Category Archives: Travel Journals

Over the Edge

Very slowly I swam further away from the shore. I aimed for the line that was made visible by the obvious change in the colour of the sea water. On the other side of the line, it was a lot darker, signifying a bottom so far down that one could not see through to it even though it’s definitely there.

The closer I was to the line, the more slowly I swam because I knew what’s waiting. I had put my face down several times and I had seen the big drop. My sweetheart was out there, telling me all about flocks of colourful fish. I know he hoped the fish would sound like a reasonable payoff for venturing out of my depth. It was actually his hopefulness, more than the promise, that pushed me.

Though unwillingly, I kept moving towards the line. When I were closed enough, I put my face down to find some cool fish hanging around the cliff. They were was as beautiful as he promised,but I got to turn right back. I felt my breathing shortened fast as soon as I put my face down. Breathing under water through the snorkelling mask just seemed all unnatural and wrong. My brain couldn’t handle it, and I found myself turning back to the shore.

It’s only when I had my feet firmly on the sea bed, I could believe what had happened. I had faced my fear swimming out to the deep sea.

For the large part of my adolescent years and up until that very morning, I was daunted by the sea and its fearsome waves. I chose to stayed very close to the beach and very far from any strong waves so I could avoid any possibility of being nearly drowned like I was once.

I would forever be humble before the ocean and the power in its vastness, but I have stepped over the boundary I drew for myself many years ago.


Saying it literally: I have swum.




Gili Trawangan: A morning run

After a two-month break from running, this morning’s jog was deliberately challenging. I am on Gili Trawangan, a 3-km long, 2-km wide island. That means I could, in theory, run around the entire island. However, such a jog got to be torturous unless one runs at midnight in the rain for the heat seems unbearable any other time of the day.

When it rained yesterday’s evening, my host told me it’s the first time in three months. It lasted longer than normal tropical showers, so I calculated that the morning wouldn’t be so hot. Man, I was quite wrong.

As I set out at 7am, there was no hint of the late hour rain but some damp sandy paths spotted with puddles. I started on the shadowy back streets where riders were giving their horses the morning wash before heading out to pick up tourists. This part was nice and pleasant, but did not last very long. Gili Trawangan is pretty small, remember?

As soon as I reached the beach front, the extreme heat attacked every single cell of my body. Sweat streamed down my face. My habitual reaction was to wipe it off, but I had to give up after a while because it seemed so useless. I pushed on through resorts and restaurants on both sides to get to the quiet beach in the North. By the time I got there, my top was totally soaked, and I counted myself stupid for not bringing any water or money to buy some.

The northern part is quiet enough so that one can see a relatively long stretch of beach without being interrupted by a snorkelling boat or some sun beds. I got a spur from the space and picked up on my speed along the firm sand. It was hard work though. I miss Amsterdam parks and their perfectly paved paths. But well, like I said to my man: no pain, no gain. The view here is pretty paradise-like.

gili trawangan.jpg


Java Part 1: cities

Two weeks after the wedding, we found ourselves in an Indonesian small city called Jogja (by the locals). Our host said she would rather categorise this place a village, but I beg to differ. Jogja has an international airport nearby, some traffic jam and a decent size train station full of taxi scammers.

We arrived yesterday after seven hours and a half on the train, an early rise and a second-degree trauma – me losing a bank card. As soon as we walked out of the platform area, an apparently official taxi booth offered to get us a taxi for 80,000IRP. We could have taken it if our host hadn’t given us an estimate of around 40,000IRP. We found another taxi driver ourselves outside the station and ended up paying 24,000IRP even though the driver did take us the longer, round-the-block way at one point. We missed Uber!

Jogja is surely at least a town. Maybe my host was thinking of Jakarta and Bandung in comparison. They are indeed mega cities with traffic going on for miles. We happened to be in Bandung last weekend, among the visitors who wanted to splash out shopping at factory outlets or enjoying some dramatic views of nearby volcanoes and crater lakes. We did neither despite sitting on a taxi for 3 hours to go to the Tangkuban Perahu. That three-hour taxi journey covered about 30 km from Bandung centre to its northern mountainous area.

