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Gili T : overhyped or a true little paradise?

Gili Trawangan, The bigger and more exciting Gili. A little group of three small islands of off the northwest corner of Lombok, Indonesia.

sunny 29 °C

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Most people (and yes with most people I mean all age groups, not just young backpackers with a low budget) spending a holiday in Indonesia, especially Bali and/or Lombok, will not escape to elusive call of “The Gilis”. Not only because the guidebooks or travel agent or their own brief internet research of “The 10 best things to see in Indonesia” mention it but because as a westerner (Bule) you get hassled and shouted at, by the local folk trying to earn an extra buck with selling transportation, if you want to go to Gili tomorrow.. Really. Honestly. There’s no escaping it. So why not, right? Even if it wasn’t on your own list of things to see. There must be a reason why everybody goes to the Gilis right? At least that what I told myself. So why not check out. So I did.
Basically you have the choice out of three, once you decided to go to the Gilis. First up is Gili Air, it’s the closest to Lombok’s mainland. It’s happening but quieter and maybe more midrange for accommodation and food, I had the feeling it’s more for families. Next is Gili Meno. Not that populated or built up at all, it’s also quite small, even more quiet but the beaches look awesome. Ideal for honeymoons. Then comes Gili Trawangan. Definitely the party island of the three. It’s not only the biggest, it’s also the most frequented by far. More than a hundred different kinds of accommodation from flash to budget, you name it.. you can find it on Gili T. If you want choice in accommodation and food, bars and music scenes… Even smoke(able)s and a certain kind of mushrooms are readily available. I can’t talk about the quality of those but it seems to make a certain kind of visitor happy. Because Gili T is bigger it also has more coastline. Trust me when I say it’s perfect place for walking, running, bicycling, swimming, snorkeling. Awesome snorkeling! Right of the beaches. All of the islands have this going for them by the way but I can only really speak of Trawangan as that’s where I spent most of my time.
With our travel style, it being a strict budget and trying to do the right thing at the same time, it became again apparent to us, we had to take the local angle. We figured out the local recycling system and returned plastic water bottles and empty glass beer bottles to little markets or the people we were ‘homestaying’ with. We got change back and made it easier for them yet again to make an extra buck as well. We got all of our snacks and toiletries in the back markets (not the ones on the main road, where prices are three times as much) and bought fresh fruit and a local brand crackers as snacks and breakfast. Soooo cheap. Home stays during high season on Gili T are expensive. Just haggle your way into almost half the price, without breakfast (which usually isn’t that great anyways) you can get a substantial discount. We haven’t encountered less than 100.000 Rpi on Gili T (other places it is more easy to get cheaper for obvious reasons), but it shouldn’t cost you more than 150.000 either for a very decent place. Meaning big bed (for a couple), good working fan and clean spacious bathroom. This translates into 10-15 dollars for a cheap room on Gili T. You can find these in the village on the south east corner of the island. With eating local food and going to the market at night (where dishes shouldn’t cost more than 25.000 (2.5 dollars), this being a lot of food including meat or fish, which makes it more expensive if you go vegetarian it will be A hell of a LOT cheaper. Don’t forget this is a holiday destination for Indonesians as well and things are a lot more expensive on the Gilis. Beer is the most expensive bit of your daily budget, that’s what it came down to for us. You could get the really cheap mixed drinks in the bars and they will get you there but they are also extremely bad for you. It’s poison basically. It’s not even Arak (Rice liquor), it’s some weird fake vodka and whisky and rum, it’s just not good. My stomach didn’t agree with it, so I stuck to beer. If you don’t overdo it, you can handle Gili T on a budget very easily.
