Letters from the road



After nearly a month of hectic travels, at long last I have a moment to tell you a bit about my latest adventures in Indonesia and East Timor. I came to Indonesia on a short press trip by invitation of the Consulate General of Indonesia in Vancouver followed by an extensive trip organized by Bestway Tours & Safaris through Indonesia’s most remarkable islands.

I arrived in Jakarta after a very long flight via Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific, an airline that certainly has seen better days. Two other journalists from Canada and a colleague from Peru were to be on this press trip, organized by Indonesia Tourism. We were greeted by the lovely Maureen, who was to be our escort on our trip to Central Java, had lunch at the airport, before heading for yet another flight to Yogyakarta, enjoying the excellent services of Garuda, Indonesia’s completely renewed airline.


It is quite remarkable how quickly the body recovers when interesting places await! In the morning we headed to the Kraton, an elegant Javanese palace reflecting the grandeur of the Sultan's monarchy in Yogyakarta, followed by a visit to Taman Sari, a partly ruined complex built as a pleasure garden by the first Sultan in 1765. One of the bathing pools was dedicated to the sultan's harem, and he had a tower overlooking the area so he could take his pick. Now of course it is filled with very polite Indonesian schoolchildren who certainly will not stop smiling and asking to pose for photos with them. We then visited the new bird market, which is much cleaner that the old one I visited in 1992, with a fascinating collection of birds, birdcages and fighting cocks.

Before heading to lunch we stopped by a “Kopi Luwak” producer. This quite a special coffee, as the coffee berries once they have been eaten and excreted by the Asian palm civet. Although this type of coffee is a form of processing rather than a variety of coffee, it is probably the most expensive coffee in the world with prices reaching US$700 per kilogram. The producers of the coffee beans argue that the process may improve coffee through two mechanisms, selection and digestion. Selection occurs if the civets choose to eat coffee berries containing better beans. Digestive mechanisms may improve the flavor profile of the coffee beans that have been eaten. The civet eats the berries for the beans' fleshy pulp, then in the digestive tract, fermentation occurs. Passing through a civet's intestines the beans are then defecated with other fecal matter and collected, dried and roasted. I had the opportunity to taste the kitty poo coffee at the home of this small producer and found its taste really good.

One of the great pleasures of a trip through Indonesia is to taste a huge variety of delicious coffees that vary from island to island. Many times I have had great difficulty in finding a decent cup of strong coffee in so many coffee producing countries in the world, so it was delightful surprise to find that there is a coffee drinking culture all over the Indonesian archipelago. Indonesians grind the roasted beans, add copious quantities of sugar and poor water into the cup, where the grounds are allowed to settle in a fashion similar to Turkish coffee. Add to this that a good cup of coffee here costs about 50 cents!

The biggest danger about a trip to Indonesia is “gula” the Indonesian word for sugar! Indonesians certainly have sweet tooth like their coffee, tea and juices laden with sugar, making the country a diabetic’s nightmare and a dentist’s dream. The best thing to do in any situation is to ask for ada gula (no sugar) on every possible occasion a drink is served!

In the afternoon we headed to the Prambanan Temple Compounds, an UNESCO World Heritage Site that was quite damaged by a recent earthquake and is undergoing extensive restoration. The 240 Hindu temples are decorated with reliefs illustrating the Indonesian version of the Ramayana epic which are masterpieces of stone carvings dating to the 8th century AD in Java. We also visited the neighbouring Buddhist ensemble at Sewu, which comprises a central temple surrounded by a multitude of minor temples.
In the evening we headed to Malioboro, a well-known shopping promenade that sells all sort of beautiful Indonesian batiks and carvings. Shortly after we went to a dinner-theatre that featured a quite stylized Ramayana ballet performance for tourists.

