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Belle's Travel Blog 2011

If this page feels a bit familiar to some of you, that's because I did another one back in 2007 to document my African adventure. This time I'm off to a different part of the world for what I hope will be a pretty amazing eight month trip. First up: Borneo, where I'll be volunteering with Raleigh International as their Comms Officer/Photographer for three months. Then it's onto India for two months, SE Asia (Bangkok to Bali - somehow!) for two months and a quick jaunt to Oz before flying home in September! Feeling trepidatious but excited - wish me luck! And don't be strangers - was great to hear from everyone while I was travelling last time, and it will be even more important now I'm going completely by myself!

Diary Entries

Monday, 05 September 2011

Location: Sydney, Australia

I'm currently sitting in the departure lounge at Sydney International Airport waiting for my flight back to London Heathrow via Singapore and wondering where the last eight months have gone! I can't believe today's the very last day of my trip, the time really has flown, though when I think back to all I have done and seen it's really quite amazing.

Sydney has been an alcoholic (but extremely fun) blur, it was great to catch up with my friend Lottie, and I also managed to meet an old contact from my 2007 volunteering stint in Tanzania as well as my old housemate from London. I managed a few of the main tourist attractions (Sydney harbour, the Sydney Museum, a walk around the botanic gardens and Opera House, a ferry ride to Darling Harbour, some beach time on Bondi etc) and made a load of new friends in the form of Sydney's resident lesbian community (probably best not to ask..) - all in all a very successful last five days :)

Sad as I am to leave Australia after such a short time, I'm feeling ready to return to the UK, most notably because I'm excited to see my family and friends again, but also because I want to get my career back on track and find a job I enjoy. My imminent trips to Devon and Ibiza are also softening the blow of The Return somewhat!! I'm not sure it will really hit me that the holiday is over until I return from those at the end of September, but whenever reality bites, I'm determined to stay positive. I've had some of the best months of my life this year and have so many memories to treasure, but now it's time to knuckle down for a while - after all, how else will I save up for the next travelling adventure? ;)

Thursday, 01 September 2011

Location: Sydney, Australia

Just a quickie to say I've uploaded a couple of new photo albums from my last few days in Indonesia.

Now in Sydney and loving it! Off to visit some tourist attractions now but will report back in due course....

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Location: Canggu, Indonesia

On my last day in Kuta Lombok I picked up a nasty tummy bug, which laid me so low I was unable to leave with Alistair for Kuta Bali the following morning, instead having to stay another night by myself in a hotel room I could ill afford without my friend Charlie to share it with. Still, it proved a sensible move as, twenty four hours later, I was rested and well enough to make the eight hour journey back to Bali by myself. No sooner had I arrived in Kuta than I left, jumping straight in a cab bound for Seminyak, where Charlie was waiting for me.

I had heard nothing but bad reports of Seminyak, so was pleasantly surprised to find I absolutely loved it. On our first night we headed down to a gorgeous bar on the beach, La Plancha, with fairy lights strung up absolutely everywhere, and oversized bean bags scattered over the sand beside cubes of ever changing light. We treated ourselves to glasses of Chardonnay and seafood platters before turning into our lovely air conditioned hotel room - about as far removed from my backpacker roots as I could have got!

The next day we rather comically sunbathed at not one, not two but three different hotels (!), finishing at the indescribably stunning W Hotel in Seminyak which, at 350 US dollars a night WITHOUT breakfast, is not without its financial downside! Fortunately for me, my wonderful friend allowed me to tag along and give her what I could afford (which, believe you me, was significantly less than the cost of her room!!), so I was able to bask in luxury for a pittance, though I did splash out on the most wonderful afternoon tea (with chocolate cake, macaroons, marshmallows, the works-YUM), as well as one incredible evening meal and a strawberry and mint mojito (when in Rome...)

