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Kitesurfing and diving at Boracay 5.May
 As I was planning our vacation with Pepino, I chose Boracay as ideal place to start with. Primarily I wanted to try kite-surfing, but there was supposed to be decent diving as well and Pepino could keep himself occupied while I was under water too. I read that it was a tourist trap, but honestly it's not so bad. Lots of tourist yes, but if you stay away from the bussiest areas, it's acceptable.

  Getting to Boracay is not difficult. We flew from Manila to Caticlan. There we were spotted by a lady, who immediately offered to take us to the area where we wanted to stay and help us find a place to stay. It's a 5 minutes tricycle ride from the airport to a boat terminal. Then about 15 minutes on boat and finally another 15 minutes tricycle ride. We've deciided on staying in the boat station 3 area (white beach has 3 sections - north and most posh is BS1, middle commercial is BS2 and then south the most laid back is BS3). None of the places were full, so we picked the Orchids Place - it was recommended by my rough guides and was actually quite nice. I even engaged in true asian haggling and managed to bring the price from 2500 to 1800 PHP. Needless to say, I was very proud of myself :)

  I'll start with diving. There are many dive-shops along the beach - all keep the prices on the same level and so I simply picked up the 1st one - Dive Guru. First day I did two reef dives with them and quite honestly, I wasn't impressed. I guess I'm too spolied already, but the reef was just not anything special. Next day I tried drift-dive they do in the boat chanel (surfacing is fun, you never know what's going to hit you), but there was nothing to see with the exception of a lonely shark hiding deep under a overhang. Current was ok, but not thrilling really. Last was a night dive at the artificial wreck (fairly large fishing ship at 90ft) - finally I actually had something to take a picture of. Loads of macro stuff, ghost pipefish, etc... Too bad the wreck is so deep as our bottom time was limited to 35 minutes - I could've stayed there for hours :)

  Now to the real reason we went to boracay - kitesurfing. I picked ocean republic - ran by really nice and friendly locals. We ended up doing 3 lessons only as the wind conditions were not great. First hour we tried the baby kite just to get the handle of it. After 15 minutes of playing we switched to bigger 4-line kite, already in harness. Afternoon lesson was tricky - there was almost no wind, so practising kiting was real challenge. Pepino's instructor gave up after 30 minutes, mine kept me going for the whole hour, but it was a struggle. Next day morning, my instructor was confident enough to put me on board already. The wind was ok and so I kept trying. Gosh, watching the kite, putting the board on and then trying to build up the right speed with kite to get on the board is really tricky. I managed exactly once to properly ride about 30ft, the rest was just one failed attempt after another. I think I drank half of the ocean during that hour too :) It's still an awesome fun and I wish we had more time.

  All this kept us pretty busy during those 3 days. We've checked out several local bars, saw fire-show performed by lady-boys, etc. We became regulars in one beach-bar, which is exactly what I'd like to run when I retire. I told that to the owner and assured him that I'll come back one day and buy it from him  :) To confirm the future transaction, we had a shot of his own recipe drink called "dynamite" - yummy!

