“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
This adventure started one week before when Brenda asked me if I wanted to come along with her and 2 american friends to climb Mt. Rinjani in Indonesia. Having never been to Indonesia before, of course, I jumped at the opportunity!
Day 1: Charek Beach
We were supposed to begin our ascent today but after an hour or two of hiking, Jess started feeling very dizzy and throwing up. It was pretty bad and we started to get very worried. She had not been feeling well since the previous day and they suspected it was caused by some Dragonfruit that she ate in Singapore. Eventually, we decided to turn around before we made it too far and after chilling in the middle of the cool forest for an hour while our guide (Den) ran ahead to gather his porters, we descended back to town.
Since all the equipment, vehicles, porters, food and water had already been prepared and arranged, we could not get a refund of the US$200 we had each paid for the guided trek. To make full use of the money, we asked Den if we he could take us to the beach to camp instead and maybe show us around town the day after if Jess was feeling better. This way we did not have to spend more on lodging and food since his porters had all the equipment for tents and meals for the next 3 days. He heartily agreed.
After loading all the equipment onto a lorry, we were driven to Charek Beach nearby where we spent the rest of the day chilling in the shade. Den and the porters prepared a delicious meal of fried rice and fruits for our lunch and dinner consisted of a bowl of Indonesian curry and rice. The chicken used had been slaughter that same morning so it was fresh and probably cage-free too!
In the afternoon, a bunch of kids came by, stripped naked and started swimming and fishing! They were such a lovely bunch and playing with them lifted our spirits.
While swimming, Jess, who was beside me suddenly turned to me, stuck her foot out of the water and exclaimed, “John! I think I just stepped on some glass!” I examined it and could not find any cut marks.
“Nope it looks fine..” I replied, suspecting if she was pulling my leg.
However, she continued describing how painful it was and clearly the look in her eyes spelled pain and distress. This time, I scrutinised her foot more closely and noticed a few of her toes were bleeding and had brown spots embedded in the flesh. I realized she must have been stung by something and called Tyler over to help get her out of the water. We fumbled around for a while because the rocks were too jagged and hurt our feet. Eventually Den came around to help carry Jess out of the water too and we sat her down on a chair.
By now it was apparent that Jess had stepped on a Sea Urchin. Brenda mentioned that she and her friend had been stung in Hawaii too and that the best remedy for it now was for someone to pee on her. We looked at each other. None of them could urinate at the moment. I thought I could but was too embarrassed to do it in front of the girls. I picked up an empty bottle and ran behind a nearby building to pee into it while they tried asking the kids on the beach.
Eventually I returned with about 100ml of greenish-yellow urine which Jess poured over her foot without a moment’s hesitation. A few minutes later, we could tell from her expressions that the pain was starting to subside. What a relief. I will never forget this day – the day I peed on Jess, albeit in directly. What a great way to start a new friendship!
We spent the rest of the night chilling by a campfire on the beach and eventually decided to sleep outside to the lullaby of the waves crashing ashore instead of in the tents.
I felt that today was a day well spent with its own adventures and learnt that there is always another day and time to climb Rinjani. We had fun nonetheless! What matters most is that Jesstine listened to her body and turned around before things got really bad. We could be in a more dire situation than getting stung by an urchin if she had decided to press on. At least now she has time to rest and recuperate over the next few days.
Day 2: Sindang Gille Waterfalls
Following a breakfast of burgers and fries, Den brought us to the local market, where the locals were selling all sorts of fresh produce and goods. From freshly picked vegetables, to freshly caught seafood to clothing, household items, trinkets, goods and books. Their setup was also very simple with wooden sticks tied to make supports and plastic tarps as shelter from the sun.
We then visited the local agricultural plantations where they grew rice, peanuts, onions, chillies and many other crops in small patches of land. Den picked some peanuts for us to munch on.
Next, he brought us to a traditional mosque made of wooden structures and bamboo leaved roofs. In the main hall was a huge drum and we learnt that it was only used once a year in a particular celebration.
Lastly, we went to look at traditional weaving where I learnt that making a good quality Sarong can take up to a month! Unexpectedly, the owner of the store made me try on a traditional baju or garment which the men wore.
