I'm not quite sure where to begin with this post - it still feels as if I have woken up from a weirdly vivid dream, as reality is just so completely detached from the experiences I have had over the last two and a half weeks of my life. At some point last year I heard about a biology trip to Indonesia, and despite not taking any sciences, I registered my interest simply because some of my friends were going, I had terrible FOMO (fear of missing out) and after reading National Geographic for as long as I can remember I couldn't pass up the opportunity to actually visit one of the places I had studied in person. Before I knew it, my tickets were booked, and it was drawing ever closer to our departure day, I was being vaccinated against diseases I didn't even know existed, and we were buying mosquito repellent in bulk. I so suddenly had to accept that I was actually going that my mind did it's favourite little trick of pushing all thoughts of the trip to the back of my mind, as I had no idea what to expect and so my brain decided it wouldn't even consider it to be a real thing that I was actually going to do.
I then found myself at 6am on a Sunday morning at Gatwick airport, with two huge backpacks (one on the back, one on the front - true style right there) and a plane ticket, saying goodbye to my parents in a sort of disbelieving haze. Then, suddenly I was in Amsterdam, and a good 14 hours later I stepped off the plane into a intensely more hot and humid airport with a cool carpet design and it suddenly hit me that I was actually in Jakarta, and I was actually going to Indonesia and I was actually there. It had all felt like such a little dream - meeting my friends in the morning, watching Little Miss Sunshine on the plane, laughing at being woken up at midnight by an air hostess waving a pastrami roll in my face...and now it was a real thing. I was quite shocked I'd got that far (in my life prior to the trip I'd only ever been on about 3 or 4 return flights) but I was also immensely excited as I was literally walking through the pages of National Geographic. What more could a weird little art and geography student want. Travelling there and back took three days: flights to Amsterdam, then to Jakarta, then to Makassar for an overnight stop, then to Kendari and then a 9 hour car then boat then car then walk journey to camp. After a week we then had a hike, a boat, a car, and a 7 hour boat journey to reach the next place we were staying at, before three days spent on a boat and taking five flights to get home. I have never travelled so much, but instead of tiring of it I seem to have developed an insatiable thirst for travelling, as although it was long getting to the other side of the world really wasn't all that difficult at all. Also, I have fond memories of the plane flights - sitting next to people I didn't know that well initially and forming friendships that lasted beyond whole holiday, listening to 'Top of the World' by The Carpenters with my friend whilst looking out of the plane window at night, and making a nest on our seats on the way home and sleeping for about 8 hours.
The first place we stayed was at a camp in the middle of the North Buton rainforest, south Sulawesi. You had to cross seven rivers to get in and out, wading through the clear water and trying not to trip over the various vines and flora that sprawled over the roughly cut path. Twelve of us stayed in camp beds in one long tent, we had a little open shelter that was our space to sit, eat and drink the watery hot chocolate they had on site, and little stepping stones you hopped around on to keep your bare feet out of the mud. Each day we had a schedule of things to do, as it was a science trip after all, and so we found ourselves walking over 2k each day, up steep muddy hills, sliding and falling over countless times, and helping the scientists on camp carry out the research they needed. It's a clever system: Opwall provides these educational residential holidays, with food and a place to stay, and this means they get funding from us and aid gathering data to help them carry out their university and science work.
The jungle was probably the hardest part of the trip - hot, humid and muddy, we spent our time constantly sweaty and grimy, living off plain rice and noodles (together - so rice and noodles, together, for breakfast, lunch and dinner, every single day). You got used to it, but it was a welcome relief to receive actual fish and vegetables when we arrived at Hoga, the island where we spent our second week. Showering and washing was difficult too - there was no running water, only a tub of water and a scoop (called a Mandi), however this wasn't everyone's preferred way of keeping clean (apologies Rosa for having to listen to me from the mandi next door making weird screams and groans each time I had to pour a scoop of ice cold water over me). There was, however, an alternate option - the first river near camp had the prettiest little waterfall, and we spent our days washing ourselves, our clothes and swimming there.
The last night at camp was spent around the campfire, with the guides making us plaited bracelets from rattan that are braided around your wrist, an art passed down from father to son and mother to daughter. They are green to start with but turn to a wooden-y beige, and I am determined to keep mine on for as long as possible.
