The Jungle Boys of Sekumpul

26 May

After attending a mass cremation ceremony of more than 250 bodies in Sudaji, Bali,* we were so extremely hot that we needed some cooling off. We decided to go to the Sekumpul waterfalls. The seven different waterfalls are beautifully set in a lush gorge of unspoiled jungle.

On the way to the falls we met these boys. Abandoned by their mother they are now being taken care of by their two young sisters and other villagers. Zan Zan, a friend of us, who lives in a village near the boys, had taught them some Indonesian songs in order for them to earn some extra change.

* A post of this mass cremation will follow soon

Nyepi, a day of silence in Bali

21 May

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After our hectic travels through Africa and India the Bali bug has hit us hard. So there is some delay in almost everything, including our regular posts. We will try to improve on our discipline and publish our post regularly and a little bit more on time.

Nyepi is a Day of Silence to mark the Balinese New Year. For the religious it used to meditate, contemplate and fast. For most people the day also means quality time with their family. The whole island is shut down including all sea and airports. Everybody is supposed to stay in their homes and excessive noise and the use of light is strictly prohibited. The day starts at 6 am and will last for 24 hours.

The night before Nyepi the Balinese people will parade through the streets carrying the Ogoh-Ogoh. Every community will make one or more devilish creatures from paper mache which represent numerous evil spirits. Standing in the middle of the parade some of these creatures seem to come alive. The idea of the parade is to attract the evil spirits to the island before Bali will shut down completely so the evil spirits are tricked to believe that the island is completely empty and hopefully leave empty handed.

Like most parades this one is also marked with lots of alcohol and probably drug consumption. The youth carrying the large creatures are getting more reckless by the minute. Thus standing on the sidewalk taking pictures is proving to be a risky business. After a couple of hours of craziness, some drunk Ogoh-Ogoh carriers start to have enough courage to include me in the festivities. Before long I was being presented to the evil spirits as a delicious white offering.

Besides all the religious and cultural motives of this day, it is a great way to relieve the environment of the non stop stress of human wear and tear. An extreme version, but in my view much better implemented than the global initiative ‘Earth Hour’.

 

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The Shine Villas Umulas, Bali

19 Mar

In my previous post I shortly mentioned ‘The Shine Villas’ ; The two stunning luxury villas in Bali that are owned by friends of ours. A spontaneous project what he started two years ago what turned out in two extraordinary beautiful villas that offer all luxury and beauty you expect from Bali.

Luckily the Hotelschool wasn’t for nothing after all as I am now helping my friend to get the villas ready for rental, hire and train the staff and do some sales and marketing to make sure as many guests as possible get to enjoy these stunning villas in magical Bali.

These two villas are mind blowing, luxurious and have a great location nearby Seminyak. Besides the fact that the staff is lovely and kind, they are also now very well trained to maintain the villas clean and beautiful, but most of all ready to take very good care of you and your freshly prepared breakfast in the morning.

Please see our website http://www.theshinevillas.com for some more information on the villas, location and prices. When you or your friends are interested, please contact me directly, as I would love to make you a special deal and welcome you in The Shine Villas.

Yes we are ……

6 Mar

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STILL ALIVE!!!

I realise that our last update was more than three months ago and that probably most of you have already forgotten about us. But since we have a lovely little guestroom awaiting you in Bali, we guessed we could bother you guys again with an update on our lives ;-)

We have uploaded some new pictures and there are already written stories about Whale Sharks and India waiting on the Ipad, but lets inform you first about our Bali experience.

