Monthly Archives: September 2011

My first blog entry – ‘the boy’ (Sanur, Bali, Indonesia)

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For a lot of weeks I’ve seen mummy and daddy all the time, much more than I used to when I was smaller. I wake up and there they are, always still and quiet until I shout across at them or climb up next to their bed.  I like waking up early but I don’t think mummy and daddy do.

Backpacking with a baby around SE Asia - nursery school Bali

Too many toys to choose from

Everyday we eat, play, walk and sleep together, until today.

Today is my first day at nursery and I am happy. I don’t have to see mummy and daddy’s faces for 5 big hours. I have a nice smiley lady called Trisna who looks after me and gives me my food and milk.

We listen to a man play the guitar and we clap our hands, but the best thing is I have lots of new friends to play with and so many toys. I think I used to have more toys, but now I have a few things to play with. Mummy carries my things in her big bag. I have some stacking blocks, a wooden car (my birthday present), a ball, a shaker that makes a good noise, a soft monkey, a soft owl and a bouncy ball that daddy bought from a market in Borneo. Today I can see so many big toys I don’t know what to play with first.

Mummy smiled and waved when she dropped me off with Trisna but I didn’t wave back because I think the toy car is more interesting. Mummy is happy because she is going to read her book on the beach and then get her feet rubbed by a nice lady.  I am happy because I have a big garden to run and crawl around in and no mummy or daddy to chase after me.

Backpacking with a baby around SE Asia - nursery in Bali

Our first time apart in 7 weeks - a welcome one

I like my new home here because nursery is fun.

Top tip of the day:
If you’re staying somewhere for a number of days and haven’t got a personal recommendation for a day nursery, have a look at the travel forums on Trip Advisor.  You can find advice on childcare all over the world. It’s also worth noting that in areas with a high number of expats there are registered baby sitters available that can be booked by the hour.

Tough day at the office? (Ijen Crater, Indonesia)

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Have you ever come home from a day at the office and complained about what a hard day you’ve had? Read this and your day probably won’t seem so bad after all.

The Ijen volcano, which has a one-kilometer-wide turquoise-colored acid crater lake sitting at the base, is the site of a labor-intensive sulphur mining operation. Sulphur is mined from the depths of the crater, put into baskets and carried by hand from the crater floor up to the rim and then down to the base of the mountain.

Backpacking with a baby SE Asia - Ijen crater

Passing a worker carrying his huge load of sulphur

After another unwelcome 3.30am wake up call and short drive to the base of the crater we start the climb.  We make slow progress. The path is steep and yet again I’m questioning my fitness levels. I’m not even carrying ‘the boy’ and it’s hard work. And then we first spot them, the workers coming down the mountain carrying their loads of sulphur. The men are surprising small, but the weight they’re carrying on their shoulders is incredible. Each man carries between 75 and 100kg of sulphur per load, split between two baskets that are joined by a piece of thick bamboo and carried over their shoulders. The baskets creak and bow under the weight but the men don’t. They move swiftly down the mountain, getting into a steady rhythm that takes them to the bottom of the 5km descent.

Backpacking with a baby Se Asia Ijen crater

The first baby to get up to the top of the Ijen crater

Yesterday, climbing Mount Bromo, I’d found the additional weight of ‘the boy’ slowed me down considerably. In comparison to what these men have to endure everyday it seems quite lame to complain about the extra 11kg.

Backpacking around SE Asia with a baby

DANGER!

On reaching the crater lip we were confronted with warning signs telling tourists not to continue into the mine below. The dangers were becoming apparent, but the mine worker who we were chatting to on the trek up offered to take us down, providing that one of us waited at the top with ‘the boy’. The treacherous path to the crater base combined with the toxic poisonous gases that are omitted from the vents in the earth are not a healthy mix for most adults, let alone a baby. Without hesitation I offered to wait at the top.

After sitting still on the crater lip for twenty minutes the boy and I were getting quite chilly (it’s still not even 7am!) so on behalf of both of us I decide to head part way down the mountain to the workers tea hut.  The weighing scales that determine the wage for each labourers load (RP1,000 / 7 pence per kg) are situated outside the hut so ‘the boy’ and I watch as worker after worker come by to weigh their sulphur. I tried to lift one of the baskets, but weighing in at 82kg it was impossible. How these slight men, who are lighter than me, can carry these huge loads day after day is beyond me. It’s an incredibly tough job, and with a life expectancy of the workers reaching only 55, a job with serious health consequences.