Yesterday I took full advantage of the amazing room (two double beds, enormous plasma TV, stone bath, skylight, two sinks, balcony...I could go on) by having a long bath and watching several episodes of Gossip Girl (my guilty pleasure) before heading down to the pool for some serious sunbathing. At the end of the afternoon we used the spa facilities before changing and having coffees and (free!) sushi on the terrace as the sun went down. It couldn't have been a more perfect couple of days, and I was genuinely sad when the time came for Charlie and myself to part ways; her to the airport bound for the UK, and me for my 'traditional Balinese' hideaway half an hour down the road in Canggu.

When I first arrived it was getting dark, and the screeching French children running around the pool area made my heart sink - I had, after all, come here for some quiet time before heading to Sydney. My room was nice, but it soon became apparent that the thin wooden floorboards that constitute a ceiling provide absolutely no soundproofing from the Italian couple staying above me. Every one of their footsteps sounds like a herd of stampeding elephants, and this morning I was rudely awoken from my slumber at 7am to the sound of their amorous lovemaking - far from ideal.

I forced myself to do my yoga and then had breakfast, but for the first couple of hours I felt on edge and struggled to relax and enjoy the surroundings. Eventually I decided to go for a walk to get my bearings, and on the way back I stumbled across a cute little family run cafe, where the children - three little girls - were fascinated by the western newcomer in their midst. Afterwards, feeling much better, I returned to the guest house where I discovered a fabulous sun deck on one of the upper floors. The rest of the afternoon was spent sunbathing whilst looking out over the paddy fields.

This evening I walked to a nearby warung (cafe) with an American girl I met whilst sunbathing. It was quite the place to be, judging by the number of westerners there, and the food was out of this world in both taste and price (finally somewhere I can afford to eat!) We're now back at the guest house, chilling out with a beer and catching up on our emails. She leaves tomorrow morning and I plan to embrace my penultimate day by hiring a moped, checking out Echo Beach down the road and then heading back to fire off some job applications and read my book in the sunshine. Then on Wednesday it's goodbye Indonesia, hello Sydney for five days of fun before flying to London on the 5th.

I simply cannot believe my eight months of travelling are nearly at an end. What an incredible ride it's been :)

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Location: Kuta Lombok, Indonesia

Bit behind with my updates...

21st August

Doing my Advanced PADI dive course was absolutely the right decision; I had a fantastic three days of diving off GiliTrawangan and saw the most amazing marine life, including a two metre long white tipped reef shark and numerous green turtles. I also went on a night dive which was exhilarating and terrifying in equal measures!
After three days of diving twice a day I was pretty exhausted, so when my friend arrived from Madrid in full on ‘holiday mode’ I was happy to finally slow down the pace and join her on the beach for some serious sun worshipping. Two days later we decided to move onto one of the neighbouring islands, Gili Air - having been on Trawangan for nine days I had started to take root, so it was nice to finally have the impetus to move on to pastures new.
Gili Air was even more beautiful than GiliTrawangan, though we had a stressful hour and a half of walking around in the baking midday heat before we managed to find accommodation we were happy with (my friend, being a holidaymaker rather than a backpacker, is on a considerably higher budget than myself, and has higher standards to match).

We finally settled on a ludicrously overpriced (I’ve been told to contribute only what I can afford and shut up about the rest, which suits me just fine) but delightfully located hotel, right next to the harbour with a gorgeous pool area. We spent a happy two days lounging around by day and eating by night at a western run restaurant called Scallywags (think white décor, decking, candles on the beach and a nightly fish grill and you won’t go too far wrong with your imaginings) by night, before taking the decision to move on to Lombok.

This morning we were up early to catch the boat over to Lombok and subsequent ‘shuttle’ bus to Kuta beach on the south of the island. The journey was meant to take three hours but, in true laid-back Indonesian style, ended up taking four because the engine of the first bus overheated and our vehicle needed replacing before we could proceed. The driver of the second vehicle was particularly fond of his in-car entertainment system and spent the vast majority of the journey staring at the CD player rather than looking at the road. When we were three kilometres out of Kuta his young daughter – wedged in the back of the car between my friend and one of our fellow passengers – tapped him on the shoulder and he pulled over so she could vomit on the side of the road.