“What are you going to do in Asia? , Where are going to live? , How are you going to make some money over there!? , What is your plan? , What the fuck you guys think you are doing?!” – Were the standard questions we had to answer the last year after announcing us leaving. Everytime when people confronted us with these obvious questions we ignored them with a casual smile, by shrugging our shoulders and answering semi relaxed ” Euhhhh…. dunno… to be honest….”.
Friends who were determined to find out if we had seriously lost our mind and kept asking, were comforted with the answer: “We will make up our minds during the trip. By the time we have arrived on Bali we will have a fabulous plan. The trip will open our eyes and mind and will give us a ground breaking idea for a 4 hour work week on the beach and lots of dollars on the bank…”. Yeah right, sounds cool, but during our trip there was a lot of time for beautiful views, outrageous nature, extraordinay adventures and lots of cold beers, but no spare minute left for any future planning. So when on the 7th of December our plane landed on Bali, reality suddenly hit us hard.

While still landing, Manengu and I looked at eachother suddenly not so happy and relaxed anymore. Why did it feel so different this time to arrive on the magical, tropical, holiday island Bali!? Why were all the Aussies in the plane so excited and were we almost longing for some extra hours in the plane?! Because time was almost up and we still had no fucking clue of what we were going to do….

As we were not ready for the touristy and western life yet, we decided to find a house in the stunning surroundings of Ubud. Endless rice padi’s, silence and yoga was what we desired. If we feel the urge to go out one night, we can always take a taxi to the night life of Seminyak. And again….. yeah right, sounds cool, but no. When you are living the stressfull life in Amsterdam there are often moments you think that a life with silence, yoga, no nightlife and no crazy deadlines will make you happy. But after 7 months being surrounded by the middle of nowhere, having all the time of the world and after one week of green rice padi’s, going to bed at nine and practising our lotus posture, we went absolutely nuts! Some things you just cannot change. Before we knew it we had moved our stuff to Seminyak and were out and about in all bars every night, socialising, networking and testing the cold beer again. When you actually want to start a life somewhere, rice padi’s will not do the trick. At least not for us.

Bali is luckily an easy going Island where meeting great people is not a difficulty. Every night a party or dinner where you meet new people again. Especially meeting Jochem and Carolina was a blessing. People who take such good care of you and with who you actually connect, do make the difference. And while checking out the bars and Arak Madu, several job opportunities came along already. Me being a big control freak was again confronted with the fact that things also often turn out well, when not everything is exactly planned and scheduled.

From the 22nd of December the reunion started. Several close friends came to visit Bali for spending their Christmas and New Years with us and maybe also just a little bit for sun, beach and cultural beauty ;-) . Great to be surrounded by my friends again, to have the girly talks and snuggles. A relief to have actual conversations again as during traveling you often don’t get much further than introducing yourself, discussing where you have been and where you are going next.

When friends were leaving, other friends and family were arriving. While helping Jochem setting up The Shine Villas, doing sight seeing and parties with new and old friends and still living from our backpack, we still had no place to live. Moving from guesthouse to friends and from friends back to guesthouses, the first signs of stress started to appear. I was longing for one place, my own bed, clean sheets, a bathroom I did not have to share and some new underwear. But luckily our patience got rewarded with a cute little house in Umalas with a little pool overlooking the rice padi’s. Only 5 minutes from Seminyak and beach in a local Balinese street. But most important we have two bedrooms, so we cannot wait for your visit when we are back on Bali in May after visiting family and friends in Holland and Spain in April :-)

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Rajasthan Rampage Day 1

15 Nov

* Leave at 6am – check
* Arrive safely in Agra at 12am – check
* Visit impressive Taj Mahal with 25.000 others – check
* Arrive in Bharatpur, Rajasthan 5pm – check
* Have an icecold beer – check
* Have an amazing first day – CHECK!!!
* Absolutely knackered – checkpffffff….

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Saving the best for last?

14 Nov

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The 9th of November our 4 month Africa trip was officially over. After a great relaxing week in Mozambique, we flew from Maputo to Mumbai.

India…. The country I was waiting for so long. While sitting in the plane I was fearing to be dissapointed as my expectations were so extremely high of this crazy country. But no. It took me a 45 minute taxi ride to realize that India indeed is THE country that tickles all your senses; the colours, the smells, the noise, the temperature, the friendly smiles and people and cars just everywhere. A complete mess, but an absolute stunning chaos. I am sorry Cape Town, but the Mumbai circus has already stolen my heart.