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What I, personally, liked the best about the Gilis was that there is no traffic. No hustle and bustle from scooters, minibuses and cars. No real noise. No pollution except for the dust the horse carts kick up while passing you. You have your choice of beaches and there’s some pretty damn good ones. Snorkeling (and-or diving) is a must in this liitle heaven on earth. But what about the parties and all those youngsters trashing the place you ask? There wasn’t really much of that going on, honestly. Choose your accommodation wisely (away from the mosque and away from the main street and bars) and you’re golden. Go enjoy the magnificent sunsets every evening on the west coast, where the sun sets Gunung Agung (the highest volcanoe on Bali) on fire and have a two dollar big beer, while sitting on this beautiful white sand beach.
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It’s pretty magical. Do some snorkeling again the next day and some sunbathing, start a new book and go to the local Padang (restaurant with dishes on display) for a 5000 Rpi lunch, cause you figured out the system. That’s what locals pay for a portion of rice, sauce and vegies. Instead of going to yet another Indonesian run kitchen trying to make western sandwiches and burgers with chips for 50.000. Let’s just be honest, they are not good. Stick to what they know how to make and it will be a lot cheaper and a lot tastier.
This is how the sustainable part of our travel comes in. Stay with locals, eat like the locals, buy food from the locals… feed the local economy. That is always the rule, wherever you go. Waste management is a problem in Indonesia. Plastic is everywhere. Creeks, rice fields, banana plantations, even in front of the house you’ll frequently see piles of half burnt plastic. Some people deal with it and clean, others just don’t. Keep the beaches and pristine waters clean, set a good example and pick up after yourself. The locals will appreciate it. Watch out with sunscreen use while snorkeling over the reefs. (It damages the reefs, you can get the ‘good’ kind.) Don’t touch the turtles or break anything of the reefs or stand on them And the most important one. Always haggle. Don’t let them get away with trying to charge you 5 times the price things should be. It’s how they do business, even amongst themselves. Just play the game. Once you got the hang of it, you’ll feel a lot better and more confident. It’s hard dealing with the knowledge they will always try to rip you off. Don’t take it personally, fight back. Always do the math in your head for any kind of payment and check how much change you got back. There always that 10 or 20.000 they’ll try and sneak in there to put in their own pocket. Wages are low and people have other ways of supporting their family. Enough said, not? You can haggle over everything. From rooms, snorkel trips to dinner and a bottle of water in a supermarket. They’ll try and make you feel like things have a set price, but they really don’t. Another big problem is people don’t seem to understand the locals are muslim. Which means dress appropriately. Especially while walking through the village. Don’t come running back from the beach in your bikini, like I saw one girl do one day. I’m sure you can understand what that would feel like for a local woman to see every day outside her house. Transportation to the Gilis can be easy, fast and expensive or hard and slow and very, very cheap. It’s however you feel about it. We took the cheap way and it worked out every time but it’s not the stress-free way for sure.
I thought it was a pretty special place, but you have to treat it with respect and adapt to the locals. I can easily see the Gilis getting ruined by the highly increased interest in the last couple of years (some think it already is). It will only get worse and in my opinion it is already on the verge of being too much.
So if you are planning to go to the Gilis or are doubting if you should, I didn’t regret it in the slightest bit. I had a wonderful time and thought the place was amazing!