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Diving at Sipadan the 2nd time 5.February
Our main destination on Borneo was Semporna. I was diving here last year with Kacka and was so impressed that I've decided on coming again with Ondrej. Same as last time, we were again diving with Scuba Junkie - since our last visit, they've greatly improved their dive shop and Semporna also felt a little bit more appealing. The fish market is still there though - this time we've seen there dead sharks and even mantas... it's really sad thing to see. To make it even worse, we've found out that the price dead manta fetches on the market is about 3 RM - that's 1$! It just doesn't make sense.
In total we spent 3 days diving. Luckily, we got to Sipadan the very first day - we saw again a lot of turtles and quite a few sharks as well, most of them white-tip reef sharks plus couple of grey reef ones. Somehow we missed the huge school of barracuda which made Sipadan famous. On the way there, the crew was telling us stories how they saw hammerheads and whalesharks couple days ago... Yeah, right. I've heard those before and didn't get my hopes up.
Second day we went to Bohayan (Ondrej's pictures) - this time Ondrej switched from wide-angle to macro lens and good thing he did that. The reefs were full of macro creatures, beautiful corals with unbelievable colors... To make the day even more perfect, we signed up for a night-dive. It took place in the semporna bay at the corner of local fish-farm. It's pretty much underwater dump, full of plastic cups, tins and all sorts of rubish. It's hard to believe how many creatures are living in this dump - sea horses, decorator crabs, squids... Third day we went to Mabul (Ondrej's pictures) which was really nice as well.
When diving at Mabul, we managed to drive our divemaster girl crazy. Not in a good way I'm afraid. She had no idea what "pros" are diving with her and was getting all worried in situations that me and Ondrej don't even notice anymore. For example - Ondrej was going through air fairly faster than me since he had to carry around that big camera of his. So, when he was low on air, he just came to me and we kept on diving on my air. I have long hose, so it's absolutely no issue. When the DM saw it, she almost swallowed he 2nd stage and was giving us really hard time when we got back to the boat :) Something is telling me that she will remember "the czech team" for a long time...
Which reminds me - the very first day we found out that there is another czech couple on the same boat with us. Next day we met a girl from Slovakia. To make it even better, she met our friend Patrick couple weeks before when she was diving in Philippines. As they were chatting, Patrick mentioned that he was diving with 2 czech guys in caves on Bermuda. And so, when she heard us talking czech and found out that Ondrej is from Bermuda, it clicked... The world is way too small!
We trully didn't want to leave - Sipadan is still the no.1 place to dive on my list. I have a feeling that Ondrej will have hard time getting back to diving on Bermuda :)

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Kuala Lumpur with Ondrej 2.February
After long contemplation where to go with Ondrej for his month off, I've decided on combining Borneo and Philippines. Originally I was thinking about going to Africa - hike to Kilimanjaro and diving in Mosambique sounded awesome, but 4 weeks are simply not enough for it and also it would cost us at least twice as much as Asia. Looking for cheap flights wasn't as easy I was hoping. The best fare ended up being from Vienna to Kuala Lumpur. There we had 7 hours between the flights (to Tawau), so we decided to go to KL city. It's fairly easy - the fast train takes only about 30 minutes.
I've already been in KL with Kacka last year, so I took the role of tour-guide. Our first stop was at the central market. It was good idea, however the market was mostly closed at this hour (10am), so we just walked around a bit and then went to the National Mosque. I promised Ondrej that he can get there brochures on Islam describing how it really works with having multiple wives and whether it's true that having muslim wife guarantees you sex every day :) To enter the mosque, we had to dress up in the very fancy outfits not to offend Allah and off we went. Inside we were approached by a volunteer, who was actually very knowledgable and gave us a lot of background information about the mosque.
For example that the roof of the mosque is shaped like an umbrella with 16 points. Each of the points was supposed to represent one state of Malaysia - at the time of construction (1963-65) they thought that Malaysia will have 16 states. Then Brunei and Singapore left and so they ended up with 2 spare points. Somehow they thought it wasn't worth it to rebuild the mosque :) Columns inside the mosque are supposed to represent coconut trees and serve as drain pipes collecting the rain water from the roof to the underground reservoir. The water from it is used to water the greens around and also for religious baths tha muslims take there.

