Category: Indonesia

One of world’s scariest airports

Korupun (sometimes spelled Koropun) in the highlands of West Papua, has one of the world’s scariest air strips. See this video of a take-off and landing at the strip.

I can attest to the difficulty of landing here; I spent two weeks in the mountains above Korupun in 1995. Planes start by flying over the strip to check for pigs, then have to make one full circle to get low enough to land. When taking off, the plane has to make a 90 degree turn to avoid the mountain wall across the valley, followed by a full turn to get out of the steep walled valley. It’s an experience!

The quest for adventure

“The word adventure has gotten overused. For me, when everything goes wrong, that’s when adventure starts” – Yvon Chouinard.

Scott Gilbertson describes very eloquently why most people no longer experience real adventures when they travel. We plan everything, and we know what we are getting into because we’ve researched all details of our trip on Tripadvisor and guidebooks, or have asked a travel agent to arrange all details of our trips. Yet we call our trips to faraway places an “adventure”.

180 Degrees South is a great movie that follows Jeff Johnson on a trip to Patagonia. Along the way, lots goes wrong, but it doesn’t matter; the trip is a a great adventure. Along the way we are introduced to Chouinard (founder of Patagonia) and Doug Tompkins (co-founder of the Northface), and the ways they use their fortunes to save the environment.

My greatest adventures have been when things went wrong, like getting stuck in a river in Mongolia, running out of gas in the Gobi desert, or walking through the rainforest of New Guinea without water for 30 hours, or even getting stuck in snow storms in the far northwest of BC. None were planned, but they were all epic adventures in places that are not listed in the guidebooks or on Tripadvisor.

As Mark Twain said: “… throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Oh, and go places where there is no cell phone coverage or Internet, and which are not in the guidebook.

Volcano climbing in Indonesia

Mouint Bromo and Semeru, Java, Indonesia

Mouint Bromo and Semeru, Java, Indonesia

Indonesia is blessed with some of the world’s most beautiful volcanoes (they have also created some of the world’s most fertile soils, although the frequent eruptions have caused countless hardships for those living on their slopes). One of my favourite hobbies while I lived in Indonesia was to climb these peaks. The views from the tops are amazing, it is nice and cool up there, and it’s great exercise. Until now there was no single source of information on all volcanoes and other mountains in the country, but a couple of expats have recently launched Gunung Bagging – a website that details all the mountains in Indonesia over 1000m. Very inspiring!

Thanks to for the tip-off.

The world’s 50 best walks

The Times online just posted an article on the top 50 walks in the world, ranked from easy strolls to tough mountain treks. The Snowman trek in Bhutan was listed as the most difficult trek in the world. It indeed is no easy stroll in the park; supposedly less people have completed this trek than have climbed Mt. Everest. I can think of harder treks, especially those in the highlands of Papua, but it ain’t easy.

Interestingly, the Tour du Mont Blanc is ranked as the second most difficult. Now I really want to walk this trek too.

Sadly, no other Canadian treks, such as the West Coast Trail, are mentioned. It is certainly tougher and more classic than some of the listed treks!

(Via Besthike.)

Tripadvisor top 100 destinations

Another top 100 list, this time it’s TripAdvisor’s first ever top 100 destinations, as measured by ratings and popularity rankings.

The top destinations are:
1 Milford Sound
2 Queenstown

Canada has eight destinations in the top 100:
9 Banff
16 Victoria
19 Lake Louise
52 Vancouver
55 Niagara-on-the-Lake
61 Quebec City
77 Whistler
88 Jasper

Not bad, but what’s interesting about the entire list is that all the places are popular tourist spots; there really are no new or off-the-beaten track locations. This is obvious from the Canadian list – all tried and true locations. That is even the same for the top 25 Canadian destinations. No St. John’s Newfoundland, nothing in Nunavut, etc.

There is only one Indonesian location in the list – Ubud in Bali. But despite the smog and overcrowded streets, Beijing made it onto the list. Obviously, it’s still popular with mainstream travellers.

Great photos from New Guinea

My friend Will Betz has a great collection of New Guinea photos, but never had a chance to post them online yet. He’s finally scanned and posted a sample. Check out the images of bowerbirds, they’re amazing. The males of these New Guinea birds build massive structures, and will collect all kinds of colourful objects to attract females. What guys won’t do to get the girl…

The sample includes some great shots from South America and Africa as well.

Are travel guides all bad?

The travel writing industry is abuzz over the upcoming release of Thomas Kohnstamm’s book detailing his life as a Lonely Planet travel writer. He supposedly plagiarized content, didn’t visit the places he was supposed to go to, slept with waitresses, etc., etc. In reality, it turns out that it wasn’t all that bad. In a recent interview, he takes back some of the things he said in earlier interviews. Of course, by then the main stream media had picked up on the juicy tidbits.

So, are travel guides, just that – guides, or are they bibles? I have used a lot of guidebooks in my travels, and spent a lot of time sending updates to Lonely Planet’s guides. As far as I am concerned, they are just rough guides. Stuff will be missing, out of date, or wrong, but that is the fun of it. But if you find errors, don’t whine about them. Instead, take the time to write the publishers, or post an entry on the publisher’s forums.

