While we at DTT are busy organising a visa for Wendy in Europe and planning the project’s future; We would like to kick-off 2016 with our first guest article by our dear friend Nick Metherall. Nick has spent several years living, studying and volunteering in Indonesia, during which time his heart was captured by Eastern Indonesia’s Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT, ‘Southeastern Land’s East’). Nick is a specialist in the remote region, often neglected by politicians, international markets and researchers alike. Nick was an absolute wealth of knowledge for our journey through Indonesia, putting us in touch with some truly amazing communities and families. Eastern Indonesia is one of the most special places we visited in our journey and thanks to these connections, we were able to dive into the depths of its complexities. While we are still finding the words to describe our experiences in the region, we know we’ll be returning to this topic again. We wish to stress that this is a most fascinating place, because of the cultural diversity of the region from which there is so much that can be learnt, not to mention its picturesque beauty. As Australia’s closest neighbour, Eastern Indonesia certainly deserves a greater focus. But let’s hear Nick’s voice first…
Almost exactly a year ago I was on the small island of Sabu Raijua, in Eastern Indonesia. Far off the beaten track, Sabu is located southwest of Kupang, Timor and northwest of Darwin, Australia. This is one of the driest and most remote islands in the province of East Nusa Tenggara and Indonesia more widely. Through visiting Sabu I learned a great deal about how the small-scale farming communities in such rural areas are able to survive the challenging conditions of living on one of the driest islands of Indonesia. I also had some adventures along the way which involved riding my motorbike all around the semi-arid island, staying in villages and farms, learning of sabu sugar and even a bomb scare…
Having decided to go through the west of Mongolia instead of Ulaanbaatar, we didn’t really know what to expect – there was not much information online. Hence, we thought it could be very useful for future travellers coming this way to have some practical information available online. But don’t worry, if you’re not going that way, this post won’t bore you with dry facts – you’ll learn about the fascinating reality of Mongolia!
The sun is getting lower in the sky. We’re standing on the roadside in a dry, treeless landscape, a wide valley bordered by rugged, rocky mountains. It looks like the snippets of footage from Afghanistan that I’ve seen on the news. The earth-brick houses are squares with flat roofs. The road signs are in Arabic. But this isn’t the middle east. We’re in almost the most north-western corner of China, a region predominantly inhabited by Kazakh people, heading for the western border crossing into Mongolia.
May Ling is waiting with us. We have already walked a few kilometres together, along the dusty road, before we managed to flag down a passing car – a rarity out here. She knows a handful of English words and we a pinch of Mandarin, so there is some understanding between us. May Ling is patient and seems committed to helping us, but she is understandably eager to get into town. We have established that she’s come out here for work, but that there is no hotel in town. Anyway, next town is the border town, 30km further down the road, we’d rather sleep there so we can cross in the morning. The wind is blowing so strongly that we stand sideways, angled against it. The sight of a car on the distant rise brings us hope – maybe this one? But so far we have only been disappointed at the sight of indicators flashing towards town. Reaching the border by tonight is beginning to look unlikely… And that wind is feeling cold. Continue Reading →
Of all the views of our journey, the Tibetan Plateau was the one to transfixed me. For the first time, I felt myself truly and totally riding the journey. I never tired of looking out the window at the seemingly endless green plain and huge blue above. My thoughts remained present in the landscape, thinking only in wonder of the naturally treeless land rolling by like an ocean and contemplating the life that might be happening inside the intermittent white tents…
We (now joined by Jarmo, perhaps the first Polish-Sichuan chef ever!) were hitch-hiking through the accessible regions of Amdo Tibet. This is not to be mistaken with the Tibetan Province – closed to foreigners unless you’ve the budget to fork out big for a guide who’s guaranteed to make sure you don’t see too much! There are, in fact, places where Tibetan culture exists that have no access restrictions and nomadic life may even be better persevered than within the Tibetan Province. Inspired by this blog, we chose to take a route between Chengdu to Xining to learn something for ourselves about this ancient civilisation. Continue Reading →
The bus pulls out of Dili and starts it’s steep ascent. It’s loaded up with people, luggage and bags of rice. Inside and out. 4 people share the seat across from us: grandma, mother and 2 children, trying to avoid my gaze. However, young boys, who can’t be much older than 19, seem to be running the operation and their cigarette smoke, blasting music and testosterone dominate over the other passengers. The aging engine groans, in its upward struggle. Dili, the sea and further out Atauro Island, are visible below us for the first hour, as the climb reaches more than 1000m above sea level. My ears pop. The bus stops a couple of times and the adolescent males open the engine hatch, hit something with a spanner and it comes back to life.
Hey guys! While I’m having an incredible time, it turns out the overland travel thing can also be really exhausting. Huge trips on rough roads on hot over crowded buses, sometimes with more bags of onions than human passengers, leaves you really tired. 6+ hours on hard floored ferries full of smokers, where you can barely find a clean space out of the sun to lay out your camp mattress (which deflates these days anyway, so provides little relief from the hardness of the metal floor); then just when you’re comfortable it starts raining and you have to relocate in a hurry and most passer-byers will stop to ask for a photo with you, all starts to take it’s toll. Your bum is so sore and you’ve started developing some weird pimples from all the sitting and sweating that it now part of your everyday life – will it ever look the same again?! Looking at a world map in some hotel lobby, leaves you feeling completely overwhelmed at the distance that lays ahead of you… How many more bus trips will that mean? Why am I doing this? What difference would a plane make anyway?
Thursday, 9th of April 2015
At 5.17am Rita knocked on the door and asked us to have a tea. The rice was already cooked, boiled eggs and some tasty noodles were also waiting for us. The sun was rising and ayams (or chickens) were getting crazy, echoing through the whole town. Rita didn’t have to shout through the door as the house’s roof hangs above the walls with no ceiling, allowing for the hot, humid air to circulate throughout the building. Still very sleepy, drinking the sweet tea, Wendy told Rita ‘Wow, pagi-pagi tapi sudah ada nasi, terima kasih! Kakak tidur bagus?’ (So early but already have rice, thank you! Did sister sleep ok?) ‘Cukup’, enough, replied Rita smiling humbly.
We took a shower, sprayed ourselves with mosquito repellent, packed our bags and quickly went along the street full of banana trees to the main road. We had to catch a bus and it was already after 6. We were in Larantuka, East Flores, heading to Maumere after a wonderful week there. Rita had just started her CouchSurfing profile and we were her first guests. All of us were really excited to meet each other and we felt sad saying goodbye.
This morning I woke up to the sounds of coconuts hitting the ground from the tall palms in the backyard and children gleefully playing in a language I don’t understand. For the first time in many weeks I woke with a sense of being refreshed and allowed myself to emerge from beneath the mosquito net when I wanted to. Entering the kitchen, I found Emily pouring a freshly macheted coconut into a pot with ice for the group of chattering siblings from next-door. The smallest girl looks up at me and eagerly begins telling me something excitedly in Tetum. My “la kompriende” must be confusing to a 5-year-old who is speaking so clearly and confidently. I’m stoked to be in Timor.
OK, here’s something we need to tell you about. We became victims of immense psychological violence.
The journey itself was absolutely amazing. Another time we might write more about the endless sea, the playful dolphins, the flying fish and the stunningly fluorescent plankton like a fairy dust competing with the sky almost about to overflow with stars, where the Southern Cross and the Big Dipper met at the same place and time.
For this kind of information you might also want to have a look at Wendy’s description of the whole cruise.
But the captain of the yacht we sailed appeared to be a dangerous, persistently and extremely abusive person. Continue Reading →