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Java Temples 27.September
Yogyakarta - is said to be a cultural center of Java having even special status. The sultan lives there in his palace and it's also the best place to see and buy batik. There's a huge complex called Kraton, which is a maze o little streets with the sultan's palace in the middle. You can go and see multiple sections of the palace. The water palace is where the sultan used to soak in pools with his many wives - in fact they had their own pool, the sultan would watch them from above and throw a flower in; the one who grabbed the flower had the priviledge to join sultan in his pool :) Then there's the main palace, where the today's sultan still lives and only part of which is available to the public. It also has a collection of presents the sultants received from other world leaders, some of which are very funny-looking. We had quite a hard time trying to figure out what's where and how to get around as the whole complex is enclosed by walls and very confusing.
Prambanan - very famous temple complex, about 10 miles off Yogya. To get there, we just rented a motorbike in town and headed towards Solo - it's right on the highway, impossible to miss. It was damaged in one of the big eqrthquakes couple years ago, so there's still some reconstructions going on. It's a complex of more or less fallen apart stone temples. Their main feature is the fact, that they're put together by.. nothing. It's just finely masoned, puzzle like structure. No wonder it falls apart with each earthquake :) In any case, it's still very impressive and worth seeing, despite the huge crowds.
Borobudur - the other famouse temple, about 40 miles off Yogya. This one is not as easy to get to on bike, so we went there on a combined day-tour (with Dieng plateau). This time it's just one temple, looking like a major pyramid. When it was found, it was just a big pile of stone all falllen apart, but then UNESCO poured in some $$$ and got it all fixed up. It's quite impressive work actually - it consists of multiple levels, all depicting certain stages of human life, something like Dante's inferno. All the levels have carving on the walls, which must have been real fun putting together - something like working on 3d puzzle, each piece weighting 300lbs. There are budha's under bell-shaped structures on the top - touch one and you'll have all the luck you'll ever need :) We were there for the sunset, but weather didn't cooperate :(
Dieng plateau - couple hours drive from Yogya, it's a plateau famous for its temples, volcanic activity and potatoes :) We went there on the combined tour with Borobudur and it turned out to be a pefrect combination. We spent about 3 hrs on the plateau itself, which is quite enough to see all that's worth seeing there. The temples are tiny (comparing to Prambanan anyway) and within walking distance. We also went around the 3 lakes, which are said to have different colors. If it wasn't for all the noisy water-pumps, it would actually be a very nice hour-long stroll.

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Volcanos on Java 23.September
Kawah Ijen - this volcano is famos for its sulphur collectors. The mountain itself is on the very east coast of Java and is accesssible from two sides. We chose to approach it from Banyuwangi - it's close to the ferry and the travel there is less complicated. We hired a local guide in 4WD and took off at 4am - it was about 60 minutes drive up on a very beat-up road, so then we understood why the 4WD :) Once we reached the park entrance, we started walking up actually very decent path, along with multiples of locals and tourists. The crater itself is quite impressive and we waited long enough for the clouds to move so that we got to see it whole with the green-ish lake. We also went down the crater where the local dudes collect the sulphur and then carry it up - 150lbs. at once! It was quite an experience and we were glad to make it back up ok, when wind changed direction and the sulphur fog moved on us.
Gunung Bromo - one of the most known places on Java. It's a big crater in the middle of even bigger crater, which makes the scenery quite unique. To get there, we've moved to Probolingo and thought about catching the last bus in the evening to go up to the Cemoro Lawang. Luckily, I tried calling couple of the accommodation places we had in our guide book, only to find out that everyone is full. Travelling during the week after Ramadan was really bad idea :( So we decided to stay in Probolingo and try to catch the first bus in the morning. We were approached by "Mr. Toto" on the bus station, who turned out to be priceless help - he helped us with finding hotel close to the bus station and he promised to get us on the morning bus too. He was a big football (soccer) fan too, so he was calling me Mr. Koller (famous czech player, tall and bald) :) He kept his word and showed up at our door next day while we were still in bed, rushing us to move as the bus was about to leave - 30 minutes ahead of schedule! So we did and packed in record-making 2 minutes! Once we squeezed ourselves (literally) into the little bemo, first thing we found out that the 3 guys sitting behind us were from Czech. The world is just not big enough! :)
Bromo itself sits in the middle of the bigger crater, surrounded by a sandy platform. Locals know how to exploit tourists, so not only we had to pay 10x the locals' entrance fee, but there are jeeps, motorbikes and horses everywhere, trying to scam you into taking you to Bromo. Don't fall for it - we leisurely walked there in 30 minutes. To get on Bromo, you have to climb the final 300-ish steps. As we were walking up, 2 teenage guys ran pass me, laughing and apparently showing me how it's done. Well, their stamina lasted about 100 steps and then they couldn't walk no more, so I ended up reaching the top way ahead of them, while they were having their heart-attacks below :) The crater is nice, but honestly, we didn't see what the big fuzz is about. Kawah Ijen was way more impressive. There's also one more volcano right next to Bromo, but you can't walk it up. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around for some views and then took off back to Probolingo and to catch an overnight bus to Yogyakarta.
Merapi - one of the most active volcanos in the world (at least according to the guide book). To make our life earier, we went on an organized tour. The driver picked us up at 10pm, drove us to the village at the Merapi base where we started the ascend at 1:30am to catch the sunrise. Why is everyone so obsessed with sunrises anyway? The climb was not easy, very steep and the final part is just walking on a lavafield. We made it up 5-ish, just before the sunrise. Took the obligatory pictures, admired the views, put ourselves back together and 6-ish started our descend back. By 8:30am we arrived back to the village, got a quick brekky and boarded the bus to go back to Yogya. The ride back was probably the most crazy thing we've experienced in the whole stay. The driver was pure maniac. We figured that maybe he's used to riding a bike and he didn't realized he was driving a minivan instead - he was squeezing into every tiny spot between cars, tooting constantly, overtaking using the opposite side of the road... insanity! At the same time, he did cut the travel time to half, probably making a world-record.