Tomorrow the real adventure is about to begin. Our friend from Amsterdam arrived on Saturday to celebrate his birthday, but most of all to join us for a motortrip through Rajasthan. Twelve days on a Royal Enfield, just like Manengu used to do with his family when they where living in Delhi in the 90′s.

Ralph, Manengu and I are now awaiting the big day. All three a bit restless in our tiny hotelroom in Old Delhi. Hard to fall a sleep. Two shiny Enfields are now waiting outside our hotelroom, both covered in beautiful flowers, incents and some pictures of Ganesh; A Hindu ceremony lead by Lalli Singh, to wish us luck and good health during the trip. 8 more hours and we are off…!

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New love

10 Nov

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When I was a teenager I tend to fall in love with a different boy every week. One day my neighbour, the other day my classmate, a week later my sportsinstructor and ofcourse all big brothers of my friends were making me daydream. Nowadays that madness seems to have taken place for another obsession. Every week it is another country or city that takes my breath away. And just like 15 years ago, I try to convince you all that this time it is really love. This time it is ‘The One’ – no really the most amazing place I have ever visited…. But then a week later we cross the next border and a new place steals my heart.

But this time I can tell you guys it is REAL. I have found ‘The One and Only’ – the city of ‘my dreams’; Cape Town. And although all warnings and horror stories made me anxious and very suspicious, when driving into this thrilling city I would like to call it ‘love on first side’. As soon as the impressive Table Mountain cought my eye, when I saw the stunning and rough sea and their stunning beaches surrounding this metropolitain city, I knew…. One day I am going to live here. This city, being a kind of mixture of Miami, Sydney and San Fransisco got it all and does not feel dangerous at all…

It doesn’t matter who you are or what you like, there is a place for you in Cape Town. There is so much to do and see, getting bored is just impossible. For example drive the Chapmans Peak and spot the beautiful beaches and views, drive up to Cape Point National Park to spot stunning nature, ostriches and pinguins or get lost in the most beautiful botanical gardens in the world. Like your food and wine? Only a twenty minute drive away takes you into the wineries of Stellenbosh and Franshoek all hosting their own amazing restaurants that stand for quality, amazing service and VERY reasonable prices! Want to work on your bucketlist? Jump onto a catamaran from the exciting V&A Harbour and within 5 minutes you can take: 1) spotting dolphins 2) breaching whales 3) flapping seals 4) another incredible sunset off your list. If you like to move that body, Cape Town is the place. Go horseback riding on the white sand of Noordhoek, do one of the many hiking trails on the Table Mountain, surf the Indian or Atlantic Ocean while jumping over the ‘Great White’ or run another marathon every week. Capetonians love their sports, everywhere you look you see people running, surfing, biking and in every park a bootcamp is going on. What an energy! For some more adreanaline jump into a cage and watch a Great White Shark ripping a tuna apart right in front of your eyes or if it is fashion that makes your heart go faster, no worries either! After your (shopping) workout it is time to show that body and trendy style of yours at Campsbay… Miami right on the beach! Like to take it a bit easier? In long Street there are plenty of relaxing bars with good draught beer and live music. More of the romantic type? Take your honey up to Signal Hill and watch the billion lights of this city of my dreams…. ( When we were up there having a take away coffee and staring into the lights, Manengu made the comment: “Beautiful isn’t babe? Can you imagine that someone is being killed out there every half an hour…?” “Pffff, thank you Manengu, perfect timing for these romantic statistics”.)

