Half year

Exactly 6 months ago I was packing my life in boxes, laughing at the Helsinki rain that was almost constant, waiting eagerly to get to Bali. I said countless goodbyes and “see you next year”, thinking I’d quickly visit California and be back home in February. Little did I now, half year later friends are asking me if I am coming back. I am in Sydney, packing my (hand)back to go on a road trip! These past 4 days in Sydney have been as gloomy (weather-wise) as I would’ve expected maybe in Finland, but not in Bondi beach! Life is weird; I definitely would not have expected half of the things I’ve experienced, seen, opportunities and people who have just come up. This definitely happen for a reason, and going with the flow is the best way of making sure you get the most out of things.

Surfing-grown biceps scuba diving in Gili Trawangan, Christmas 2014
Surfing-grown biceps scuba diving in Gili Trawangan, Christmas 2014

 

Bali: surfing, scooter driving, farm visits, scuba diving, fresh fruits.
Vietnam: People and hassle, cacao, river trip, fresh spring rolls.
Cambodia: Scuba diving, meditation and yoga, poor people and begging children.
Australia: Work, people, culture, conversations, future. Things just keep on coming up, there’s no way I’d go work in a farm for 3 months because there is so much happening right here, right now.

Tourist thingy, check.
Tourist thingy, check.

 

I still have one protein bar in my backpack that I brought with me from Finland. I think I’ll keep it, as a memory of my trip; when I left Helsinki, I think I had like 10 of those bars with me. Let’s see if one makes it back to where it left from.

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January (offline) experiences

It’s been way too long, I know. I was completely offline for a respectable amount of time, my computer broke and it is an effort to type anything with the letter ‘m’, so bear with me. I have loads of stories to tell from Asia, maybe I’ll get through at least a few of them. Bear with me for the length!

New day in the countryside.
New day in the countryside.

 

The past month I visited a Cambodian hospital due to a swollen eyelid thanks to a mozzie bite, spent 4 days offline and barefooted in paradise beach, took the infamous night bus to Siem Reap, saw sunrise at Angkor Wat, spent 10 days getting into meditation at a retreat…and a lot other stuff after that. Starting from the beginning: Koh Rong Samloem.

Pier to paradise.
Pier to paradise.

One (private diving) boat daily from Sihanoukville, taking people diving and then to Paradise beach or back to the party buzz of Sihanoukville. I stayed in Koh Rong Samloem for 4 days, diving and not doing much else, and it was sad to leave. I also experienced my very first night dive, which was truly an experience! Due to a malfunction in the BCD I had to change gear with the dive master, in pitch black. Being able to do that made me want to continue my diving to master level! The visibility was pretty bad, so if you are a hc diver I cannot really recommend it. But it is a good excuse to get to the quiet side of the island (only two restaurants and about max. 30 people). Oh and the hospital trip – 50 dollars and completely useless, since it got better on its own. Better to be safe than sorry, though.

Daytime activities.
Daytime activities.

From the Sihanoukville I had to take a night bus to Siem Reap, which was scary after reading all the negative reviews online. Virak Buntham, the infamous company I chose, was only one hour late from scheduled arrival. I had a sleeping “bed”, too bad there was already someone sleeping in it. Apparently this Chilean chilled out dude had taken a few valiums (smart!) before take-off, so when he woke up in the morning he had no idea he’d been spooning with me all night. If you ever have to take the night bus, remember to: 1. Be prepared to freeze to death, 2. Have no wifi no matter what they promise you, 3. guard your belongings with your life, 4. be prepared to be woken up several times for pee stops.

 

THE sunrise to remember.
THE sunrise to remember.

I spent few days in Siem Reap trying to figure out my next moves and why my credit card was not working. I ended up being myself and since I am always prepared, I bought a flight to Australia, and a boat ticket to Battambang town to have something to do after Hariharalaya retreat. If I had regrets, I’d regret both of those choices. Besides wondering about my future choices, during those days in Siem Reap I visited the Angkor temples. Together with few thousand others we shivered in pitch black 5am coldness, waiting for the sun to do what it does every day. It was beautiful. At 1pm, after 5 other temples, I was beat.

Tiny bit of climbing.
Tiny bit of climbing.