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The Java Experience 22.September
As soon as we disembarked the ferry on the Java side, we knew that we're in a different Indonesia. Bali is very friendly, fairly developed and mostly hindu religion. Java is not that friendly, much less developped ad mostly muslim. It's unbelievable how 1km wide channel can make such a huge difference in reality. Even the houses on Java look very different - on Bali most of the are extremely nice and very decorated, on Java they just look like a run-down version of common houses you see in europe.
Finally you notice difference in dealing with people. On Bali you do have to haggle, but in the end you don't feel like they try to strip you naked. In Java, you do get the feeling of being percepted as just one big walking wallet. Perfect example - our very first bemo (little "bus") from the ferry to Banyuwangi was (according to the guide book) supposed to be about 5,000R. As soon as we got off the boat, we got surrounded by bunch of guys trying to drag us to their bemo and when we asked about the price, they said 100.000R. We just laughed and left. On the street we found a guy who agreed to take us there for 10.000R, but as we got there and were about to get off, he started asking for 20.000R instead. It's $1 difference, so I don't really give a sh*t, but we made a deal. Then he started screaming, people started to gather around us and it was just mess. So I threw him the 10.000R we agreed on and walked away... So the whole stay on Java we felt like we had to be constantly on guard, never believe anyone and it just spoiled the whole thing.
As we were planning on going to Indonesia, we knew we had to take into consideration the fact that Ramadan (biggest muslim celebration) is happening during that time. We thought we were very smart since we spent the Ramadan day on Bali and only then moved onto Java. What we didn't know was that one week after Ramadan is pretty much equivalent to our christmas/new years week. Everybody (and I mean everybody) travels around, everything is closed, hotels and busses are full, prices are trippled, sights are crowded, etc... This was the first time during the whole 5 months we were travelling that we had to worry about finding a place to eat and sleep.
On final note, you do notice when you travel through a muslim country. I'm not talking about just about women having their heads covered. When you really notice is at 4am, when you get waken up by somebody yelling god knows what into a megaphone next door. Funny thing though - all the muslims around us were sound asleep and we were the only ones actually up and involuntarily listening to the words of Allah...