Eventually we arrived in Kuta, and whilst I can’t deny I was blown away by the rugged natural beauty of the sweeping beach, I must also admit my first impressions of the town itself were not entirely favourable. We took a room at a place called the Surfers Inn, which is ideally located opposite the beach and has a nice pool area, but which also has a bathroom that smells offputtingly of drains. After nearly nine months of backpacking this doesn’t phase me at all, but my friend is refusing to come to terms with the squalor and is insisting that we move tomorrow to somewhere nicer (clearly I am not going to refuse her when she’s being so generous as to let me tag along).

The plan is to stay here for three nights and then head back over to Bali, where we have rooms booked in two (you’ve guessed it – lovely) hotels in Seminyak, though my friend wants to fly back to Bali and I’m going to have to take the (painfully slow) slow boat. It’s possible I may stay a night in Kuta on Bali so I can meet up with some of the boys I stayed on GiliTrawangan with, but as Kuta in Bali is quite possibly one of my least favourite places in the world, I’m not sure how keen I am on this plan (particularly when you consider I have the offer of a gorgeous hotel for the night in Seminyak).

It is definitely starting to feel like I’ve moved out of backpacker mode and into holiday mode. In some ways I feel bad about this, because there is so much more to see and do in Indonesia than simply lie on its gorgeous beaches. That said, I think this ‘twilight’ stage of travelling was always going to be more of a transition back to normality than an all-out assault on the senses and desperate last minute whizz around as many landmarks as possible. I’m so glad I’ve booked my little bungalow on the paddy field for my last three days in Indonesia; much as I’ve loved having company throughout my travels, I feel it is important to spend a few days by myself in quiet contemplation of the last nine months before I go home and throw myself back into the ‘real’ world.

I think it’s true what they say about not fully appreciating your travels until you return home. Right now when I look back I can hardly get my head around all that I’ve done since leaving my house that cold January morning. Some things that were long ago feel recent, whilst others that were mere weeks ago feel like an eternity. I wonder how I will feel when I get back and actually have time to let it all sink in...

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Location: Asia - South East

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Location: Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

Where has the last week gone?! It's funny how when you approach the end of your travels it starts to feel as if they're suddenly going at warp speed instead of normal time...

My two days in the hellhole that is Kuta in Bali went by (thankfully) in a blur, though I did manage to meet up with my friends from the ashram as well as my friend from Raleigh, which made the trip worthwhile. On the second day an American guy I met in northern Thailand contacted me when I was in the supermarket buying supplies for my boat trip to the Gili islands the following day. I went to meet him and he decided to join me, so we booked the tickets and then went on a celebratory (and decidedly ill-advised) bar crawl with my other friends. This culminated in us dancing on the stage in a neon-lit club beside some hideous Australian chavs at 2am...not ideal for a 6am wake up and full day's bus and boat journey.

Needless to say the journey was pretty tough going, in part because of our hangovers and four hours of sleep, but primarily because the travel agent had completely failed to inform us it was not one six hour slow boat all the way to Gili Trawangan as we had been led to believe, but rather a six hour ferry followed by a two hour drive through Lombok, followed by a two hour wait and then another half hour boat trip to the island. I even managed to have an altercation with one of the touts when I made a joke about swimming to the island instead of taking his boat and he tried to withold my ticket because they did 'not like joking' there. Wow.