Do I buy guidebooks when I travel? Always.

Which ones? Depends on the destination. I always compare Rough Guides, LP, and Moon Handbooks. For North America, Moon often has more in-depth titles. For other countries, Rough Guides tend to be more in-depth, with better writing (more background info, especially about culture, and more opinionated), and they cover more out-of-the-way places. But Lonely Planet covers more establishments, has more practical information, and offers more titles. For example, there are no Rough Guides for Mongolia and Bhutan.

When I go to a country for an extended period of time, I buy several guidebooks. For example, in Bhutan, you need the Lonely Planet, as well as Francoise Pommaret’s Odyssey guide, and Bart Jordan’s Bhutan, a trekker’s guide. For Mongolia, get the Lonely Planet guide and the Bradt guide.

Are the LP guides to Bhutan and Mongolia any good? Both will invariably have some errors, but Michael Kohn (Mongolia) lived there for three years, and knows the country as well as anyone writing about it. Stan Armington (who wrote earlier editions of the Bhutan guide, as well as several of the LP Nepal guides) has been in Nepal since the early 70s, and was one of LP’s first authors. He as good as they come.

There were a couple of bibles out there, though. The ultimate travel guide is probably the Indonesia Handbook by Bill Dalton, founder of Moon Publications. Sadly, it is out of print, but it put all other Indonesia guides to shame. It truly was the travel bible to Indonesia. Even so, it had its share of errors, and Bill was the first to admit it when I met him in Jayapura, West Papua. Bill spent about 20 years researching every edition of his Handbook. No travel writer has spent so much time criss-crossing the country. But in the end, it even became to much work for him.

The other one was the Moon handbook to Tibet (also out of print). About three times as thick as any other Tibet guide, it truly went into great depth. It’s a shame that both are gone now.

West Papua art

Two girls pounding sagoMy good friend John Moore has just opened an exhibition of his amazing New Guinea art at a Victoria art gallery. While art from Papua New Guinea may be better known, there is a strong artistic tradition in western New Guinea as well. His exhibition is well worth if you like traditional art.




Maps for Garmin GPS

Garmin eTrex Vista HCXGPS has come a long way since I first saw someone use a unit in 1992 on the crater rim of the Mt. Bromo volcano in Java, Indonesia. By 1995, we had a Garmin 45 while exploring a previously unvisited alpine valley near Koropun, New Guinea. At the time, the average error was still 30-100m, and the unit took a long time to lock onto 8 satellites simultaneously. But it worked, and showed us exactly how far we were from a friend’s house with cold beer.

I recently retired my trusted Garmin 12, which took me on an epic drive through the southeastern Gobi desert of Mongolia. It was a great unit, but lacked built-in maps. As a result I always knew where I was, but it was hard to pinpoint the location on a map. For the Gobi trip, I hooked up the unit to a laptop running scanned 1:100,000 Russian maps on OziExplorer. That worked very well, and allowed us to navigate through one of the most deserted parts of the Gobi without trouble (other than many flat tires!). The unit worked well, except in the forest. Not exactly a problem in the Gobi, but certainly an issue when trying to map hiking trails in the dense forests of Bhutan.

I now have a Garmin eTrex Vista HCx, which has mapping abilities. It allows you to upload any vector-based maps. The Garmin Mapsource 1:50,000 maps for Canada work well, but don’t have everything one wants on them. Bring in CGPSMapper, software that allows users to create their own Garmin maps from any vector-based data. It includes a map database, where users have uploaded their maps. Cool.

I find that even with a mapping GPS you need paper maps to get an overview, but you should have a map (and a compass!) with you anytime anyway in case the GPS dies on you.

One huge advantage of the new crop of GPSs is that they are much more sensitive, so they even pick up signals inside a house, or better yet, in the forest.

I don’t see detailed maps of Mongolia yet, though, so next time I drive through the Gobi (I’d love to visit the far southwest next time!), I’ll go the laptop route again. Still unbeatable compared to anything else out there.

2008 Travel trends

With the start of the new year, papers and magazines are full of trends and predictions for the coming 12 months. The travel industry is no different. The NY Times Travel section recently published their list of 53 hot places to travel in 2008.

I guess Canada can count itself lucky that it got featured at least once (New Zealand didn’t even make the cut), with a trip through the northwest passage. The top destinations were Laos, Lisbon, and Tunesia. Goes to show that we have a lot of competition out there. And for established destinations, it’s out-of-the-way places that are attracting attention. For Norway, the fiords, or even the Lofoten, don’t make the cut anymore, It’s Svalbard where you have to go.

Interestingly, for Indonesia, Lombok made the list. Bali is getting crowded, so they move over one island. They mention quieter beaches and a bigger volcano (Rinjani is indeed bigger than Gunung Agung on Bali). Good thing that there are lots of islands further east, in case Lombok gets over-crowded.

Prediction for 2015: Sumbawa will be the hot place to go. It used to have the biggest volcano of them all, Tambora, until it blew itself to bits in 1815 in the biggest volcanic explosion in recent history.