At my insistence we left half way through the show to go to an authentic Wayang kulit performance, the famous shadow puppet theatre of Java that is recognized by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. The puppets used in the performance are made of buffalo leather that has been chiselled with very fine tools and supported with carefully shaped buffalo horn handles and control rods. The stories are usually drawn from Hindu epics, like the Ramayana or Mahabharata.
I felt so fortunate to be able to see a local performance in all of its authenticity, since so many traditional art forms are quickly vanishing in our age of TV and Internet. This performance accompanied by full gamelan orchestra, featuring a variety of instruments such as metallophones, xylophones, kendang (drums) and gongs; bamboo flutes, bowed and plucked strings.

The next morning I headed to the Borobudur Temple to capture the sunrise at this famous Buddhist temple, dating from the 8th and 9th centuries. It was built in three tiers: a pyramidal base with five concentric square terraces, the trunk of a cone with three circular platforms and, at the top, a monumental stupa. The walls and balustrades are decorated with fine low reliefs, covering a total surface area of 2,500 m2. Around the circular platforms are 72 openwork stupas, each containing a statue of Buddha. The monument was restored with UNESCO's help. Regrettably the sunrise didn’t materialize, so this is a good excuse to return to Indonesia.

We then continued to Semarang, Indonesia’s 6th largest city with a population of close to 6 million. As a result of its large ethnically Chinese population, the city boasts several Chinese temples, including Sam Poo Kong, built in honour of the Chinese Great Admiral Zheng He who visited the area in 1405. The Chinese influence is also reflected in Semarang’s cuisine and the Chinese lunch and dinner we enjoyed here were absolutely excellent.

The next day I varied from the established tour and went with Milagros, my Peruvian colleague by taxi to the Sangiran Early Man Site, an UNESCO World Heritage Site that features a world-class museum, which contains many fossils of Meganthropus palaeo and Pithecanthropus erectus/Homo erectus that were found here – half of all the world's known hominid fossils.

We then headed to Candi Sukuh a 15th-century Javanese-Hindu temple, located on the western slope of Mount Lawu and looks surprisingly like a Mayan pyramid. The view from this site was astonishing beautiful, as it was close to sunset time. We concluded that day’s journey in Surakarta, one of Indonesia’s main batik production centres. Batik is a cloth that is traditionally made using a manual wax-resist dyeing techniques and has notable meanings rooted to the Javanese conceptualization of the universe. Certain patterns can only be worn by nobility; traditionally, wider stripes or wavy lines of greater width indicated higher rank. Consequently, during Javanese ceremonies, one could determine the royal lineage of a person by the cloth he or she was wearing.

In Solo Maureen had organized a birthday cake for me, which came as total surprise. It was lovely to be celebrated so far away from home. Here I also met my friend Lisa (whom I had met last year in Machu Picchu and who had travelled with me in Peru & Colombia) to start the big exploration of Indonesia’s most remarkable islands. This adventure was organized by the Indonesian partners of Bestway Tours & Safaris.


Upon arrival in Jakarta, Lisa and I said farewell to Maureen and my media colleagues. For starters we got to enjoy the wonderful traffic jams of Jakarta, whose magic consists of leaving a white shirt grey by mid-day and leave your fingernails looking as if you had been working all day in the garden.

We explored Old Batavia, where you can still see some of the remains of the Dutch Empire, including a bridge that could be in Amsterdam. They highlight of the day, however was our exploration of Sunda, the old port of Jakarta that can only accommodate pinisi, the traditional two masted wooden sailing ships serving inter-island freight service in the archipelago. It was truly fascinating to see all the activities in the harbour, such as the loading and unloading of these ships, with sailors washing themselves at the end of a hard days’ labour and children swimming in the fetid waters of the Ciliwung River. With a bit of a clean up this might become Jakarta’s top traditional attraction, as the area truly has a romantic feeling to it. Jakarta is actually quite a modern city featuring many ultra-luxurious malls with Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Porsches parked right in front of them. I just wondered how frustrating it must feel driving one of these high-performance cars at 4 km/h through the Jakarta traffic.