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Diving on Bali 16.September
Diving on Bali - there are two words which are enough to make divers eyes glitter - sunfish and manta. To make it even better, you can see both in the same day! Most of the diving companies leave from Sanur, going for about and hour to the Nusa Lembogan island.
The first site is Crystal Bay, which is whre the sunfish can be seen. Deep water is being pushed up on the ledge here and so sunfish (normally deep-sea fish) come close to surface here to get cleaned up. We were very lucky - sunfish appeared from the deep blue as soon as we reached the right spot and then it went all the way to 30ft, hang around for about 10 minutes and went back. Awesome sight.
The second dive-site was Manta Point. As you can probably guess, this is where you see mantas. The reason for them to come here is that plankton (their food) gets trapped in this little bay and so they come here for the easy snack. It's very shallow, so snorkelers can see them easily as well. We've seen at least dozen of different mantas and they all look as if they were just flying through the water. Absolutely amazing.
Wreck of MV Liberty was one more dive I wanted to do at Bali. It's said to be one of the "must do" sites in Asia. We went to Tulamben from which you can get onto the wreck easily from the beach. Since we arrived in the afternoon, we decided to start with a night-dive. It was just us and a guide, who seemed to be very happy when we told him we were interrested in the "small stuff". As soon as we jumped in the water, he started pointing at a little patch of fan coral. I looked at it, but didn't see anything, so I took one picture to be polite and went on. His first words once we got out of the water were "how did you like the ghost pipefish on the first coral?". Doh! Funny thing is, I can actually see them on the photo I took, but it's out of focus of course... I felt really stupid at that moment. Anyway, the whole dive was awesome - the guy was amazing muck-diver, finding the craziest little crabs and fish, typically just couple of milimeters bit. Next day we went to do a regular dive so that we get to see the wreck itsellf as well. It's a nice site, lots of fish, but crazy crowded with divers.

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Diving at Komodo 11.September
The area around Komodo island is revered by divers for very good reasons. I didn't know too much about it, except that the reefs are supposed to be amazing with a lot of marine life. So I started looking up liveabords when we were leaving Australia and found the Komodo Liveaboards web. I wrote them to get a quote for 3/4 stay and they offered us 4 days at their boat Charlie. We were really lucky though - they had some spaces left on Mona Lisa (sailboat) and so we got "bumped up" for free :) This was our second livaboard (after Mike Ball in Australia) and well worth the money. We flew to Labuanbajo on Flores and then were transferred to the boat on an hour-long ride on a speedboat.
Diving in Komodo is not for beginners, mainly due to fairly strong currents. When we boarded a group of divers from Poland were just about to leave and all they talked about was how crazy strong the currents were. Apparently they had troubles to even keep hold rocks, coming back from site called Cauldron, which they briskly nicknamed "the washing-machine" :) I have to say that during the 4 days of us diving, we didn't experience anything extreme. We did get into strong currents on one or two sites, but nothing crazy.
I could be raving about the diving for a long time. Look at the pictures and you'll get the idea. We came back excited from every single dive - not one site was "just ok", all were super awesome. I personally thing the soft corals were close match for the ones we saw at Rainbow Reef on Fiji, the marine life is better here. Night-dives were breath-taking. On the very last night I did a solo night muck-dive at one of th beached, just hanging at 15ft all the time (I was flying the next morning, so I didn't want to push my luck). I know I'm not very good with finding liffle things (or big for that matter), but here I found decorator crab, juvenile cuttlefish, etc...
I truly wish we could've stayed there for (much much) longer. The boat was beautiful, crew was perfect and the diving... to die for.
Dive 1 - Manta Point, Dive 2 - Sebayour Kecil (night), Dive 3 - Sebayour Kecil, Dive 4 - Sebayour Kecil, Dive 5 - Crystal Rock, Dive 6 - Bay (night), Dive 7 - Lampu, Dive 8 - Castle Rock, Dive 9 - South Passage, Dive 10 - Crystal Rock (night), Dive 11 - The Cauldron, Dive 12 - Batu Bolong, Dive 13 - Wanilu (night)