Posted by flemishgirl 02:45 Archived in Indonesia Tagged food fish boat bali diving hiking beach indonesia market locals jungle blue island sun beautiful paradise budget swimming muslim trail tourists cheap dive snorkeling tourism gili lombok homestays backpackers islam blue_water magical padang gilis gili_trawangan gili_air gili_meno banana_pancake gili's all_ages colorful_fish dive_shops

The Real Fiji Experience.

Our Time in Fiji well spent.

semi-overcast 28 °C

Screw those backpacker itineraries, flashpacker resorts and cruiseboats… man, we saw the real Fiji or better Viti. (Viti = Fiji in Fijian.) What it really is like living in Fiji and it couldn’t have been a better experience.
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What I didn’t know was that there is some hardship to be had by about 70 percent of the population. You got to work hard out there to live your sustainable life on a tropical island. The luxury resorts on numerous tiny islands away from the main island (which is Viti Levu = literal translation = big Fiji) and the main cities (especially Suva, the capital) are all a tourist really gets to see. Happy Fijians greeting you and helping you out with anything you need. Lovely service, although a tad on the slow side. Fiji Time is a common saying here, I guess also known as island time. Time doesn’t really exist here. Things happen when they happen, so you better leave your western mentality and expectations behind. What you don’t get to see, unless you go out explicitly in search of it, is the real village life. How most of the Fijians still live these days. They don’t really need electricity and are fine with not owning a fridge (which in my opinion I couldn’t do without). Their main resources are limited in variety, but I guess they also don’t really mind. Life revolves around food, so farming and fishing is the main activity besides preparing and cooking. Seems quite simple, doesn’t it. Well it is, but there’s a beauty in it, that I as a western girl wish I could appreciate more. I noticed first hand, by my own experiences that I get quite restless while staying in villages for too long. They don’t really use downtime for personal need. There’s no such thing as reading a book for leisure and maybe if you’re lucky there will be one household that owns a TV. Computers and internet are a city thing and most villagers don’t know what Facebook is. Oh my lord, I can hear you saying… it is in reality a third world country. Well... yes and no. Most people would label it as such but I think Fijians really don’t mind the kind of life they lead. They are not in need of anything else. This is what it has been like for a while now and it works so what’s wrong with that. Everything you do or work for is in service of the local community. Everything is a communal possession. A great example of this is how any house is everybody’s house. People walk in and out, chatting, gossiping and sharing responsibilities such as caring for the little ones. Babies are adored, really I can’t put it in any other way then they are conceived as little gods and goddesses. Constantly being kissed and paraded around, an average baby in your average village is not alone for a moment. The complete opposite of how western babies grow up. They can’t be taught how to be independent fast enough! Fijian babies are cuddled and loved and passed around frequently. Everybody is everybody’s mother, father, big brother or big sister. Seriously, it blew my mind..
Although the city life is definitely different. I speak mainly of my village experiences on Vanua Levu, Viti Levu and Taveuni. Unfortunately that’s all we had time and funds for. Thanks to a friend of my dad back home in Belgium we were able to hook up with a local family and their extended family spread all over the country. We visited several villages thanks to them and on our own we managed to integrate in some more as well. It is a fascinating culture with old traditions still embedded in their everyday life to this day but missionaries have definitely succeeded in religiously conquering and transforming Fiji though. There’s about 6 different branches of Christianity present everywhere we went plus Islam in the bigger places and Hinduism as well. I don’t think you can find an untouched village anymore regrettably.
Even though the real Fijian food we had day in and day out, never disappointed us and is, if I may say so really yummy, there’s not much variation. As too be expected by being extremely isolated islands and it is a tropical climate after all. The main diet consists of Dalo (Taro), cassava and coconut. The coconut tree must be the most versatile around. They use every single part of it for cooking with, eating, body care products and building their houses and furniture, weaving hats, mats, baskets and fans with the palm leaves. There are a couple of green leaf vegetables, readily available and that made me happy but for the rest, unless it’s a village close to the sea and they get to fish every day, there is really not a lot to it. When you go visit people or a village, you bring them one of the following as gifts (Sevusevu) and they will be extremely grateful; canned fish or