After the first week, we left the jungle and boarded a boat to Hoga, part of the Wakatobi National Park (a group of islands known for their exquisite coral reefs). We had an early lunch at about 10am at the village leader's house, although no one was really hungry yet so didn't eat much, before boarding a boat which felt much more like a raft. We thought it was going to be a quick journey - little did we know we had a good 7 or so hours on it, and wouldn't be arriving at our new camp until about 9pm that evening. The sea was nowhere near calm either - the shape of the boat plus our situation on the roof meant we felt the maximum impact of it's perpetual rocking, so much so that to move across the deck, there were points where you couldn't even crawl as you would be knocked over, you instead had to drag yourself on your stomach. Luckily, I am not motion sick so I actually enjoyed the journey - sleeping, listening to music, watching the sun set, then dangling our feet over the edge in the dark, watching silvery flying fish leap out of the ocean alongside us and talking about life and the future. It was still a relief to arrive at Hoga, and quite nice to arrive at night, as we couldn't see where we were and only in the morning saw the view for the first time. We were paired up into these little huts on stilts, and despite having a hole for a toilet and no running water, it felt immediately like paradise compared to the camp before. (below, yes that was the boat and yes it looks like a raft)
Whilst at Hoga, we no longer needed hiking gear and so could finally ditch the waterproofs, walking boots and instead float around in patterned trousers and sarongs, buying chips and doughnuts from little stalls and going for two organised dives a day, plus extra on a few days. We were supposed to be taking our PADI, the diving qualification, and although I did get to scuba dive for one lesson (nothing beats kneeling on the sea floor, metres down, able to breath and having a silent conversation with your instructor and dive squad team) my family trait of horrific nosebleeds came back in full swing (three in the space of one morning, including one whilst diving) so it was decided that I would spend the rest of the time snorkelling instead with the others who had had to drop out for similar reasons. I would like to dive again in the future but I was so relieved to be able to go out twice a day, explore the coral reef and see amazing fish without having to be constantly worried about my nose and the problems with pressure and equalising it produces. We got to swim with sea snakes, parrot fish, lion fish, angel fish, puffer fish...and even a stingray, which swam with my friend and I through some sea grass when we were on our way back from a snorkel (you were allowed to go out any time in pairs after the two scheduled dives). Then, you could relax on the beach, in your hammock (for sale, pretty much everyone bought one to string up on their porch) or wander through the few stalls selling bits and bobs to take home.
The evenings at Hoga were the best thing - playing card games and listening to music in groups on the porch, lying on the beach stargazing, watching the sunset and swinging in hammocks until the early hours. I could have completely upped sticks and stayed there - all I would have needed was maybe some internet connection (got to let the family know I'm alive) and a more reliable supply of food such as porridge / cereal and I could have lived there happily.
After our first dive myself and two friends bought matching anklets, another little piece of memorabilia I intend to keep on until it literally falls off. It was so nice to go on such an extreme trip with both old friends who I've known for almost seven years, and new friends, who I became friends with pretty much just on the trip. You become unbreakably close with people you travel with - how could you ever be awkward with someone who had to clean your nosebleed blood off your face because you were holding all of your diving equipment? Or someone who had to use their head torch to light up the bathroom while you used the toile because the light was broken? It just shows why travelling is something people love so much - shared experiences make the best kind of friendships. Also, what better way to get used to the way you look than to spend time in a group where no one wears any makeup? It completely broke down boundaries for me and I can't see myself ever returning to my old ways with constantly applying powder - shiny faces are natural you know?
My friend and I ended up sleeping in hammocks for two nights, after we decided our beds were not worth it (mine felt grimy so I refused to touch it and she sat on hers and a whole load of unknown dark matter fell out from the mattress), which meant I got to wake up and watch the sunrise listening to Kurt Vile's 'Wakin on a Pretty Day'. On the last night, we had a sarong party with a bonfire and music, and we fell asleep in a heap on the beach, returned home at 2am to pack our bags, and got about an hour's sleep before leaving the Island at 4am. We then spent a day sleeping at a weird deserted resort, swimming and watching the sunset, then getting five planes home. It was so weird being back to normality again - it feels as if time went so quickly, and I've returned to reality too fast. I miss it so much, but am determined to travel again more once I am older. Sorry for the long long long post, just had so much to say to get this page up to date! Also the two week absence explains why I am so crazily behind on work, emails, posts etc. Hope you are having a lovely summer!