Fortunately we met two hilarious English guys on the ferry with whom I clicked immediately, so when we finally rocked up on Gili Trawangan as the sun was setting to find everywhere fully booked and the streets eerily deserted, we did at least have safety in numbers and a degree of residual (and much needed) humour. After wandering around in the dark for what felt like hours (I'm not even joking when I say I felt almost biblical the way everyone was closing their doors in our faces and telling us there was no room at the inn), we miraculously stumbled across a gorgeous bungalow near the beach which we managed to negotiate a reasonable price for with the owner, who also kindly provided an extra bed so the four of us could (just) squeeze in there. There's not much space in the room, granted, but we have a lovely porch complete with hammock and a gorgeous open air bathroom. I'm gutted that two of the boys are thinking of moving on tomorrow, meaning we'll have to give it up and find somewhere cheaper :(

The last few days have been a lot of fun, exploring the island and sunbathing by day and hitting the bars and restaurants by night. I'm sad that my little ready made group of friends (the three boys and two English girls I went to Bromo/Ijen with, who joined us two days ago) will probably all have moved on by Tuesday (not least because the cost of living here is high compared to other places I've been in SE Asia and I could really do with sharing a room!) but excited about doing my Advanced dive certificate here on Tues/Wed/Thurs, and about my friend Charlie arriving on Thursday. Tempted as I am to move on from here and explore the surrounding islands, there is a part of me that thinks it might be wise to just stay here until I head back to Bali on the 27th, primarily due to the cost of travelling around (though I suppose that is pretty much offset by the cost of staying here), but also because I feel I should be making the most of my final few days of relaxation before reality bites back in the UK and I'm working all hours to earn a crust!

Right, time to go and shower before dinner. Today we walked up to the view point in the middle of the island and, beautiful though it was, I'm covered in dust from head to toe! We also stopped for lunch at the most ridiculous restaurant on the beach - it took 45 minutes for our milkshakes to arrive and then our 'burgers' were an absolute joke (I will upload a pic soon).

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Recent Messages

From lisa
Bege! I have just spent a solid four hours reading every single post you have written! It was brilliant- I am so proud of you! I can't believe how many things you have done and seen whilst I have been whiling away my summer holidays over here. It must have been so amazing. When are you back? And what name was on your shirt in Borneo? Love you, Lisa PS f--k the money- enjoy yourself. Just think- back in London you'll be spending £80 on a night out so splurge xxx
Response: Thanks so much lovely, cannot wait to see you when I get back (get back on 6th Sep but then off to Devon and Ibiza - hard life! - so realistically will be end of month before I can come to London fr a rendezvous. Love you xxxxxxxxxx
From Lisa
Bege! After all this time I have just figured out how to access this and am now hooked! Can't believe you are back so soon, must meet up and rebond! It sounds amazing, so glad you're having such a great time. Be well. Lisa x
Response: Absolutely my sweet!! Can't wait to have a catch up, and you must come to my 30th on Oct 8th (if I actually get my act together to arrange it, that is). Can't believe how fast the last 8 months have flown - scared but excited to come back. Hope you're well, lots of love x
From Emma Cairns
Hi Bege, thought I hadn't heard from you for a while. Kota Bharu - I remeber going to the food market and the colours were amazing!
Glad you're having a great time.xx
Response: Em! Yeah, have been slack on the FB blog updates, but have been blogging away merrily the whole time! Hope things at RMHC are good. Can't believe I'm back in 5 weeks!! Crazy! Can't wait to catch up xx
From IainIsm
Hey, I hope you're feeling better now. The end of your blog from Saturday, 11 June 2011 reminded me of this joke:!/IainIsm/status/8177756025769

Do you see what you made me put everyone through!?
Response: Ha - brilliant Iain! Glad to be of service ;)
From IainIsm
Wow, I thought I'd only missed a couple of posts - more like a couple of months though!

It looks as though you've been having great fun, and yes, the Indian porters, henna ladies, etc. can be very persistent as far as they are concerned white skin = lots of money.