Not only Cape Town made our trip through South Africa unforgetable. The South African hospitality was one of the most important ingredients. When I emailed my ex colleague Frank that I was visiting CT, the first thing he mentioned was: “Great, you guys can stay at mine and please stay a month as there is so much to do…..” Stay a month!? I think my best friends would not even have me a whole month! But that is South Africa for you. Everyone will make sure your long trip was worthwile the effort. When I was having a migraine, the hostel would not let me stay in my tent in the pouring rain, but checked me in an ensuite double room, no charge!! And after not having seen my old friend from London in 10 years, Thomas let us stay in his flat, took the day off from work and showed us around in Joburg for days!

Although South Africa is absolutely stunning and amazing, I did start to miss the rough Africa along the way. It did seem to be the weird one out in our itinerary. After all the places we visited, I would like to say that South Africa is not really Africa…. The perfect country for an amazing and complete holiday, but to get to know the real Africa? Everything was so well organised. The good roads, the nice car we were driving, the famous Route 62, The Wine and Garden Route that takes you too all the perfectly preserved National Parks with their perfectly kept camping spots. Everywhere along the road hostels and B&B’s, so never to worry where to sleep that night. Like I said, Cape Town is amazing, but has nothing to do with Africa. The fact that the country is so well organised and easy to travel also makes that the average traveler staying in the backpackers hostel is quite young. Which means happy hours, dreads, beer games, mini skirts and stoned surf dudes, apple sour shots and ‘Sex On The Beach cocktails, lots of shagging in the dorms and ‘who ever takes his shirt off gets a free drink’ behaviour. And although I like to deny the fact that I am almost thirty, I have to admit that dreads and beergames just do not do the trick for me anymore. Luckily Manengu totally disagrees with me on this subject and enjoyed miniskirts and apple sour all nights long….

Dear Frank, thank you again for your enormous generousity and for showing me my future city. Martijn, thank you, the wine tasting was devine, wish you were there though! Marije en Hein, It was so kind to have us at your amazing place in Herolds Bay; we have not often seen such a stunning place, enjoy! Dear Thomas, after all those years… Wow! Thank you again! In Joburg we could definitly ‘use somebody…someone like yououou….. !!!’ x

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Our Zambezi rafting experience (video)

9 Nov

Keep an eye on the raft which got stuck. That was us….. The only person who managed to stay in was Hilje! The question is, who was better off?

With many thanks to Odi

The Rainbow State

7 Nov

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After Ethiopia, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe traveling through Botswana was easy, Namibia even easier, but South Africa is a piece of cake. The border experience was again lovely. They were all proud and thankful we took the time and effort to visit their country. We entered South Africa through its northern border with Namibia after an amazing trip through Sossusvlei and its surroundings. I have rarely seen such dramatic scenery in my life. A couple of days in the Fish Canyon National Park in the lovely hot springs marked the beginning of our highly anticipated journey through South Africa.

Driving down the N7 through incredible mountains and passes we finally had our first sight of the Table Mountain. Its stunning plateau was visible, only just, covered in thick dark clouds. Getting closer we had glimpses of townships, neatly ordered small boxes and painted in different colours. The big port on our right hand sight was busy and indeed huge. Suddenly we were in the middle of a huge metropolitan. Have we finally arrived in one of the most dangerous cities in the world? A city where on average tens of people are murdered daily? Where armed robbery and carjacking is part of life? Where dozens of women are being sexualy molested on a daily basis?

After being warned by so many people and reading so many horrible stories, we were definitely tensed when driving through town and when stopping at trafficlights. We were pretty aware of our new dangerous surroundings and I was continiously looking for a suspicious looking person approaching our car when standing still.

Another red light. Hilje told me to check whether the doors are closed. I was not used to be this paranoia, but after so many stories, it was hard not to start to think; beter safe than sorry. Although I knew I didn’t have to check the doors, because of the automatic locks, I still had the urge to have a fast glance. A man approached our car, I tried to make eye contact with him to read his intentions. Under all circumstances I always try to be as personal as possible. Somehow, I tend to be confrontational, even if it would be a person with bad intensions. He looked away and started to poor water on the windscreen and took out a cloth to clean it. I made an automatic gesture to make him stop, but the windscreen was actually pretty dirty. So we let him, opened the window slighty and slid a two Rand coin in his hand. He smiled and said: “Thank you for your support, sir. You too madam and have a very nice day.” He walked off just in time to navigate through the excelerating cars.