The nest day we flew to Medan on the island of Sumatra and drove for about 4 hours through vast palm oil and rubber plantations to Lake Toba, Southeast Asia’s largest lake and the largest volcanic lake in the world, which is 100 kilometres long, 30 kilometres wide, and up to 505 meters deep. We arrived in a fairly unremarkable place called Parapat and crashed for the night. Next morning we travelled on a fascinating local ferry to Samosir, a large volcanic island in Lake Toba The ferry featured all sorts of vendors offering eggs, coffee and breakfast snacks. The ride was a lot fun, as the friendly locals made us feel very welcome and insisted in having their photographs taken, aside from them taking a lot of pictures on their mobile phones of us.

On Samosir Island we got to see the traditional lifestyle of the Batak Toba people, who still live in neat, clean villages with traditional houses. The houses are made up of three sections. A substructure of large wooden pillars resting on flat stones or concrete protects the structure from rising damp. A large steeply-pitched saddle back roof dominates the structure and is finely carved and painted with motifs of suns, starts, cockerels, and geometric motifs in red, white, and black. The inhabitants spend most of their time outdoors and the house is largely used for sleeping. An attic space is provided by a flat wooden ceiling over the front third of the living area. Family heirlooms and sometimes shrines are stored here. The original Toba Batak houses were large communal houses, but these have now become rare, with most houses now built in the ethnic Malay style with both modern and traditional materials and sadly many of the traditional roofs have now been replaced by zinc roofs.

The Batak people still practice many of their animist rites, albeit they are nominally Christian thanks to Dutch missionaries. What really surprised me is Indonesia’s incredible religious diversity, where Animism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam are practiced side by side with great tolerance.

After visiting the Batak Toba we went back to the mainland to visit the Batak Karo villages on the mainland, which stand in great contrast to the ones on Samosir island, as these are filthy and neglected beyond belief, reflecting a population that has lost all pride and dignity, as their streets are strewn with garbage, where children play in the black waters and the men just watch boxing, play cards and otherwise just sit around.

We continued to the refreshing community of Berastagi, an important agricultural community in the Karo land, from where we could see the spectacular fumes of the Sinabung volcano, which had erupted just a few days before. The next day we headed for Medan, which features many old buildings from the Dutch Era and the Great Mosque of Medan built in 1906 in Moorish style.


It was quite an exciting flight to Borneo, as we got to sit next to Dr. Birutė Galdikas, a primatologist, conservationist and author of several books relating to the endangered orangutan. Well known in the field of modern primatology, Galdikas is recognized as a leading authority on orangutans. We had a lovely conversation, only to find out that she lives on the North Shore.

Orangutans are the most arboreal of the great apes and are among the most intelligent primates; using a variety of sophisticated tools and construct elaborate sleeping nests each night from branches and foliage. Threats to wild orangutan populations include poaching, habitat destruction, and the illegal pet trade.
Upon arrival in Pangkalan Bun, we boarded a boat to explore Tanjung Puting National Park. Our guide was a 19-year boy named Sonny, who friendly and helpful beyond belief. As a matter of fact the whole crew on the boat was delightful and the home-cooked meals were among the best we had in Indonesia, especially considering the tiny kitchen on the bottom of the boat.

Our Borneo experience was absolutely perfect, as we had good weather and towards the end of the dry season, there were practically no mosquitoes. We had the privilege to see many orangutans at the feeding stations, including a dominant adult male with his distinctive cheek pads. My biggest problem will be to select the best photographs, as I have taken over 1,500 pictures of these magnificent relatives of ours.


After our visit to Borneo, we headed off to Makassar on the Island of Sulawesi. Our tour of Makassar was highly rewarding, as we visited Fort Rotterdam, an old Goa fort that was later taken over by the Dutch. We then went to the amazing fish market, were we were able to see all the fishermen bringing in the fresh catch of the day, followed by a walk to the old harbour that had a few traditional schooners being loaded with all sorts of merchandise. Then we headed on our journey to Tana Toraja, the famed "Land of The Heavenly Kings". The drive from Makassar to Rantepao lasted about 8 hours, as the road was not in the best of conditions and it started to rain in the afternoon.
Tana Toraja has unique culture set in stunning scenery, with bright green rice terraces, tall limestone outcrops and bamboo graves are set against a backdrop of blue misty mountains. Traditional Tongkonan houses stand proudly in this setting and in many ways globalisation and tourism have not really have had a true impact, as their way of life that has not changed much in the last 100 years, aside from the replacement of the straw roofs with zinc.