Next, we trekked to the Sindang Gille Waterfalls! It wasn’t a long trek and we reached it in under an hour. Along the way there was this canal with water running through it dug into the side of the mountain, all along the mountain. It was fascinating and we were joking that having a tube attraction there would be perfect for tourism.
The waterfalls themselves were a sight to behold. Simply mesmerising! After enjoying some freshly fried Goreng Pisand (Batter-fried bananas), we went for a refreshing cold water swim in the stream under the waterfalls. That was the highlight of the day.
After trekking back, Den offered to let us take a shower in his house while he went out to climb some coconut trees for some fresh coconut. I didn’t go along but from the videos Jess and Brenda took, he was quite the athlete! His coconut chopping skills were nothing short of remarkable too.
We went back for another swim and lunch by the beach. This time we met another bunch of cheeky little kids who somehow took an interest in me after I lent them my goggles to try. They were so fascinated at being able to see under water! It was a pity these bunch of kids who loved swimming at the beach so much did not have googles to swim with. Eventually they lost one side of the rubber on my goggles and they felt so sorry about it. I had to keep reassuring them it was alright and eventually lent Brenda’s snorkel to them to play with as well.
At around 330pm, Den brought us out to watch a live stick-fighting event. It was pretty intense and the villages fought with long wooden sticks and shields. People gambled on the participants and the participants also got a share of each. It was brutal and some fighters were more skilled than others. It felt like a modern, less gory version of the gladiator contests in ancient rome. From the wounds and beatings they got, I would say they would sting for another few weeks but at least no one was seriously injured. Everyone around us was smoking and after a few matches, I really wanted to leave. Good experience but I doubt I’ll return to watch it again.
On the way back, we rode pillion on 4 different scooters. That was my first time riding behind someone on a scooter and it was exhilarating! Especially so as we descended from the hills towards the shoreline while the sun set in the distance on the horizon.
While waiting for dinner back at the beach, Brenda had the amazing idea of asking Den if we could ride his scooter. He agreed without much hesitation and added that the throttle was very sensitive. We were so stoked and took turns riding the scooter a couple of hundred meters out from camp. Again, that was my first time riding a scooter even though I did not have a motorbike license. I was surprised at how smoothly and easily the scooter travelled, even over the grassy plains. Now I’m definitely taking a motorcycle license in the future.
Day 2 concluded with card games, a spaghetti dinner and story telling by the beach. Dan and his family joined us for dinner at the beach. It was nice and I guess they wouldn’t have been able to do that if we were still up on Rinjani.
Day 3: Sunset on Gili Trawangan
Today started with some home-cooked cassava fries and banana pancakes. We chilled by the beach till 930am, packed and said our goodbyes to Den and his crew. Den offered to let us stay with him next time we came to climb Rinjani. I really enjoyed his company as well as the experiences we shared. Again, I was reminded of the beauty of travelling and meeting and connecting with new people and friends like Den and his family, Jesstine and Tyler. I sincerely hope we get a chance to come back and hike Rinjani together!
At the harbour, we ran into a touter who tried to sell us tickets to Bali. He claimed that his tickets were priced much cheaper than those at Gili – $450k Rp as compared to $600k Rp. Brenda steadfastly refused to purchase anything from him. On hindsight, I’m thankful for someone as experienced as Brenda being around to make these decisions. I think if I was alone, I would have bought that ticket from him. (Eventually we got a fast boat ride to Bali for $200k) Lesson learnt, don’t believe every touter that comes up to you, especially if the deal seems too good to be true and the fella is extra persistent.
Upon arriving on Gili Trawangan, we walked around asking the various hostels and home-stays for their prices and amenities offered. After about an hour and we almost gave up and decided to walk back to the first accommodation we asked when we met this semi bald guy who asked us if we needed somewhere to stay. Abu showed us around Dino’s Bungalows which consisted of some traditional wooden, small, one room bungalows that came with a private shower, wifi, a varied breakfast menu (other places just had one item a day) and laundry service. All that for $125k Rp / person per night! That was a good deal and I silently thanked god for that stroke of luck.