Keep on enjoying!
Response: Thanks Iain, will do!! B x
From Teeny
Hey Belle,
Reading all of these from my cold uninspiring desk. Thinking of you. Enjoy every minute,
C xx
Response: Thanks lovely, hope you're well xx
From Emma
Bege - love reading these stories. There are times when I just want to give you a big hug. Others however are classic Bege!! Love it. The gang all say hi.xx
Response: Ha, thanks Em. Miss you guys! xx
From Jill
Dazzled by the confident way you're bouncing around the world! Enjoy India, your friends and wherever you gad off to next.xx Jill
Response: Thanks Jill, lots of love to you all x
From Siany T
Belle! Oh my God only just realised I can write on here lol doh! Just to say, great great blogging mate, and sorry I got cut off this morning when on fb chat... but you'll be delighted to know I go out of the house as fast as possible :-) Love you pretty one xxx
Response: Good girl! Glad to hear it :) Remember what I said, ok? Great to catch up, miss you xxxx
From Fran
Hey Globetrotter, yes go for the writing!! If you do what your heart wants you to do, the money will follow. Steve Job's speech helped me a lot when I was re-planning my career on my travels 2 years ago. If you haven't heard it, you HAVE to listen to it. Go to Youtube and type in 'Steve Jobs Stanford Commencement Speech 2005'. Btw, my book is in printing at the moment and will be out in 2 weeks :-))

Follow your heart and enjoy your travels!!

Fran @ Ron Orp's Mail
Response: Aw, thanks Fran, will definitely check that out. Great news on the book! Can't wait to read it when I get back! B x
From Plopsicle
Excellent to hear that there are other, caring support networks out there! It did me no harm (apart from a few mental scars). Miss you. X

P.S. Tinned peaches are the work of the devil.
Response: Plop! I miss you too! Thought you'd appreciate the support network post (also felt some light relief was needed as I've been getting a bit too introspective of late). Email me your news! I'm currently looking forward to Plum & Bee Woo's Whistlestop Tour of India. God help them. xx
From KTownLass
Darling, forgot to mention this is my email to you but re the WRITING I say go. Go go GO! Who gives a toss about the money? The most rewarding careers are the ones that leave us scrimping and saving, but to love what you do every day, even when it is shit? That is worth every non existent penny. The other day, I had the most disastrous lesson, and as I left the classroom I realised that I was looking forward to the next one. I've not felt like that for YEARS. Go with your heart Belle. xxx
Response: I love you. That is all xxx
From JimBobbers
Hey HotLips, keep capturing the vignettes. Each one is a piece of the jigsaw puzzle. And the picture it paints is your story. GO!
Response: AMAZING JB :) x
From Andy K aka anconky
Yo Belle (without Sebastian),

You know how EVERYONE has a blog, and some peoples are not even worth thinking about. Yours is like the total opposite of that. A great story arc, well written, clever, funny, emotive and well rounded (yes I did use those words when referring to you).

You may think that writing a blog when so exhausted is a bad idea, but I think its the best - you throw caution to the wind and give us a real insight to you and what you are thinking, which is the iciing on the cake for this. Long may it continue, you friggin' legend :)

Response: My life has a great story arc? Yay!! Thanks Andy, you're lovely :) x
From Dad
I've just caught up to date with your brilliant blog diary and photos. Hard to believe that the teenager who loved her creature comforts has adjusted so well to the Mears life style. As I write this you'll be on Maliangin Island and therefore probably out of wifi range. But great that you got the two assignments that you would have chosen. Sorry to hear about your Kindle setback. I've had PC problems and got a nasty virus attack from a email early this morning. Successfully recovered but my music/photos PC has got to be reformatted - lucky I'd just backed up both on my Iomega drive.
Your writing style is as good as ever and I am reminded of my resolution to get back to keeping a diary myself - if only to remind myself of the films I have watched.
Great to see daffodils coming though heralding the end of winter which has been one problem after another.
I've got a hen-party group in at the moment but they seem well-behaved and no trouble so far. A door smashed the previous week and a failed DVD player - which I updated with a BluRay player.
Been very tired lately and sleep patterns all over the place but no obvious ailment. You mentioned Night Nurse on your first diary entry - so presumably you were throwing off a cold to start with and have been OK since?
Hope your finances are holding up. I've just had a decent win on the GGs so let me know if you need topping up. Your netbook seems to be doing OK.
Lots of love
Dad xxx
Response: Hi Dad! Thanks for your message - will reply properly in an email! x
From JimBobbers
Belle, I don't know why, but when I read your blog it just keeps reminding me of M*A*S*H.