From Jakarta, where we landed the first night, through Bandung to Jogja, we have spent a lot of time in slow trains and slow moving cars. Before seeing Java, Hanoi and Bangkok were at the top of my list for busy roads. How little did I know!


We’ve learned a lot about patience and anticipation in Java. Would we make it to the volcano site before it rains in this traffic and under those hanging clouds? What would we do then? Would we make our train despite setting off more than one hour in advance for a distance of 4 km? If we don’t make it to the station, how would another day in this craze city be like? Should we make a desperate attempt to walk there and there?

We did walk several times. Pavement is rare and litter is common. Javanese cities have little to none street lights, which makes an evening stroll much less pretty and reassuring. Some scenes are like a stab to the heart. In Jakarta, I’ve seen extremely dirty side streets with open holes next to food stalls. In Lembang, I’ve seen a stream running through forest land covered in used plastic bags and giving out pungent smell. I couldn’t bring myself to come near and look closely at the colour of the water.

Jogja does not have bad traffic and a serious pollution problem like Jakarta or Bandung. We managed to walk the old town without being hit by cars and motorbikes, but the constant pestering from touts is unpleasant. We tried shaking our head with a smile, many firm “no”s while gesturing with our hands, pretending not to understand English. Nothing works. Some drivers followed us a long way, shouted at us names of places, presumably we would want to go and they would take us. One even stopped his becak (Indonesian traditional cycle rickshaw) on our track, so that we could not walk anymore. We just wanted to explore his city in our own pace and in peace but it didn’t seem possible.

Though Jakarta, Bandung and Jogja definitely have their own charm and some delicious food, they are not for us. We booked more train tickets, packed our stuff and determined to leave cities behind – big and small – to (hopefully) find mountains, jungles and quiet beaches.

Jogja, Tuesday 26 April 2016

Why I love trains


I always love trains but I am never really sure why.

I think it is in the way you move forward with trains. Each train has its own track. When you are on a train, you might see another train travelling in the opposite direction now and then, often near a station. But you rarely see another one overtaking you on the same direction. You are hardly in a race with other trains.

Also, train tracks are often built on rather remote areas, you don’t see car travel alongside you that much either.

So even if your train goes as fast as 500 kms per hour, you are almost never the one who races. You are inside a carrier, being relatively still. There is no rush. And I hate being rush. When I am on a train, I can really lean back and relax. Even inside the most chaotic trains I’ve taken, I found peace.

When I lived in England, I sometimes took a train as early as 5am to go as far as 300 km away for an interpreting job at court. The empty train station was always very cold in the early morning, because not many people were there to help heat up the chill air in the wide open. I’ve liked it though. As long as I was wrapped up, I could enjoy the freshness of morning dew. Then I would got on the train, pick a seat by the window and wait for the sun to come up.

Train Tacks Through English Countryside

When I backpacked through South East Asia with my now fiancé, we once took a train from Bangkok to a province at the border with Cambodia. It was full with farmers going to markets and back for trading, workers heading home in Cambodia, and backpackers like us.

We were crammed in a corner by the carrier’s door, on the floor. The air was hot and the floor was sticky. The train made huge noises whenever it started again. And it stopped multiple times for more people getting in. Basically, it was nothing like the Quiet Zone on a Virgin Train down London. But when the sun set above the heads of the crammed crowd, it was so red that it brought with it a sense of solemnity.

After more than two months travelling around South East Asia, I brought my then boyfriend back to Hanoi, my hometown on a night train from Hue – the ancient capital chosen by the Nguyen dynasty. It was on February. The train rolled into the new capital at the early hour of the morning. Soon the radio started to play a classic about Hanoi’s winter. I was home once again. The first light just arrived and I was on the brink of tears. The train slowly shook its way into the station.

Fasting forward two years and a few months, we were on the train from Amsterdam to Berlin. It was a seven-hour journey, more or less. There was no breath-taking scenery. It was a dull mid-may day in Northern Europe when the summer has not yet arrived. That means cold and grey. The landscape was filled with either grass field or patches of small trees. There were some nice views but far not often enough for a seven hour journey.

However, we had wine and each other company. We leaned back and watched a movie about Berlin from the old days. We enjoyed the ride pretty much regardless. Maybe it’s about the train. Maybe it’s about the wine. I will never know!