Luckily we managed to visit the market in Rantepao, as it is held every six days. This very tidy market draws huge crowds from all over the region, who come to buy and sell an assortment of fruits, vegetables, farming tools and live fish. The adjacent livestock market proved to be truly fascinating, as it reminded me of the great bazaar in Kashgar, in terms of the amount of activity and interest, however I must say that this has been the cleanest and tidiest live-stock market I have seen anywhere in the world, where the locals looks after their animals with great care.

The Torajans are famous for their spectacular, expensive and rather gruesome burial rites. After a person's death, the body is kept, often for several years, while money is saved to pay for the actual funeral ceremony, known as tomate. During the funeral, which may last up to a week, ritual dances and buffalo fights are held, and buffaloes and pigs are slaughtered to ferry the soul of the deceased to the afterlife. The more powerful the person who died, the more buffalo are slaughtered at the death feast. Buffalo carcasses, including their heads, are usually lined up on a field waiting for their owner, who is in the "sleeping stage". Torajans believe that the deceased will need the buffalo to make the journey and that they will be quicker to arrive in the afterlife if they have many buffalo. Slaughtering tens of water buffalo and hundreds of pigs using a machete is the climax of the elaborate death feast, with dancing and music. Some of the slaughtered animals are given by guests as "gifts", which are carefully noted because they will be considered debts of the deceased's family. “Never marry a Torajan” is a common Indonesian saying, as these funerals can easily cost upwards of USD 50,000. The richer and more powerful the individual, the more expensive is the funeral. The deceased is then finally buried either in a small cave, often with a tau-tau effigy placed in front, inside a hollow tree or even left exposed to the elements in a bamboo frame hanging from a cliff.

We managed to get to a traditional funeral in the nearby village of Sereale. When we went they were just holding elaborate processions and the ceremonial slaughtering stages, having slaughtered about 3 buffaloes and over 100 pigs. Of course modernity has ways of creeping in, as a video crew was filming the funeral, just as we film weddings and the pig offerings of friends and family were loudly announced at an ear-splitting volume over huge loudspeakers. I personally found this extremely interesting, however would think that some more delicate Western souls might look at these rituals in disgust, as they have lost the natural relationship to their food and meat comes from a Styrofoam packet in the supermarket. I felt very welcome at the funeral and at no time did I feel out of place or that I was intruding. The Torajan people are notionally Christian but most in practice animist, having completely rejected a conversion to Islam, because pigs are so important to their diet and culture.

The next day we visited Kete Kesu, the most complete Torajan settlement, consisting of a compound of houses and granaries, burial place and a ceremonial ground. We also visited the traditional burial grounds of Lemo, Tampangallo and Suaya, where coffins are laid in a cave, in a carved stone grave, or hung on a cliff. The cliff-side graves were guarded by wood-carved painted effigies, called tau tau that reminded me a lot of the Chachapoya cliff-side burial grounds I visited last year in Peru.
Babies and small children are traditionally buried in trees, as the belief is that they will continue to grow with the tree. In the village of Kambira we saw a tree that held about 20 dead babies.


After our visit to the Toraja land we drove 8 hours back to Makassar and then boarded our over-night flight to Jayapura at about 2:00 AM. We arrived here at 6:30 AM and had to wait for an additional 4 hours to fly to the town of Wamena, located in the highlands of Western New Guinea. After arriving in Wamena in a semi-comatose state, I had misplaced the connecting cord to my I-pod, managing to buy another one within about 10 minutes from our hotel. So much for Stone-Age culture in the times of smartphones.

After having a shower, we decided to visit the local market, which proved to be a miserable experience, as it has been pouring rain all afternoon. Lisa managed to buy a Noken, a multifunctional knotted or woven bag, native to Papua, which is hung from the head and traditionally used to carry various goods, including children. Women carrying noken are still a common sight in Wamena. It is listed in UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists as a cultural heritage of Indonesia.