This makes you our very own "Hot Lips" Houlihan

Keep writing so I can live vicariously through your adventures. X
Response: Ha, thanks JB! I'll do my best to live up to your expectations :) x
From Jill
Just caught up with 20 Feb diary. Amazed by your stamina and energy and so glad your'e having a ball - well, sort of! Glad the food's ok and showers possible - always my priorities! xx
Response: Thanks Jill, great to know you're following my exploits! Love to all x
hey bege
lovely to hear all your news-whole project and group sound fantastic!! have you 'bonded' with anyone in particular then haha! At least Glasto prepared you somewhat for the sogg tent business!!! all good here-nothing too scandalous to reprt but will drop you a line in a few weeks w any goss! much love Leon x x
Response: Hey Leonpon! So good to hear from you, can't wait to get all your news. Loving it here, don't want to leave! xx
From Vicki
Continue to be enthralled by your jungle diary Woo, inclusive of continuous menu updates. The image of you sleeping in a hammock brings memories of glasto flooding back!

Just come back from Manchester for annual conference & awards do (rack of lamb with red wine jus, gratin dauphinoise and caramelised carrots) so needless to say am hideoulsly hungover and cream crackered. off for 10k run tomorrow with leeni. 5 weeks to go. f**k.

Response: Vee Woo!! Wonderful to hear from you my sweet, keep up the good work on the running front; you're putting me to shame, after the initial few days of enthusiasm mine has tailed off completely, although trekking up and down a hill with concrete for the next fortnight should sort the fitness out. Miss you lots, back on internet in a fortnight - Skype? Love you x
From syzygysweetie
Hey Beautiful Belle,

FINALLY got round to reading these!! Wonderful to hear more details :)

I know, I still owe you a full details email re: YKW, on it's way, promise. Just need to get the old blood pressure under control!!

Love you, L xxxx
Response: Hey Lovely, great to hear from you. Keep the emails coming! Big hugs x
From IainIsm
Look what I found!

If you didn't know about it already it may serve to keep you amused. (It's what I'm using for breaks from studying.)
Response: Ha, brilliant! :)
From JimBobbers
Belle, just catching up on your blog over here in my four star hotel in Los Angeles. Must admit to being a wee bit envious of your hardship (does that make any sense at all?). I do think what you are doing is fantastic. Just roll with the punches and you'll be fine. You're my kinda rock star. ;-)
Response: Thanks lovely JB, always wonderful to hear from you, the original Bellenders fan :) x
From Vicki
Bit late coming to the party here woo but am now totally hooked like a Jeffrey archer or dan brown (just said that to wind you up)! More more more! Is rory fit? Is rob fitter?

Have joined the real world and got myself an iPhone so I can read on the go. Check me out !

Miss u xxx
Response: You are hilarious Ms Montague. I miss you desperately. Can't wait 'til India xxx
From IainIsm
Hello you, did you manage to get eaten by an orangutan yet?
Response: Sorry Iain, only just saw your msg! No maulings by monkeys as yet, but give it time...
From Anita York
Wow Belinda, sounds so exciting already. It is so far removed from my cosy little life with my boys here in Farnham (which I love, don't get me wrong) but I am a tincy bit envious of your next 8 months of freedom. Good luck, enjoy and I look forward to reading more as and when. Take care, Anita, Marius and the boys x
Response: Thanks for your message Anita (and apologies for the lateness of mine), hope all's well with you guys, lots of love to all x