so steep and full of loose soil I struggled to get up. The guys pushed me and I succeeded. Once at the top, I was clipped to the zip wire told to put one hand on my harness and the other on the wire, far away from the wheel. I wore thick gloves to prevent my hands from getting friction burns and protect them from getting trapped on the pulley wheel. I was told to let the wire slide through my hand. This was a brake mechanism. I was down and swung off the plat form, letting the wire run through my hands as I began sliding along. However, I pulled too hard on the brake wire and stopped in mid air, finally I slackened my grip and made it to the second platform. On the next wire, the brake was taken off and I flew along freely, what great exultant fun! There were four lines altogether and the last ride really sent me flying – wicked!! Once the fun was over, Jhohnie and I headed into town, he had a meeting, so I hung out at Heaven’s Cafe. It is owned by the girl I would be staying with the following evening.

Next Jhohnie and I, accompanied by a German traveller we’d met the previous evening, visited the hot spring, about a four minute walk from town. You get your face painted with mud, let it dry in the sun and then jump in the hot pool to relax. It was fun, though the man-made pool wasn’t that hot! After walking back to town we had lunch in a local place – beef soup with lots of veggies, rice and chicken for me and beans and rice for Jhohn. After which we visited the snake centre, where I held a couple of beautiful snakes. They’re not slimy like people believe but smooth, cool and peaceful. In the evening, I met up with Heaven and had dinner and chatted. The Chinese was tasty but way too large in portions.

The following afternoon, Heaven put me on a bus for Uvas, where, with help, I eventually caught a bus to El Cope, a small town in nature. I spent one night with a delightful Panamanian old couple who fed me and the next morning drove me to Chorro Yayas (Yayas Waterfall). A kind elderly guy walked me down the steps and took me to the three levels of large falls. He took pictures for me and I made a couple of videos.  After that, I took a local bus back to the hostel in El Cope. From there I went first to Penonome and secondly to Chitré, a large town or city with noisy traffic and intense heat. I spent one night in a quiet hostel run by an ageing American guy and the next day, took a direct bus to Santiago, where I’ll be for the next couple of days.

ABC Islands

I am currently in the Caribbean, travelling the ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. After one night in Amsterdam, Holland on 21st February 2016, I flew to Curacao, one of the islands of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and my trip began. An interesting historical island with friendly people. I stayed with a lovely German guy named Thomas via couch surfing and he helped me take a minibus into the main town and showed me to the historical and cultural museum, Kura Hulanda. A guide gave me an interesting tour of Curacao’s involvement with the Dutch and its history of slavery. I felt various objects including wooden masks and doors, wooden chairs carved into elephant’s heads, wooden boats and bowls etc. I also felt many chains and shackles. The museum is a stark reminder of what terrible things people can do to each other. After this I wondered down to the harbour with its wooden bridge which splits Willemstad into Otrobanda on the west and Punda on the east. Both sides have historical forts, which guarded the harbour in previous colonial times. I visited Fort Rif which has now been turned into a shopping and eating area with views of cruise ships which bring many day tourists to peruse the many gift and jewellery shops. Thomas and I explored the Punda side of the town on another evening. I touched one canon and we explored the large stone letters which spell out Curacao and Dushi, a local word, which means love, darling. 

The following day, Thomas and I did something amazing, we had a dolphin encounter (see photos). It cost 100 dollars per person to touch, be kissed, hold its flippers and make it sing by waggling my fingers in a V sign. The dolphin jumped and splashed, making kind of laughing, farting sounds, which is funny!  Twenty minutes in the hot sun and cool water with beautiful mammals was magical.

The day after I flew to Bonaire where I stayed in a local hostel a couple of kilometres from any shops or beaches which was very peaceful. Most people visit Bonaire to dive or wind surf. Its a very windy island, as are Curacao and Aruba! I spent one day at a beach bar, lying in the shade and listening to a book. The following afternoon, a fellow hosteller, Lary from Holland drove me around Bonaire in a battered old Jeep belonging to the host. We toured the rough rocky dry cactus strewn landscape, taking photos of the sea at various view points. At one point we stopped high above a lovely lake, silent except for the breeze, pink flamingos in their hundreds could be seen and Lary described the picture. The following day I flew to Aruba, where I am until Tuesday. Last night I danced on the beach at a music fest with my crazy cool Brazilian host Eduardo. What fun the Caribbean. Next stop Panama.  

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.