Wamena is located in the legendary Baliem Valley in the highlands of Western New Guinea. The valley is occupied by the Dani people and about 80 km in length by 20 km in width and lies at an altitude of about 1,600-1,700 m, with a population of 100,000. We toured the valley with Hermann, our guide, who had been living in the area for the past 22 years and has developed an incredible relationship with the local people and communities, as he had been teaching basic hygiene for over 20 years in the Baliem Valley. His gentle manners with locals and the kindness with which the Dani and Yali people responded to him was remarkable. Lisa and I did a walk through the countryside, which turned out to be the biggest disappointment of this trip. Rather then a walk though beautiful nature, admiring the panoramas, it was on a path littered with plastic containers though various utterly uninteresting farms, were the 20th century has long since arrived. As it had been raining the paths were extremely muddy and difficult to walk on. The sad thing is that there was nothing remotely interesting or beautiful to see.

About two thirds of the way, it turns out that we were exhausted and mercifully Hermann managed to arrange a ride on a motorcycle for us to the next bridge that crosses a stream that feeds the Baliem River. As it had been torrentially raining the night before, the local bridge had been washed away and we had to cross this torrent the best way we could, with the help of many kind-hearted locals that ensured that nobody was swept away the strong current. As a matter of fact, I fell into the torrent and was nearly dragged down the stream and suffered a small knee injury. If it had not been for the strong men who held me, I would not be writing this. The truth is that the stream-crossing ended up being the highlight of the day for both Lisa and me, in what would have been an arduous and unrewarding day.

The day after the weather had improved considerably and we went to Obya village, to be treated to a war dance and a re-creation of the traditional Dani way of life. My expectation coming to Papua was to see a more primitive way of life. The village was interesting and reminded me of the Samburu villages in Kenya that are shown to tourists on African Safaris. Albeit it was quite authentic, you still had the feeling of being in a human zoo. When I compare this to the funeral we witnessed in Tana Toraja, this experience was quite disappointing in terms of authenticity. That becomes notorious by the time you reach Jiwika village, that features an old mummy and were the locals pester you to buy souvenirs and demand money for any photo taken of them.

Our return flight back to Jayapura was less than certain, as the local airline had one of their two ATR72 planes out of commission and passengers the day before had been waiting up to 8 hours in the hopes to catch a seat. So it happens that in the evening before our departure some people of the same airline were having dinner at our hotel and I thought I push a little bit and gently ask about our possibilities for next day’s flight. It turns out that they actually were a flight crew of a 737 cargo plane of the same airline we were supposed to take the next day. I simply asked them if we could catch a ride with them, and as we were only 2, they agreed to give us a lift next day at 6:00 AM. Needless to say that our gentle guide in Wamena was absolutely flabbergasted and definitely in a state of shock, knowing how things usually work in the Highlands of New Guinea, when I informed him that we would fly cargo the next morning. It is actually quite wonderful to fly cargo: no check-in, no security checks, no boarding passes and other nuisances; we basically walked with our suitcases directly to the plane, got them loaded, boarded the plane and got two spare seats in the cockpit and took off. We arrived in Jayapura about 6 hours ahead of time and were then driven by the airline’s car directly to the terminal.

A little bit later our local guide in Jayapura took us on a tour of a monument to General MacArthur and to Sentani Lake that is populated by the Sentani people, who live in stilt houses that surround the lake. Just as we were enjoying the tour, we were informed that the airport in Bali would be closed the next day due to the silly APEC conference that was to take place in Bali. This also meant that we would have to fly to Makassar the next day, essentially spend the night there doing nothing, aside from getting from the airport to the hotel and then get from the hotel to the airport. Right then and there, Lisa and I decided to take our chances and fly immediately to Bali via Makassar.