Backpacking with a baby SE Asia Ijen crater

Toxic fumes and heavy loads make working here a health hazard.

Whilst waiting for the others to return, one of the oldest workers at the mine took a shine to ‘the boy’ and kindly took him off my hands whilst I drank my coffee. The feeling between ‘the boy’ and the old chap were mutual and when it was time to leave ‘the boy’ didn’t want to say goodbye. We nicknamed him Papa Bahru, meaning ‘new dad’.

Backpacking with a baby SE Asia - Ijen

Papa Bahru babysits 'the boy'

The descent down the mountain was difficult. Having been given 3 hours to return to the vehicle we thought that the journey down would be far quicker than up. We were wrong. The path, covered in grit and dust, was incredibly steep and slippery. Within two minutes of leaving the tea hut I fell and luckily didn’t harm ‘the boy’ who was in the sling on my back. I promptly decided to put him on my front, protecting him if I fell again.  Some of the workers heading back up the mountain offered to carry ‘the boy’ down for us (at a cost of course), but we declined and took it steady, finally reaching the bottom over 50 minutes late!

The Ijen crater wasn’t even on our agenda, but thanks to meeting Laura and Paul we got to experience a little bit of what these brave men have to endure every day to make a basic living.
Maybe your hard day at work wasn’t so bad after all.

Top tip of the day:
When descending steep mountain paths wear your baby on your front rather than your back. If you fall you’re less likely to injure your baby (as I found out!).

7 – lucky for some (Camoro Lawang, Indonesia)

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After our disastrous journey to Surabaya and subsequent early morning train to Probolinggo we head to the tourist information centre to decide the most cost effective way to get to and from the volcano, Mount Bromo.

As it happened, another British couple who’d also arrived on the same train had had the same idea and were discussing options not only to Mount Bromo, but also to the Ijen Crater. Our guidebook covers the whole of SE Asia so the ‘Java’ section is not very comprehensive. The Ijen crater was something we hadn’t even considered as strangley enough it didn’t even get a mention in our book.

We listened in to the advice that they (Paul and Laura) were given, decided we would follow the same schedule and booked. The trip included all of our travel from here onwards to the Ferry terminal to take us to Bali (circa 400k) and one nights accommodation in the coffee plantations near the foot of the Ijen crater, all for the bargain price of £20 per adult. The only additional costs over the next 3 days were food, conservation fees, a 4×4 to the base of the volcano and £10 for the basic room in the Bromo region. Not a bad deal really.

Backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

A local boy peeps at us through a window

Our journey to Camoro Lawang, a small village sits of the craters edge, took a few hours. The latter part of the journey took us higher and higher into the mountains and we could feel the drop in temperature. Being over 2,000 metres above sea level and a lot cooler than the plains below, the locals were dressed in shawls, hats and scarves. At this point we were still wearing shorts and thin tops. Although we knew we would feel the cold when the sun went down we didn’t feel it necessary to wear a woolly hat when it was still 20C!

The Bromo region is stunning with very different scenery to what we’d previously seen in Java. Huge picturesque mountains surround the crater, dotted with small wooden coloured houses. All appeared to have smallholdings or crops of some variety growing on their land. The village itself has the most spectacular panoramic view across the sea of sand to the smoking volcano, Gunung Bromo, a live volcano that last erupted on December 19th 2010. Consequently the area is covered in a thick layer of grey ash and when the wind picks up it gets everywhere.

Backpacking with a baby in SE Asia - Mount Bromo

Sunset in Camoro Lawang

The only downside of the two-day trip was the early mornings. Travelling with a baby we’re used to early mornings, but not this early – 3.30am! As we didn’t have any thermal pyjamas we went to bed fully clothed (woolly hats included), closed our eyes and 5 hours later it was time to get up.

Watching the sunrise across Gunung Bromo from Gunung Penanjakan is the main tourist attraction and at 4am a huge convey of 4x4s set off the mountain to where the road finishes and the climb begins.  I’m not sure if it was through lack of energy or my terrible fitness level that led me to struggle on the way up, but when we arrived at the viewing point it was definitely worthwhile.

Backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

Lucky 7 erruption

We looked out over the sea of sand towards Gunung Bromo and watched, cup of coffee in hand, as the sun rose over the mountains. It was a stunning view and well worth the early start. The sky was bright with hues of orange, red and yellow and then, as luck would have it, Semeru erupted leaving a thick plume of smoke in the shape of a number 7 floating in the morning sky. Awesome.