meat, cookies, sugar, bread, butter, soap and toilet paper. These are luxury items only available in shops and the cities. Wages are extremely low but I guess the cost of living is not that bad either, if you don’t buy beer and meat every day. The traditional Sevusevu would be or as they call it, Grog. Let’s have a little chat about Kava shall we? It is the original traditional drink for Fijians, pounded root of the peppershrub, mixed with water, it makes a muddy not so nice tasting drink. It’s their versions of drugs and alcohol (cause I haven’t really encountered anything else once off the beaten track). Granted you can find beer, wine, spirits and marijuana in the cities, but not as plentiful and besides Fiji Bitter or Gold (which is quite cheap) the rest is very expensive. Normal Fijians can’t afford alcohol so Kava it is. And trust me it is.. at all times and for any occasion possible the bowl comes out and the traditional half coconut shell used as a cup gets passed around. You better not be afraid of catching something when you go visit a village cause everything is made with the local water and food gets eaten with your hands and the kava bowl is shared. So once you get over the muddy numb-making taste of Kava, you might enjoy it and maybe after a couple of full cups you might feel a bit drunk, but it wears off extremely fast. So don’t get your hopes up. No, you haven’t found an cheap alternative to alcohol, forget about it. It makes you at best a bit woozy and very mellow. You will sleep great and the next day you might just want to do nothing and take another nap. On the other hand, I’ve heard Vanuatu has the strong and better stuff though. But I wouldn’t know myself as I haven’t tried it.
Fijians are basically the most hospitable people I’ve met so far (I think it can be said about almost any Pacific Island nation). There is nothing they would not give to you, because you as a foreigner are really honoring them with your interest and your visit. They will invite you in, just cause you are passing by, for tea, lunch or dinner depending on what’s going on at that time. They will make a spot at the head of the table for you (that is the head of the tablecloth on the floor, there is no such thing as a table in real Fijian households.) They’ll give you the best piece of meat and will give their beds to you if you are invited to stay the night. You’ll be proudly guided around and invited in and you’ll be shaking (lululu = official greeting/meeting) a million hands (because they all want to meet the –as it was in our case – white people). We’ve had young kids be afraid of us, starting to cry (cause they have never seen a white person before in their lives). We’ve had to smack away some little hands trying to peek into our bedroom, prying the curtains to one side in the evenings. Kids just being gob smacked when looking for the second time when they realize we don’t really belong in their village. Being stared at was definitely a common occurrence. We had the occasional better educated and worldly young ones flock to us and ask us a million questions in English about traveling and what it is like outside of Fiji. It was fun and new for the first few days but after a while there’s that guilt sneaking it’s way in and you start to feel a bit inappropriate for many different reasons. I’m sure those are feelings many of us would feel in those kind of situations and I’m not sure if I’m comfortable feeling them all the time because of the way we travel. From now on, we’ll be heading only to poorer countries and we will keep on hanging out with the locals, so I guess I better get used to it. Fijians are very respectful people. Unless you’ve been living with them for months and been seen as one of their own, you will not be allowed to do much. Offering to do the dishes or your own laundry are not going to be allowed. They will tend to you and try to make you as comfortable as possible. Adults won’t really ask about your life or pry into your business unless they really feel close to you which takes some time. Romantic gestures or kissing or holding hands are NOT done and it is very hard to tell how they actually go about dating and getting to know one another. I guess it all happens in secrecy. In one of the villages we visited on Vanua Levu we got the experience a real Fijian style wedding. Four days of full on organization and celebration. Pigs and cows were slaughtered and the best ingredients were used for making delicious food! We had squid in lolo (coconut milk) and lime, clams and grilled fish. Lots of meat and chicken curries, plus all the different kinds of fried bread for breakfast the day after the wedding. It was amazing!!! Not only the food but the teamwork of the village on display.
Let’s just say experiencing the real Fiji was a once in a lifetime thing and that I’m very satisfied with our choice of travel methods. I can go in search of the perfect beach and lazy around in Indonesia for a lot less money and that’s exactly what I’m planning on doing. I’m glad I went for an off the beaten track kind of experience in Fiji. Just cause it was SO worth it!
There will be more detailed entries of our adventures in Fiji coming soon.