Fortunately there was space on a Garuda flight and we took it. It must be said that Garuda is a truly wonderful airline. Our connecting flight to Bali was at first delayed by a bit, and on our approach to Bali, we circled the island for the better part of an hour, only to be diverted to Surabaya, as a VIP plane was landing in Bali. We deplaned and spend about 2 hours on the ground, before taking off to Bali after midnight. What proved to be really lovely is that we got a full drinks and meal service on the Surabaya-Bali sector and the crew, which was just as tired as the passengers served all this with genuine smiles. Needless to say we arrived at our hotel in Ubud in a comatose state between 3 and 4 AM, after 20 hours of travel.

The next morning I came to realize how wonderful our hotel was. It consisted of beautiful two-story bungalows adjacent to a rice field, far away from the city noise to enjoy the chirping of the insects and frogs. My bungalow was located next to a swimming pool and it felt like having my own private pool, which allowed me to swim under the stars. Having been to Bali in 1992, I have to say that in spite of the increase in tourism and traffic, the mountainous areas of the island have not lost the magical charm, which still makes Bali one of my favourite destinations anywhere. Add to this the sense of humour of the Balinese and the fact that you are surrounded by their beautiful artistic heritage and you feel that you are in heaven.

Ubud was originally important as a source of medicinal herbs and plants and gets its name from the Balinese word ubad (medicine). In the late nineteenth century, Ubud became the seat of feudal lords who owed their allegiance to the king of Gianyar, at one time the most powerful of Bali's southern states. The lords were members of the satriya family of Sukawati, and were significant supporters of the village's increasingly renowned arts scene. The multi-faceted art scene developed after the arrival of Walter Spies, an ethnic German born in Russia who taught painting and music, and dabbled in dance. Foreign painters Willem Hofker and Rudolf Bonnet entertained celebrities including Charlie Chaplin, Noël Coward, Barbara Hutton, H.G. Wells and Vicki Baum. They brought in some of the greatest artists from all over Bali to teach and train the Balinese in arts, helping Ubud become the cultural centre of Bali. A new burst of creative energy came in 1960s in the wake of Dutch painter Arie Smit and development of the Young Artists Movement. There are many museums in Ubud and in the surrounding area.

We also got to enjoy a performance of a Kecak, a form of Balinese dance and music drama that developed in the 1930s, performed primarily by men. I managed to back statge to get great photos of the performers getting ready for the show, as well as a Barong dance performance, representing the eternal battle between good and evil between Barong, a lion-like creature and Rangda, the demon queen and mother of all spirit guarders in the mythological traditions of Bali.

The best time to explore Bali is early in the morning, and being the cruel man I am I had my guide and driver pick me up at 5:30 AM in total darkness. The reward was to get some absolutely magnificent light that highlights Bali’s beauty. We arrived at a magnificent viewpoint overlooking Lake Batur the market in Kintamani at 6:30 AM, with no tourist anywhere in sight, allowing us to enjoy the true friendliness and great sense of humour of the Balinese.

A line of volcanoes dominate the landscape of Bali, allowing for the cultivation of rice on mountain terraces. As a matter of fact the cultural landscape of Bali consists of five rice terraces and their water temples that have been designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO. The early morning hours also bring a sense of serenity to Bali’s many temples, before the hordes arrive on day tours from the beach. The temples are the focus of a cooperative water management system of canals and weirs, known as subak that dates back to the 9th century and reflects the philosophical concept of Tri Hita Karana, which brings together the realms of the spirit, the human world and nature. This philosophy was born of the cultural exchange between Bali and India over the past 2,000 years and has shaped the landscape of Bali. The subak system of democratic and egalitarian farming practices has enabled the Balinese to become the most prolific rice growers in the archipelago despite the challenge of supporting a dense population.


In Bali, Lisa and I parted ways, as she wanted to enjoy Bali’s beautiful beaches and I flew to Dili, Timor-Leste. East Timor is surprisingly beautiful and certainly not the war zone/failed state I was expecting. Dili itself has a few places of interest, however was thoroughly destroyed by the Japanese & Australians during World War II. What was perhaps most surprising to me were the super-friendly relationship between the Timorese and the Indonesians. No resentment whatsoever, unlike India/Pakistan or Bolivia/Chile. The biggest investors and tourists actually come from Indonesia and are very welcome.