As day fully breaks we head back down the mountain, jump in the 4×4 and drive across the sea of sand, close to the base of Bromo for the trek up to the crater.  It’s my turn to carry ‘the boy’ and the extra 11kg of weight makes trudging through the deep ash even harder.  Luckily for me the last part of the ascent, over 200 steps, was so busy with tourists that we moved very slowly in single file up to the craters edge, giving me time to rest my legs.

Backpacking with a baby across SE Asia

Looking out over the mountains and Mount Bromo

Finally we’re at the top and then we realise the reason for the slow progress up the steps. The craters edge is right in front of us, with no fence around it to protect you from the smoking pit below. The vast number of tourists shuffle around the edge, moving away from the steps to allow others up to peer inside the crater.

I (with ‘the boy’ on my back) stayed long enough to make an offering to Bromo in the form of a dried flower arrangement and then decided to head back down. It was all too easy to see how one wrong footing by you or someone close by could easily see you fall to your death below. Not a nice way to go.

Backpacking with a baby across SE Asia

Making my offering to Mount Bromo

On the way back down, Laura, Paul and I favoured horseback for the mountain descent over walking. After 3 attempts to get on the horse (I’m not a natural!) and giving strict instructions for the trainer to ‘take it slowly’ we make it back to the vehicles.

Although the action was all over by 9am it’s certianly one of my favourite days of our trip to date.

Top tip of the day:
Small packs of sweet rice wrapped in banana leaves are readily available across Indonesia. We’ve found that they make perfect baby snacks for when you’re on the go/on an early morning trek.

Sorry, no room at the inn x 3 (Surabaya, Indonesia)

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Today was the first day when I wished we had organised some accommodation in advance.

After 5 days in Jogjakarta we were moving on to Surabaya, a busy city with no purpose for us apart from to break the journey to Gunung Bromo, Java’s highest mountain.

The 2pm train leaving Jogya was fully booked so we secured tickets for the 4pm, due to arrive in Surabaya at 9pm. We didn’t book any accommodation but we had a list of names and addresses of suitable candidates. Unfortunately we couldn’t get seats in the prefarable executive class (a couple of pounds more than business class) but a 5 hour journey would fly by. Or so we thought.

One hour into the jounrey and we make our first stop. Ten minutes pass and we’re still sitting in the station, then twenty, then thirty. We ask what the problem is and were told that there was an issue with the number of pasengers booked onto the train. Every passenger should be allocated a seat, but the booking system had failed and many seats had been double booked meaning some passangers were forced to stand. Consequently the passengers had a‘mini protest and security had to be called resulting in the passengers winning, the result being that another carriage was going to be added.

Unbelievable really. When I cast my mind back to my years of high cost commuing in London it’s rarely in a seat. The carriages were always so tightly packed it was hard enough to get anything out of your pocket, let alone move around comfortably.  If we’d taken this surprising Indonesian approach in London then riot police would have been called on a daily basis and each train would be about a mile long!

Ninety minutes later and a little longer in length we depart.

Luckily for us ‘the boy’ is like a robot when it comes to sleeping, so at 6.45 (he’s an hour out as he hasn’t changed his body clock from Malaysia), he was sleeping soundly on our lap.

10.30pm, the time at which we thought we would now arrive at Surabaya, comes and goes and we establish that due to our earlier delay we have now missed a lot of our signal schedules and are running even later than planned. 3 hours later!

We finally pull into Surabaya station at midnight, transfer ‘the boy’ into his buggy, and haggle in our sleepy state with the persistent taxi drivers to negotaite the best rate.

The taxi left a lot to be desired and even as a car novice I can confidently say that I know it would not be roadworthy in the Western world. Not only was the steering faulty, the door barely closed and the rust bucket struggled to travel over 20km an hour. Not ideal when you’re desperate for sleep.

I’ve never been so pleased to arrive at a hostel. That was until they told us they were full.  The taxi had driven off, but we both agreed that was a blessing, so we traipsed around the streets looking for a hostel (well anything) with a bed.

Thirty minutes later and we hit jackpot. Sleep at last. I can now confirm that sometimes planning can have its benefits.

Top tip of the day:
If travelling late in the day it helps to try and maintain your bedtime routine.  Pack your baby’s bedclothes and wash, change and read to them as you would in a hostel as they will take these as cues to sleep.