Posted by flemishgirl 20:07 Archived in Fiji Tagged islands food boat beach religion bus locals ferries resorts blue island fiji paradise taveuni viti_levu mamanucas buses coconut pacific guitar backpackers vanua_levu tropics suva hitchhiking couchsurfing ukelele nandi yasawas cassava pacific_islands viti real_fiji_experience fijians tropical_climate dalo tarot casava indo-fijians missionaries flashbackpers

The Blue Gum Forest

Hiking and camping in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia. Katoomba - Blackheath area. The Grose Valley.

sunny 30 °C

"You guys have plans for New Year’s yet?” Our French friends and fellow helpXers asked us this question and we shrugged our shoulders. “We are going to see the massive fireworks show in Sydney. Do you want to come?” We didn’t really care much about going back to the congested city to see some pretty lights. We kind of just wanted to enjoy the sunny weather and our days off. I find New Year’s celebrations to be highly overrated. You are in the Blue Mountains only once so we preferred to rather be hiking and camping in nature than be spending heaps of money on costly drinks . And that’s exactly what we did..

We were going to hike from Perry’s Lookout on one edge of the Grose Valley to Govett’s leap Lookout on the other side. We decided to split the hike up in two parts and camp overnight in the illustrious Blue Gum Forest. The hike itself actually only takes about 6 hours. But it’s an awfully steep descent from Perry’s Lookout and there’s only one site, Acacia Flats, for camping allowed along our planned route. It was also very grueling to hike back up. I got in trouble trying to achieve that last part. In my defense it was almost 35 Celsius outside and immensely sunny.

Once you get to one of the famous and very crowded, especially on sunny days, lookouts, you'll immediately understand why they call it the "Blue Mountains". The gum trees (different kinds of eucalyptus) show this characteristic blue haze that is not only to be found here in Australia of course. There’s lots of Blue Mountains throughout this world. I think that the blue haze probably has a scientific explanation that has nothing to do with gum trees in particular. But seriously.. how magnificently blue these mountains look.

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So we started the hike at Perry's Lookout after our lovely Helpx host dropped us off. Margaret really enjoyed showing us around and always offered to drop us off and pick us up anywhere in the area so we could go explore. This amazingly steeper than I thought downhill part had many astonishing views but my knees were starting to tremble a bit.

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Finally after about a full hour or two we got to The Blue Gum Forest. These towering eucalypti seemed to exude mystic vibrations. It is quite the spiritual hike through these magical trees.

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So after much admiration from us both we set up camp. There was an abundance of wildlife present. Especially the birds blew us away. We explored the area and found ourselves a giant flat rock in the middle of the Grose river to hang out on.

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Another animal that we encountered for the first time was the Mountain Dragon. They were everywhere and not shy at all. After snoozing on our rock, my husband woke me up and signaled me to keep still. Right there on an adjacent rock there was a Mountain Dragon, silently snoozing himself. He was quite huge and didn’t seem to mind us. By sunset time the forest really seemed to come alive. The most extraordinary colored birds came to take a dip or sip from the river, while singing their equally colorful songs. The only disappointment of the whole hike was the five lane wide ant highway that had formed itself across our tent diagonally. We had to fight some of those flying big ones off and moved the tent a bit further down. Problem solved. It did freak me out a bit though to be honest.

The next morning we woke up bright and early and hiked further up the tracks to have breakfast at yet another beautiful spot on the river. Don’t forget to bring a water purifier or tablets, people! Fresh water is not always healthy to drink for us humans. The water in the valley for example was contaminated and we would have gotten sick if we didn’t have those tablets with us.
After about 4 hours off climbing up, first gradually then the irregular sometimes steep steps of Rodriguez Pass and eventually the steps up from Bridal Veil Falls to Govett’s Leap Lookout, we finally arrived at our destination. But not before we spotted two very rare Black Yellowtail Cockatoos. That made our day!! We’d heard so much about them. They’re supposedly worth 50.000 dollars each on the black market.

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I had to catch my breath for a while. It was after all extremely hot outside. Not a cloud in the sky. We made it up there by noon. Now, I blame it on the weather but all we could think about was to walk to downtown Blackheath and grab a pint in the local pub. And that’s exactly what we did.