By this time it was around 2pm and we were starving! We went to the nearest beach restaurant and ate a good meal. Jess ordered Nachos but those turned out tropical with pineapples in them haha.
After lunch, we walked towards Sunset Point to catch the sunset and took some nice pictures at the ‘4 Swings of the World’. These were simply swings built at the edge of the beach, perfect for taking Instagram worthy pictures as the sun set.
We also chilled at some beanbags at the porch of the Five Elements hotel bar. The owner, Richard, was really cool about it and even lent us his volleyball to play with. I especially enjoyed the playlist of classic love songs and instrumental music at this bar. Quite unlike all the other bars blaring the latest dance or party music. I did a workout and some yoga before meeting Richard’s brother, Steven who asked me why his joints grew stiff as the years wore on. We then carried on a conversation about physiology, mobility and even bone broths and I shared with him my mobility playlist I had created on YouTube. I’m glad I can still help people improve their health even on holiday. This reminded me of my mission in life – “To inspire and teach others to lead healthy, happy and fulfilling lives.”
Richard later invited us to swim in his hotel pool and we carried on chatting over some beers for awhile. We found out that a room in his hotel could cost as much as US$200 a night! Richard and Steven were also well-travelled and had lived in the states for awhile.
We walked back for dinner at this restaurant that had free flow of salad, fruits and soup and I had one of the most peppery beef Rendang ever… Apart from Brenda, we were pretty exhausted after the day and turned in early. She went out and joined the guitar strumming locals for some songs by the beach.
Day 4: First Time Snorkelling!
This morning I woke at 6am to get some work done before the day started. It does suck to have so much weighing on my mind while on vacation but I am glad I came on this trip. I’ve been needing a good release for some time now.
For today’s breakfast, I got adventurous and ordered a plate of ‘Jaffles’. It turnout out to be toasted stuffed sandwiches: tomatoes, onions and cheese! It was good and came with 2 slices of pineapple, a slice of watermelon and a drink of Tea, Coffee or Orange Juice. Not bad for the price we paid!
At 10am, Abu linked us up with the Glass Bottom Snorkelling Tours which we paid $100k Rp for a boat ride which would take us to 3 popular snorkelling spots around the 3 islands. This was my first time snorkelling too and I was excited.
At the first spot, the water was unbelievably clear. And although there were lots of fishes and corals I had never seen before, I was a little disappointed at the variety. Thankfully, the second spot made up for it. There were many different schools of butterfly fishes, parrot fishes and even two sea turtles! Brenda had a neat trick of stuffing bread into recycled bottles, filling them up with water and squeezing them into the ocean to attract fishes to come to us.
We stopped over for lunch at Gili Meno. That restaurant they brought us to was really nice, furnished with bamboo seats by the beach. We bought some beautifully designed Sarongs from someone selling his wares, I ate a Spanish Omelette for the first time and we just lazed around for more than an hour. Personally, we didn’t feel like snorkelling anymore after that awesome lunch. We felt lethargic and ‘nappy’… In the end, we still enjoyed the last snorkelling spot. There were probably hundreds of fishes this time and even some wreckage amongst the corals!
After heading back, we enjoyed a Magnum each by the beach and waited to send Brenda off for her night dive. Subsequently, we ate a triple cheese pizza at Little Italy and walked further down to catch a movie by the beach. The setup was simple with a large screen, a projector, bean bags and comfortable lounge chairs by the side of a restaurant. Each ticket was $100k Rp and came with either a burger, popcorn or a coke. Now You See Me 2 was awesome and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of an outdoor movie screening by the beach. The waves and sea breeze created the perfect relaxing ambient atmosphere.
Brenda re-joined us about halfway through the movie and when it concluded, we headed to the Night Market for a meal of Banana Nutella Coconut pancakes and some street food that consisted of Kebab-like sticks of freshly caught and seasoned squid, chicken and vegetables. Day 4 was awesome.
Day 5: Discover Scuba Dive!
After yesterday, I was thinking this trip couldn’t get any better but I was wrong. It just kept getting better day after day!