Upon exploring Dili and its beaches, I was driven to Baucau. It was a very interesting drive along beautiful beaches and through the savannah and reminded a bit of Northern Chile or Botswana in terms of vegetation. My conclusion is that East Timor is a safe place with some beautiful beaches, fairly decent road infrastructure, friendly people and best of all, practically no traffic.

Upon my return from Dili, I had to go to Bali’s famous beaches. Personally I do not like beaches and the Kuta and Nusa Dua areas, are just like Cancun, Puerto Vallarta or so many destinations in the Caribbean, stuffed with gigantic hotel properties, assorted fast-food restaurants and trashy souvenir shops. These places however are perfect for whale watching and I saw quite a number of beached Australian, European and North American whale-like creatures panting on the beaches of Bali. At least in Bali the lavish public grounds of the hotels are beautifully decorated with Balinese art pieces.


The next day I flew to Labuan Bajo to see the Komodo monitor lizards, which due to their bad temper are better known as 'Komodo dragons'. They exist nowhere else in the world and are of great interest to scientists studying the theory of evolution. They inhabit rugged hillsides of dry savannah and pockets of thorny green vegetation contrast starkly with the brilliant white sandy beaches and the blue waters surging over coral. The world's largest living lizard population is distributed across the islands of Komodo, Rinca and Gili Motong.

To visit Komodo National Park, Bestway Tours’ Indonesian partner had arranged for me to explore Komodo and Rinca islands with a boat. This proved to be quite an adventure, as the boat was a wooden pinisi, a traditional Indonesian two-masted sailing ship, which had comfortable cabins was captained by a 20-year old chain-smoking Bugis captain, accompanied by an 15-year old cabin boy that not only did the cooking but also helped in anchoring the ship following the ancient marine traditions of Indonesia. Once again, the food on the boat proved to be simple, but delicious with fresh vegetables, fish and rice.

We arrived first in Rinca Island, were I managed to see a few dragons hanging around the visitor centre that were basically bathing in the sunshine. We then sailed for about three hours to Komodo Island to spend the night moored in front of the pier. We left the boat about 6:00 AM, and, as usual, the early morning hour brings its rewards, as I got to see two Komodo dragons in the wild just getting up to enjoy the sun. Not only that, but I also saw Young Komodo dragons, which dwell in trees, safe from predators and cannibalistic adults. Of course there also were the requisite dragons lingering around the visitors centre, however to see these creatures in their real natural environment is quite an emotional experience. Sadly I had to leave Komodo at 08:30 to be in time for my flight back to Bali, as the boat ride back to Labuan Bajo takes about 4 hours.

At about 9:00 AM we were notified by Trans-Nusa that today's flight will depart early at 11:30 AM. No further notice was given and I had the option to take tomorrow's flight to Bali with the possibility of missing my flight back home. Bestway’s wonderful partners were right on the ball, being constantly in touch with me through the guide's mobile phone and working out alternatives. Their rep in Labuan Bajo even went to the airport to try to delay the departure of Trans-Nusa and as this was not possible, immediately made arrangements for me to continue my journey on Lion Air and had even paid the airport tax in advance. It is in unpredictable situations like these that you truly realize how good a company really is. After my arrival in Bali, I went to visit my Canadian friend Chloe who lives in Bali and enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner. It was the first home-cooked meal in over a month and was absolutely delicious. For one last time I got up at 5:00 AM and was driven back to the Ubud area to photograph the remarkable Elephant Cave temple and the beautiful rice terraces and temple of Gunung Kawi, before heading to the airport for my flight back home.

Indonesia’s beautiful nature its diverse cultures and extremely friendly people made this trip one of the better journeys of my life. Early in 2014, I will be organizing a number of multi-image shows highlighting the beautiful land in the Vancouver area, starting with an Ultimate Traveller show on Wednesday, January 15 at 7:00 PM at the Ferry Building Gallery in West Vancouver.