Statistics don’t lie and bad things happen all the time and it could happen to you, but I did feel guilty and a little bit embarrased. I have been to many places in my life and have always trusted my instincts and common sense to be safe, but during the first couple of hours in South Africa it was the first time I was trying to seperate myself from the environment I was in. To create a gap between me and them. To have a safety buffer. To create a false sense of security. It didn’t feel good. I didn’t feel in control. I felt vulnerable because I was isolating myself from the real world around me. I was not part of it and therefore different. It did feel like I was disrespecting their welcome.

Is this attitude, the fear of the unknown and insecurity, part of the reason why segregation takes place in societies all over the world? Whether in form of class or even more dramatic as race and one’s skin colour. This human fear will guarantee that discrimination in whatever form will always exist, but being in South Africa you are just so aware it. For me however, the awareness is mostly influenced by the knowledge of the recent history of the horrofying Apartheid regime and not specifically by real life experiences in SA. As a visitor you can feel and see it but it is not extremely different than the experiences I had during the time I spent in the southern states of the USA or the shocking realisation that the fear of the unknown still has such a big impact on people in Europe and its political parties.

It was very interesting for us to follow some of the challenging political and economical issues SA is facing. In some cases even scary when you hear that for example many people started to criticize the appointment of a supreme judge, because he was not black enough. This kind of affirmative action exists everywhere, but the openess of the discussion is new to me.

During our trip we were lucky enough to meet a lot of local people who were extremely friendly and hospitable. They gave us a good insight of their country and the challenges they are facing. It is a complicated country and although people are definitely aware of the difficulties there is hope. There will be no quick fix and it will take generations to get rid of the fragmented past but as one of the local politician in Oudshoorn told us during a night with lots of beautiful local red wine: “You, and the world for that matter, are underestimating South Africa. You underestimate the people living here. There might be many different races, tribes and classes, but we have an extremely strong community life. You have been predicting a full blown civil war for years and it still hasn’t happened. I have been in involved in politics for 40 years and I can tell you, it will never happen. Not on a big scale.”

South Africa is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited. The variety of landscapes, the food, the wines, the people, the oceans, the flora and fauna, it is sometimes much more than what I can describe in words. The Cape is unique, the Wild Coast stunningly beautiful, the Karoo desert my dream rock garden, and the Drakensberg mountains just breathtaking. And we will need much more than five weeks to discover the rest of it. Watching the humpback whales in Fischoek and Hermanus and admiring the gorgeous Southern Right whales while eating a sandwich on the stunning white dunes of the De Hoop national reserve is maybe the most humbling experience of the trip, so I will definitely come back one day when I need to be in that state of mind again.

And did we feel safe? Yes! Are there places you cannot go? Yes! In the cities you have to use your common sense and be careful when needed, like any other big city in the world. The rest is fine. We even visited Soweto, the so called most dangerous township in SA where Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu once lived. Although clearly very poor with shocking unemployment rates you can feel it is alive. Like it has been in the past, it plays an important role in creating the South African urban identity and a clear breeding ground for artists, writers, musicians, fashionistas and athletes. Many white South Africans will never even visit that area. Talking about the unknown!

Coming back to some statistics. South Africa is the seventh most dangerous country in the world if you would go by the relative crime rate* which is based on data from police departments and insurance companies. It has six times less reported criminal incidents than the USA which is the leader of the list. The UK and Germany are the proud number two and three respectively with approximately three times more reported criminal incidents compared to South Africa. While I surely don’t want to downplay the level of violence in South Africa, it is good to have a complete view. And for my own experiences, the most unsafe moments for me were indeed in the USA.

*source: Maps of the World

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Namibia, picture perfect!

7 Oct

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