This morning after an awesome breakfast of banana pancakes, we headed over to Big Bubble Dive Centre situated just next to where we stayed. I could literally climb over the wall of our compound and end up at the main office! (actually, yesterday I did 😉 Jess and I had signed up for the Discover Scuba course which cost about SGD$90 and allows anyone without a basic diving cert to go for a fun dive with an instructor limited to a depth of 12m. Tyler and Brenda came along too and since they were already certified, they paid half the price.
To start off, our dive instructor, “Morgan Firman”, gave us an introductory briefing about diving such as the basic physics of air pressure and hand signals. We then tried on our gear for sizing before proceeding to the warm pool within their compound to learn the 5 basic skills. These were how to swim using our flippers only, how to control our buoyancy with our breathing and buoyancy vest, what to do if our respirators came out of our mouths, how to retrieve it if from behind and how to purge water out of our masks.
After a final equipment check, we loaded onto the boat and set off to Shark Point for the dive. The crew on board were really friendly and funny and taught us how to flip backwards into the water. That was pretty cool but we had to make sure we swam towards the back of the boat after that or risk getting hit by the beams at the sides.
Thereafter we gathered around Firman who told us to hold on to the rope below a floating buoy. We then descended 1 meter at a time and made sure we equalized our ears frequently before they started to hurt. It all went fine and we reached the bottom of the reef smoothly. At all times, we were constantly reminded to look out for and stay with our diving buddies.
Almost instantly, we encountered a couple of sea turtles! We saw these yesterday when snorkelling but to meet them up close was a whole new experience! These ones were pretty huge and I wondered how many years old they were. They just looked so calm and nonchalant munching away at the corals.
Next, Firman unexpectedly started diving down to a large cluster of corals. I wondered if he had spotted something and true enough, he made the hand signal for “Shark”! We were eager to see one and hurriedly swam towards him. The current was very strong and it was tough trying to swim against it to get a closer look. The shark was a White Tip Reef Shark and was hiding in a small hole so we did not get to see much of it.
We then drifted with the current to continue exploring the rest of shark point. The current was strong enough to let us effortlessly drift along while taking in the breathtaking underwater scenery. All we had to do was to control our buoyancy with our breathing, relax and use our flippers to change directions as needed. We saw plenty of marine life as well from Green Sea and Hawsbill turtles, to a Giant Moray Eel, Giant Puffer, Trigger, Angel, Butterfly and many other schools of fishes. In total we spent 42 minutes underwater but the mesmerizing underwater landscape made it feel like an eternity. Without a doubt, I have fallen in love with the ocean.
After the dive, we enjoyed another delectable lunch of BBQ and Vegetarian Pizza by the beach, walked around to compare fastboat prices to Bali (cheapest was $200 Rp!), did some souvenir shopping and went back to Dino’s Bungalows for an afternoon nap. Before that I drank a “Mochadamia” (Mocha+Macadamia drink with Ice-Cream blended in!) and so could not fall asleep at all. Likewise Tyler had a Mocha and after an hour of unsatisfying rest, we decided to walk towards Sunset Point again to catch the sunset as the ladies were out like lightbulbs.
It turned out to be a good decision. Tyler was thrilled at finding some hammocks by the sea. He has a thing for hammocks… and after taking numerous pictures, we walked back in search of (presumably) the one pull-up bar in the entire island where I could blast out a quick workout. We were joined by the girls shortly after sunset and they helped Tyler set up his own hammock by a tree. After a satisfying workout and yoga cool-down with some swimming, we headed back to Dino’s where dinner awaited us.
The previous night, Brenda had met someone named ‘Montana’ who offered to get his friends to cook a grilled seafood dinner for us by the beach. We simply had to pay him $200k Rp and he would purchase the fresh ingredients at the market beforehand. On arriving back, we were astonished at the size of the Mahi-Mahi he had bought. Roughly the length of my elbow to the tip of my fingers. Besides the grilled Mahi-Mahi with raw tomatoes, cucumbers and cabbage, there was also Ayam Chap-Cay (tomato based stir-fried vegetables with chicken), Fried Tofu and Tempe and rice. Quantity wise, it was a feast! We ended up finishing only half of the Mahi-Mahi and asking Montana to invite his friends over to help finish the rest.