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Culture and history on Bali 18.September
There isn't much culture in Kuta - except for the club-scene (which we didn't really try) and the souvenirs stalls everywhere. One thing that caught our attention was bottle opener shaped like ... penis ... Yes. For some reason they think that all the tourists want to open their beers with wooden penises of various sizes. Somehow we managed to resist the temptation to buy one :) The true culture on Bali is in Ubud. It's a little town in the center, which is an excellent base for exploring the numerous temples and sites around Bali. It is also here where most of the traditional Bali dance performances are taking place.
Dances in Ubud. There are essentially 3 types of dances that you can see in Bali. The first is Kecak (the fire dance) and imho the best one. The whole performance is in dark, illuminated just by candles in the middle of the stage. There's no music, just guys "chanting" is a very special way. If you saw the movie Barraca by anny chance, you may remember it from there. As a final piece, they lit up a pile of coconut cores and then one dude danced in the burning ashes. All n all - this was by far the most entertaining of the performances. Then we went to see the other two dances (barong, legong). Barong is a tale about some princess, monkey, dragon ... very asian and not exactly easy to follow. Still, at least you can figure out who's who and what's (probably) going on. Legong is just various dances with girls wiggling their (cute) behinds and twisting arms. Both are supported by very monotonous ding-dong-ding music which will get on your nerves in 5 minutes :)
Temples - there are so many of them on Bali, it's not even funny. Each village has to have at least 3 - one facing mountains, one facing ocean and one in the middle (generally speaking). Then there are more if there're rich people in the village, etc. Every house also has a little (or big) shrine at their home to keep the spirits of their ancestors happy and where they put little food offerings every day (so that they don't die again of hunger I guess :). Anyway, we visited all the "must see" ones - Tanah Lot, Gunung Kawi, Tirta Empul and Gua Gaja. We also went to see the rice fields, which are quite impressive. I wonder what will happen once the young generation figures out that they don't want to work and live like their parents...
Finally I'd like to metion the houses. It was very confusing in the beginning as we were never sure whether we were entering a house or a temple. Honestly, they must spend incredible amount of time working on decorations, wood-carvings, statues, etc. Some of  the places we stayed at were like entering a palace. When you drive around the villages, you'll notice that every one specializes in some kind of crafts - some do stone statues, many do different wood-carvings, furniture, etc. All manual work and all very impressive. Now I understand why people go there shopping for furniture and then ship it back home.

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Having fun on Bali 10.September
We've started our trip through Indonesia on Bali - it's the most tourist-friendly island so we figured it would be a good starting point. As most of the visitors, we arrived to Kuta, which is a heaven for young people who want to surf and party. Without realizing it, we stayed the first night at a hotel right next door to the "ground zero" where the 2002 bombing took place. It's back to normal now, so our heads were bouncing on the pillows until 4am thanks to the music next door :)
Surfing - that's what's Kuta is all about. The town is full of surfers in early twenties with bodies that leave even me drooling :) There are surf-shops all around and surf-rentals dot the whole length of the beach. After watching the surf-students one afternoon, we've decided to try it ourselves as well. We went independent though - we've seen it enough, so no need for instructor we reasoned :) The guy renting us the surf-board asked about our experience and when he heard "none", he fished out the biggest board on the southern hemisphere. Not big enough as we found out soon. I was the first to go. Took the board and boldly walked to the water. The very first wave took me, spun me over, dragged me through the sand on the bottom and spat me back. So that's why surfers wear t-shirts. I spent about an hour trying to figure out how to get on that damn thing and stay for more than 2 seconds, being only partly successfull. At least I know  now where the surfers get their body-shape; the paddling around is sure exhausting. Kacka tried after me with pretty much the same results, which wasn't bad at all considering it was our  first attempt :) Later in the afternoon I went once more. This time the waves were a bit bigger and I actually managed to ride some of them for maybe 5 seconds or so! Despite all the bruises and scratched chest, it was great fun!
Paragliding - conicidentally, one of my cousins is married to an Indonesian and both of them were raving about the paragliding there. So I found a contact to an instructor online, got in toouch with him and agreed to meet him one afternoon close to Nusa Dua (east coast, south of Kuta). It's a cliff site, with pefrect alternative LZ (landing zone) on the beach below. When we got there, it looked just perfect, but soon we found out that it was too windy. That's the problem with paragliding - there're usually either too much or not enough wind :( One very experienced dude managed to take off, but then he had troubles getting down. I've actually read about it before - as he approached the LZ, he just couldn't get down, the wind was constantly pushing him up. Finally he managed by doing big ears, but you can tell he wasn't very comfortable. We kept hanging around for until late afternoon, but the wind kept blowing and so I didn't fly... :(
The final thing I wanted to do on Bali was kitesurfing. Unfortunatelly the season was about to end, the wind was dying out and our time was running out too. So I didn't get the chance, but that's just one more reason to come back one day :)
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