The End.

Flemish Girl.

Posted by flemishgirl 03:05 Archived in Australia Tagged mountains trees birds water hiking australia mountain river blue valley steps falls gum forest katoomba dragon pass color dragons lookout ants steep rodriguez campervans leap eucalyptus blackheath grose govetts wicked

The Blue Mountains Zoo

Helpexchange in Blackheath

With being from a flat, boring, grey country like Belgium and all, I'm sure you'll understand when I say that I feel like I've been living in a zoo for the last week. Up here in the Blue Mountains instead of your everyday Pigeons you have Kookaburras who's call sounds like drunken monkeys laughing at an extraordinary volume. I saw one diving down right in front of me the other day catching something in his large beak thrashing his head repeatedly from left to right. It took me the full minute gawking at the action going on about 2 meters away from me to realize that he was trying to kill a 30 cm long yellowish snake. I had to step back and had to stop myself from letting the word murderer escape from my lips. He was actually doing me a favor. I certainly didn't want to step on a snake in my backyard. So I let him swallow it in peace. There's plenty more of these weird sounding colorful birds that you can spot everyday just flying about. It seems so unreal to me. Almost as if they all just escaped from their cages. There are crimson Rozella's and plenty more other kinds of Rozella's, they look like big colorful parrots. Then there are Lorrikeets. Also similar to a small parrot. My first rainbow Lorrikeet I spotted in Sydney Harbor (our first Aussie HelpX). I was in awe of seeing this beautifully rainbow colored thing flying around in our garden. I'd never seen such a thing in the wild.. Certainly didn't expect to see it in a big city like Sydney. Just the other day we saw Kangaroos jumping around on the road. They have signs here. Watch out for Kangaroos crossing. You get it.. like deer?
So I'm new to this part of the world. My understanding after 3 weeks of being here of how this country is divided up, goes a little something like this. Australia is a big island right? Well you can divide it up in 3 parts. The first is the coastline, that consist of big cities and suburbs. Next is the bush. Now the bush is a second wide circle, filled with National parks, beautiful woods and wildlife with smaller cities and villages, very much all spread out. Then last but not least there is the outback. What they call No mans land. It's all desert and wilderness containing heaps (Australians use the word heaps a lot to describe a unknown large quantity) of deadly creatures.
Well that's my description of it.

So now we're in Blackheath. A small town in the Blue Mountains. Beautiful place and definitely a lot cheaper then Sydney.
Our host is building a cob house close to town and we're helping her out. We got some previous experience and were welcomed with open arms. In other words, she takes good care of us. This time around we're using some different building techniques.

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The outside walls of the house for example are much thinner then the cob walls we've helped made before. Our job right now is mixing a clay mixture with straw to fill up the walls with. This is called the light clay/straw method. It is an infill system.

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The insulation aspect of it works perfectly fine for you doubters out there. These methods have been around for a looooo-oong time. So if you think modern building techniques will do a better job, you're wrong. A lot of the modern building materials used are industrial and filled with chemicals you are living and breathing every day. I wouldn't want my kids to grow up in a death trap, do you?
These days green building techniques are being combined with conventional ones and people are starting to see the benefits.
We're not completely there though, but it's a start. If you're interested there is an abundance of websites and books out there for you to read up on. I'll give you a popular one for amateur builders right now, www.greenhomebuilding.com. Just so you can browse and get an idea.
Light clay/straw keeps your house cool in summer and hot in winter. It is incredibly stable in temperature and changing slowly as temperatures change to extremes outside.
So basically we are playing with mud all day and guess what? It's extremely fun!

More updates on the cobbing soon.

Love and Peace,

Flemish Girl

Posted by flemishgirl 20:32 Archived in Australia Tagged mountains birds home nature green blue building wild kangaroo cob cobbing

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