The rest of the evening was spent enjoying the tunes of the local musicians who had gathered around us. It started with just Brenda and another dude with a guitar but after some time, a whole ensemble of locals joined us with more guitars and drums to sing classic love songs.
Day 6: Mount Batur Hot Springs
The greater part of today was spent travelling. The $200k Rp ticket we purchased from GT Shuttle, a roadside stand in front of a restaurant yesterday, got us a fast boat trip to Bali’s Ahmed Beach on the Ahmed Sea Express. It was a lot longer than we expected (2+ hours) and upon arriving, we were immediately harassed by a group of touters offering taxi rides in their cars. One particularly persistent one kept coming back to me offering a ride. Each time I refused him he would lower his price slightly – from $700k Rp to $500k Rp. We were originally planning to take the free shuttle to Tambulan Beach, which according to Google Maps was a nearer drive to the hotel we found, Segara Hotel & Restaurant, in the town of Kintamani. However all the taxi drivers were saying that the fastest route to Kintamani was to make a loop down south and back up north instead of the loop north and back down. We guessed that trusting the locals’ knowledge was wiser than google maps this time. Fortunately, we found a nicer bloke who called his younger brother to pick us up in half an hour for $400k Rp each. It turns out that his younger brother stayed at Kintamani as well.
After checking in, we decided to walk to the Batur Natural Hot Springs as Jess had never been to one. 10 minutes out, we realized that the walk was 4.7km and decided to turn back to the hotel and ask if there was any transport there instead. Tyler wasn’t feeling too good and suspected he had a fever so he returned to rest.
Then we met Jaya. He was the first Balinese guy on a mini motorbike who stopped along the side of the road asking if we needed help getting somewhere. He would turn out to be our saving grace throughout most of our time in Bali. After some negotiation, courtesy of Brenda’s charm and talents, he agreed to take us to the hot springs and back to fetch Tyler, then out to dinner and eventually to the start of the hike up Mt. Batur the next morning. Eventually he would also find an amazing guide for us at a really good price ($500k Rp for 3 people whilst it could cost up to a million or two Rp sometimes).
Arriving at the hot springs, the air was starting to get chilly. We savoured being in the warm water while admiring the stunning scenery of Lake Batur in front of us and a full moon above us. The $150k Rp ticket came with a bottle water to drink, freshly fried Goreng Pisang (battered bananas), a towel to dry off, lockers to keep our things and showers to use thereafter. There were multiple water sprouts simulating single stream waterfalls coming out of statues there. I sat quietly meditating on my life and what I wanted to do henceforth. After this trip, my thirst for adventure has been reignited and I decided to make time to travel as often as I could before my time is up.
After showering and changing up, Jaya’s son picked us up instead and took us to a local restaurant for some great food. Brenda and I enjoyed a grilled Talipia, Balinese style while Jess savoured a tasty fried chicken. We returned to sleep by 9pm as we had to get up by 315am to hike Mt. Batur to see the sunrise at 6am.
Day 7: Mt. Batur Sunrise Hike
I woke up at 315am to take a cold shower before the hike (best way to start the day!). We then met Jaya’s son who fetched us to the base Mount Batur. There, we met Jaya who introduced us a slightly chubby, cheeky looking guy named “Yeoman”if i’m not mistaken. Yeoman would be our guide up and down the mountain. He was nice and offered us his extra torch lights to use.
At 4am, we started the hike. There must have been hundreds of other tourists hiking with us as we could see a long trail of headlamps and torch lights climbing up the mountain. Our pace was fast and we quickly overtook a couple of groups. It was dark and I spent most of my time looking down at the ground trying not to trip over some protruding rock. However, I took every opportunity I had to gaze up at the stars. The various constellations shone so brightly against the blanket of darkness beyond. A stark contrast to the one or two stars in Singapore because of our city light pollution.
About 30 minutes into the hike, we stopped in front of a statue for our guide to pay his respects to the Mountain. From there we continued but at a slower pace as the trail got steeper and sandier. Brenda didn’t feel too good after awhile, I guessed it might have been just her body adjusting to the exertion of hiking. I was a little worried got her to walk ahead of Jess and I and for our guide to slow down.