A brief overview (Jogjakarta/Yogyakarta, Indonesia)

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Finding chunks of quiet time to write this blog are far and few between, coupled with ad hoc wifi connection = I’m getting behind on my updates.

I was going to insert a link to my other half’s Jogjakarta blogs and be done with it, but in addition I’m going to keep it short and sweet and add a bit from a practical perspective.

Train travel in Indonesia is very easy, cheap and judging by what we’ve seen of the driving a lot safer too.  You can travel in executive, business or economy class, but the cost difference to a Westerner is minimal. Executive class is ideal with a baby as the seats are larger, the carriages are air-conditioned and your drinks and food orders are taken and delivered to your seat. It’s also a lot cleaner than the business and economy classes so better if your baby is at the crawling stage.

Backpacking with a baby in SE Asia - Jogyjakarta

Shadow puppets

The journey from Bandung to Jogjakarta is 8 hours, our longest consecutive stint of travel yet. The train winds its way through mountains, rice paddies and little villages where the children run out of their houses to wave. ‘The boy’ has plenty to look at and the journey is trouble free.

Jogjakarta (or Yogyakarta as it’s also known) is the most typically touristy place we’ve visited to date, with souvenir shops, hundreds of cycle rickshaws and horse and carts lining the main streets.

Accommodation varies, but tends to be on the cheaper side, as it’s a competitive market. We had an extra mattress put in our room for ‘the boy’, but to avoid having to pay an extra charge for it we negotiated the removal of the television!

There is plenty to do in and around Jogjakarta, the main attractions being the impressive temples, the beautiful palace and the famous shadow puppet shows.

Backpacking with a baby South East Asia - Jogjakarta

'The boy' becomes a tourist attraction at Borobudur temple

Although taxis and chartered vehicles are plentiful, we always chose to use public transport. The buses are easy to use and are a tenth of the price of the tourist buses. We also found that with a baby we were given priority when boarding, and if full, seats were generously offered to us.

We did however tick cycle rickshaw, motorised rickshaw and horse and cart off our transport list (had to be done).

Top tip of the day:
We always dress our baby in brown or dark grey coloured shorts/trousers when travelling on trains, as even after a day crawling over the floor they don’t show the dirt.

Terry Wogan’s mum and a car seat

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Anyone who knows my other half will know how annoyingly good he is at picking up other languages. I, on the other hand, am rubbish.

Within a few weeks of living in Mumbai his Hindi was going from strength to strength. He could count to 100, construct basic sentences and pick up small parts of other peoples conversations. I resorted to sign language!

Needless to say one of the first things he did when arriving in Indonesia was to buy a book of grammar so that he could add ‘Indonesian’ to his growing language repertoire. He only has to hear a word a few times to be able to remember it, but frustratingly for me my brain just doesn’t seem to function in that way.

Ask me to remember a number, or statistic, not a problem. Give me a name or a word to remember and I can guarantee I’ll either forget it or remember only part of the word. I can recall countless times where I’ve been at a work function, just been introduced to someone, and then two minutes later been in a situation where I need to introduce them to one of my colleagues and their name has popped off, disappeared, gone. Very embarrassing.

I’m determined that on this trip I will overcome my mental block with languages and have found a solution using visual images.

Backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Terimah Kasih

‘Thank you’ is my first challenge. Terima kasih (Phonetically: Terry- ma- carsea) is a visual image of Terry Wogan (Terry), his mum (ma) and a child’s car seat (carsea) and I am pleased to say that it’s working. Ten days later and after making more appearances in my mind than he ever did on his successful chat show, I no longer have to think of the Irish charmer. The word is finally etched on my mind.

OK so progress is a little slow, but I’m getting there. I am proud to say I can count to 5, say ‘let’s go’, ‘same to you’, ‘boy’, ‘morning’ and ‘goodbye’, which is Sampai jumpa (Phonetically: Sampie jumper). Fireman Sam, with a pie and a woolly jumper.

Backpacking in SE Asia with a baby

Sampai Jumpa

Top tip of the day:
On very hot days a quick dry travel towel doubles up as a buggy liner.  It’s soft, absorbent and very easy to swill out and wash when it gets dirty.

Room for one more and another and another…

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Bandung, a university city, is a popular weekend destination for Jakarta folk who make the 3-hour journey to visit the volcanoes.

We decide to stay 3 nights to give us 2 full days in the city, one day to explore the city and its famous factory retail outlets, the other to make a day trip an hour outside of Bandung to see the volcano.