The next morning I left for my “enlightenment journey” aka Hariharalaya yoga and meditation retreat in the countryside. The following 10 days were spent completely offline, structured loosely and timed by a gong. Daily yoga and meditation practice, delicious vegan food, some extra activities like dancing meditation, magic show and werewolf game – these 10 days spent together with some 30 people from all over and all walks of life went by fast and ended in tears. Luckily we had our crew re-unite in Siem Reap for a few days; some of the best times I’ve had on my whole trip!

Fire ceremony.
Fire ceremony.
Perfecting the headstand.
Perfecting the headstand.

After a few days of pure chillin’, we took a minivan from Siem Reap  with a couple of friends to go to Phenomenal Phnom Penh, a city I was thinking of skipping due to all the sadness I thought would have to encounter. It did break my heart to see kids begging for food, or selling stuff on the streets. Buying them one meal might help for a day, but there’s always another day, another kid…we stayed at a fairly partyish hostel, but ended up spending most of the time chilling in our (private) room, listening to music. Great food, great conversations – I ended up liking Phnom Penh, but mostly because of the company. I know myself well enough to know I hate change, but this time I really hated it. After a fair amount of tears and a night without sleeping one second, I took a tuktuk to the airport and even tried to cancel my flight. Since that didn’t work out, here I am now, looking to the beautiful city of melbourne from the 22nd floor where I have been staying for the past 3 days. And the story continues…

Culture shock!
Culture shock!

Gili T, diving

Gili Trawangan is probably the best known of the 3 largest Gili islands outlying Lombok Island. It takes about 1.5 hrs to get to Gili from Bali, and the islands Trawangan, Meno and Air offer a lot for different interests. I only visited the “party island”, known for it’s party boats, hallucinogen mushrooms and whatnot. To be honest, I was not the only one sceptic about surviving on the island for a week, but here I am, still alive and happy about going there in the first place. Of course traveling with friends made it easy to enjoy.

Huts on the beach. Breakfast spot.
Huts on the beach. Breakfast spot.

 

Now on high season the boat tickets cost 650,000 rupiah (43€), including pickup and transport with open return ticket, perhaps low season would be cheaper. One thing I learned when going to our already paid accommodation on the island: never pay for a week in advance before seeing the place. After changing to a more comfortable and reasonably priced bungalow, we were ready to experience the island with no cars or motorbikes, only horse carriage taxis.

Paradise beach, found?
Paradise beach, found?

 

After a day of wandering and wondering, I decided to face my fears from the past and do scuba diving license Open Water Diver. And so I did, starting on Christmas Eve (First Christmas underwater and having a seafront barbecue feast with few turtles popping to say hello)! My diving instructor was wonderful, encouraging and relaxed. He looked like a Jesus chilling still in 18m underwater. Mind you, it is not a piece of cake to stay still in the water.

Enjoying the ride.
Enjoying the ride.

I think the biggest companies offering OWD and other trainings are PADI and SSI. Mine was SSI (Scuba School International), though apparently there is not much difference between the two. If and when I decide to proceed to Advanced Open Diver, I can choose either PADI or SSI, so I didn’t really mind which one I did (though SSI video 2hrs, sounded way more appealing than 6hrs theory in PADI). On Christmas eve I did my first dive, going to a wreck site. The same afternoon I watched the theory video. Next day was practicing uncomfortable situations in the pool, followed by a dive in the afternoon. The third day consisted of 2 dives, first of which had some practice like sharing air and clearing the mask underwater and other scary stuff. The last one was pure pleasure dip to 19 meters, though the strong current gave it a little extra challenge.

(Insert a nice picture here with a better wifi :P)

The price for OWD is regulated by the mafia in Gili, which makes choosing the school pretty random: there are most likely way more scuba schools than there are ATM machines in Gili. From my experience, I can very warmly recommend Mango Divers. Not just my instructor, but all of them seemed very nice and professional while being laid-back. I had my doubts of passing the final exam, but in the end I did well. If you are thinking of going diving, the cheapest place to do it would probably be Koh Tao in Thailand. In Bali there are several sites, and it is probably cheaper to do the licenses in Bali rather than one of the Gili’s. But if you are staying in Gili and wish to do something other than getting crazy or lying in the white sand beach, go snorkeling or scuba diving! The underwater world is amazing. I can’t wait to go again. And learn how not to move underwater. Perfect buoyancy, here I come!