Eventually, we made it to the top in good time – about 1.5 hours. There were some mist and clouds at first but as the Sun’s rays started to peek out of the horizon, the air got warmer and we were completely mesmerised by the beauty of the sunrise. With each passing minute, a new shade of fiery orange would take over and we couldn’t stop snapping pictures and panoramas. Yeoman was especially funny when he kept repeating “Chicklat”(Chocolate) instead of “cheese” when taking pictures for us.
We decided to descend around 620am because we were worried I could not make it to the airport in time for my flight at 1255pm. This was a wise choice because we still got to see the best of the sunrise on our way down as the sun rose higher in the sky and avoid the crowd of people that would come down thereafter. Yeoman was showing off how fast he could slide down the slopes and damn, it was impressive. The stones kept getting in between my Earthrunners and my feet. This was easily solved by stopping even now and then and sticking a finger in between my feet and the sandals. Pros and cons of hiking in sandals. At least its easier than removing shoes if small stones got in.
On our way down we met a couple from America who had just moved from Hawaii to Kuala Lumpur to teach in an international school. The way down was smooth going and serene with farmlands on either side of the road. Yeoman was singing songs with the names of random local dishes and teaching me a few new words like “Chandik” and “Tampan” used to describe a person as beautiful and handsome respectively. He was a funny guy.
After that we took a quick shower, had a breakfast of crepe-like banana pancakes and then departed for the airport with Jaya’s son.
Lessons from this Trip
- It is important to make time to travel, have an adventure and explore beyond the confines of safe and comfortable surroundings. It not only serves as a getaway from our busy lives, but also rejuvenates one’s soul and opens our minds to the fact that there is so much novelty out there, waiting to be discovered and experienced.
- Its good to have plans but sometimes being too meticulous can take the fun out of things when the unexpected happens. For this trip, we approached it with an open mind and were uber flexible, adapting to changing circumstances and making the most of every situation. I’d say we got along pretty well. Special thanks and credits to Brenda who is especially talented at communicating and connecting with the locals with her charm. She always tries to speak their language (literally and figuratively) and her efforts have often rewarded us with amazing discounts and great recommendations.
“Sometimes the best plan is having none at all!” ~ Brenda
- On this trip, I had a lot of time to reflect on what I truly wanted to do with my life. My life’s purpose, mission and goals, dreams and aspirations. Where I was and where I wanted to go. Life is so more than meeting datelines and earning a living. Its about finding your passion and purpose and doing what truly inspires you.
Don’t settle for less and ignore the naysayers who keep telling you its impossible. Prioritise your time and energy towards doing the things that take you closer to accomplishing your dreams. Don’t get busy being busy and forget to stop and smell the roses, savour the moment, see the forest beyond the trees and have your own adventure.
Don’t get caught up in the stress of the moment. Take a step back, take a few breaths, re-evaluate the situation. There is always a way out, always an alternative, always a solution.
And lastly, don’t lose sight of Polaris, your North Star. Always follow that star and plan your journey of life in its direction. Eventually, I hope you make it to your destination where you live the life of your dreams.
- Tyler thought me that his greatest possession were his friends. I am glad I got the opportunity to know Tyler and Jess. I’ve learnt so much from their stories about their childhoods in the American outdoors and now realize how much I was missing growing up in a concrete jungle.
“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” ~ Tim Cahill
Together with Brenda, these Kawans (Friends in Bahasa Indonesia!) have also thought me that I have been taking things too seriously. It has been too long since I’ve cracked jokes and laughed till my cheeks cramp and eyes teared. I’ve also been too caught up learning from podcasts that I’ve stopped enjoying and appreciating music. I was so strict on my diet that I forgot how to enjoy a good pizza and ice-cream. And next time, when going on a vacation, I should leave my laptop and work at home!
- I am grateful I started and have been keeping up with my journal practice over the past few months. Without it, I may not be able to remember all the details in this post. These days I am journaling even more. Writing down all my goals and dreams, my frustrations and thoughts, all that I’m grateful for and keeping track of everything else I do. There is something special about putting your thoughts onto paper. Its like step 1 of making them a reality.