Backpacking with a baby - Bandung

'Jeans Street' - factory outlet area, Bandung. The Camden of Asia!

Accommodation in Bandung is of poor quality, the majority of which are tired looking mid range hotels that increase their rates by 50% at the weekend to capitalise on the huge influx of visitors.

Our first night was spent in a basic motel style room that left a lot to be desired on the cleanliness front. It also had a very strange breakfast scenario, a knock on the door at 6.30am where we were presented with a tray carrying two cups of tea and 4 slices of toast. Having ‘the boy’ with us meant that we were indeed awake at that time, but it was still a little strange. Not wanting to pay the 50% hike in price for the two remaining weekend nights we moved to the only hostel in Bandung. Now this really is basic. Again it’s not spotless, but the bed was huge, the sheets were clean, we had an en-suite and breakfast was included, all for total cost of £7 a night. Bargain!

The highlight of day one was ‘the boy’ taking his first steps. Typically I missed it as we were in a shop at the time and I was in the changing room trying on a skirt. (Annoyingly it didn’t even look nice so there was no benefit to missing the event).  I heard a round of applause and cheering from the 7 or 8 staff that had gathered around ‘the boy’ to pinch and cuddle him. Apparently he was standing up, holding onto a clothes stand, he let go, stood still unaided and then took 12 steps….  ‘A few toddles later and we can confirm that the boy’ is now fully mobile.

Day two and we head to the volcano. Being backpackers on a budget we prefer to use local transport rather than chartering our own taxi or minibus, particularly as it’s usually a tenth of the price.

The general scenario is the minibus leaves once it’s full and no sooner. In most Western countries a minibus with space for 13 (at a squeeze) would leave when 13 people had paid their fare and got on board. In Asia that’s not the case as there’s always room for one more!

When we arrived at the depot the bus was pretty full by our standards and my other half was shown a seat on the back row that he could squeeze onto. I spotted a space on the row in front and was about to sit down when the driver pointed to a space the size of a postage stamp next to my other half. I have no idea how I managed to squeeze my Western sized hips into that space but I think the tow other gentlemen sitting next to me suffered.

Yet again ‘the boy’ caused a frenzy on the bus. All of the ladies wanted to hold him so he was passed around from row to row. For the time being we’ve taken a relaxed approach to it as luckily he loves the attention, but our new Danish friends have informed us that in other countries they’ve visited you have to draw the line and say no as the attention can get too much and there is even less respect of personal space.

Anyway, four people later (that’s 20 in total) plus a huge box that was wedged between one poor man and the door, we finally leave.

I’m not going to go into too much detail as my other half has written about the volcano in more detail, but essentially, years ago the Tangkuban Prahu crater collapsed under the weight of built up ash and, instead of the usual conical volcano shape, it has a flat, elongated summit with a huge caldera.

Backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

'The boy' samples some food at the top of the volcano

At 2076m high it’s a little cooler than the towns below, but even so, still warm enough to wear a t-shirt. Looking at the local tourists though you would think we were in Antarctica. Many people were wearing thick coats, woolly hats and scarves. I think they would have a shock to know that the temperature up there was still warmer than our recent British summers.

On the walk down from the crater we stopped off at the ‘Kawah Domas’ a volcanic area of steaming, bubbling geysers where you can sit and dip your legs into the steaming water. One geyser is boiling and for a small fee we were able to pop an egg in a basket and boil it for ‘the boy’. Not many one year olds can say they’ve eaten an egg cooked in a volcano.

Backpacking with a baby in SE Asia

Foot spa!

Within a few minutes of making it back onto the small road that winds its way down the mountain the heavens opened and a huge thunderstorm descended upon us. We were able to shelter under a little wooden hut serving hot drinks and became the target for the local tourist taxis that hiked their prices up fourfold knowing we were in a weak negotiation position. Being stubborn, and not wanting to pay their silly prices, we decided to wait for the heavy rain to stop so that we could walk down the mountain as originally planned. In hindsight we should have taken a taxi, as 2 hours later we were still standing there! I’m sure there must be some circumstances when being ripped off can be justified.

Four hours later than our anticipated return we finally made it back to Bandung. A little cold, a little wet, but a memorable day all the same.

Top tip of the day:
If you have a dual position sling (front and back wearing), and you’re planning on using local buses, wear the sling on your front. It’s easy to jump on and off transport and sit with your baby on your lap without having to remove the sling for every journey.