Bali – Gunung Agung

Gunung Agung is Bali’s highest volcano, standing at 3,142 meters (that’s 10,305 feet!)

We had an awesome view of it from the beach in Amed (that’s it behind Curtis in the picture on my last post) and here it is again.



Curtis decided that climbing this volcano was something that we had to do…I wasn’t quite as convinced and suggested that we climb Gunug Batur which stands at only 1717 meters. But Curtis was convinced that we should conquer the big one. You definitely need a guide for this climb and ours was the best. Katuk picked us up at 2:00 am.

On the drive there we past several night markets that were bustling with people. I was surprised at how many people were out shopping in the middle of the night and Katuk explained that there are several markets throughout the night and day. At each market, the price of the goods goes up a little more and at the first night market, goods are usually bartered back and forth instead of bought. So the earlier people get there, the cheaper things are.

Armed with flashlights, we started our ascent at 3:30 am. This was going to be Katuk’s 105th climb to the summit. This is us right before we started, still looking a little sleepy on only 4 hours of shut eye.

Us before the climb

The first part of our journey was easy, just lots of steps up to a temple. After that, we headed into the jungle portion where a narrow path had us hiking in single file line. There was lots of climbing over fallen trees or crouching under them. When we would come to a clear spot in the trees, the stars were absolutely amazing. A black sky filled with thousands of bright stars without any interference from city lights. We even saw a few shooting stars!

We were just about out of the jungle portion when the sun started to rise.

Sunrise on Agung

After the jungle portion came the tough part – the rocky portion. This part seemed to go on forever and had a very surreal feel to it. We were surrounded by volcanic rock in all directions but also had a view of the entire island – it almost felt like we were walking on some kind of desert moon. A very steep one.



As we neared the top, the terrain got worse and we were literally rock climbing – finding the safest spots for our toes and fingers to pull ourselves up . At the very top there was a spot where the Hindus lit incense and made offerings to the gods. There was some rice and fruit and 6 dead white ducks that I stepped over in surprise. Katuk said a prayer and offered a jaffle (a toasted sandwich) while Curtis and I rested and took in the scenery. We had both been expecting the top to be flat and to be able to see the other side of the volcano but instead were met with a jagged edge that gave way to a Grand Canyon like crater. The top blew off the mountain in 1963.

top of Agung

Me at the top!

Curtis at the top

After a rest and a snack, we were ready to make our decent. I had a moment of panic when I looked down and saw just how high up we were really were and how steep the incline was. Not to mention all those rocks which would make for a nasty landing should I misstep and fall.

View from the top

The panic subsided and we had a great time on the way back down. Katuk knew the best route and pointed out all of the slippery areas to avoid and even held my hand when I needed a little extra help on a particularly trickery part.


Us on Agung.

Katuk on the phone

We encountered about 20 monkeys who were on their way up the mountain as were on our way down. They were heading up to eat the food that had been left as offerings at the top. Katuk gave one of the monkeys a banana which he happily ate.

Monkey on Agung

A few hours into our descent, I started feeling weaker and weaker as my legs began to give out on me. Obviously going on a hike of this epic proportion was not the best idea after 6 days of severe dysentery…but I had made it up to hour 10 in fine form…the last 2 hours were not so. It got to the point that I literally couldn’t walk without experiencing severe pain with every step. Both of my big toes felt broken (they were only severely bruised…still are in fact completely black under and around the nails) and my left quad muscle felt like something had popped. We were making slow progress and it got worse when it got to the point that I was unable to take another step without Curtis or Katuk’s help (and sometimes both at once). I just couldn’t stay upright without holding on to someone. At one point Katuk carried both backpacks and I leaned my weight onto Curtis’s shoulders….it was slow moving and painful. It was the never ending descent….I was half hoping the volcano would just erupt so it would all be over. I was also fantasizing about helicopter rescues no matter what the cost.

But alas, I did not die on that mountain! We finally made it back to the temple and down to the van.

With Katuk after the hike

All of us promptly fell asleep on the hour plus ride back to our hotel (we had a driver pick us up as Katuk’s wife had taken their vehicle to go to the market).

This 12 hour hike was honestly one of the toughest and most rewarding things I have ever done. It was mentally much harder than either of the marathons I’ve done. Even the last marathon that I did with my leg injury was easier than the last couple of hours of this hike. I had months to mentally and physically prepare for those marathons and I knew what kind of pain I was in for during the 2005 one. Also, if you do collapse or run into trouble during a marathon, help is just at the side of the road. The only way for me to get down this mountain was to do it on my own by placing one foot in front of the other no matter how much it hurt and I simply wanted to stop. Knowing I couldn’t was a tough mental game. Curtis and Katuk were so awesome though – so helpful and understanding and positive.

We spent another two days in Amed recovering (Curtis couldn’t drive our standard jeep – he was too sore for the clutch). Ping pong was a fun diversion as were beach front massages and relaxing in the pool.

Looking back on the experience now, I remember all the good parts of the climb and the beauty of how breathtaking it was much more than I remember the pain (well, that’s not entirely true but close enough). It took a full week for our legs to stop hurting…both of us found it difficult to walk and stairs were a nightmare (I used the old trick of walking down them backwards which doesn’t hurt as much but sure gives people something to stare at). Getting up from sitting at the table we looked like we were 90 years old. We helped each other hobble and laughed at the extent of just how sore we were.

Next stop: Ubud!





Bali – on the road to Amed

The currency in Bali is the Indonesian rupiah. The exchange rate is approximately 10,000 to 1. So the 50,000 bill is only worth $5 and the 1,000 bill is only 10 cents. All of the bills are large and you usually have a stack of 50,000 and 100,000 bills. This made it difficult to withdraw money at the ATM because the ATM limit was either 500,000 or 1,000,000 (which is only $100!) Getting charged $3 every time we made a withdrawal, we were of course trying to minimize these and finally found a currency converter (guy on the street with a little booth) who took our travelers cheques and gave us a good rate so we didn’t have to bother with the ATM fees anymore. Imagine withdrawing 1,000,000 from the ATM at home and still having millions more left in your account. It felt kind of neat.

The Rupiah

The roads in Bali are very narrow, there is just enough room for two cars to pass each other and that’s it. There were no sidewalks or curbs or even much space between the road and the buildings. Everything there was built so close to the road – stores and houses. This made passing slow moving trucks difficult and traffic pretty crazy at times having to dodge pedestrians, chickens, dogs, oncoming traffic and passing motorbikes.


Other than that though, the drive from Kuta to Amed was absolutely beautiful. We were blown away at the beauty of the rice paddies, especially the tiered ones. The different shades of green and the patterns they made were unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

Rice flelds


Woman in rice fields


Everywhere you look in Bali, you also see this amazing stone work. It’s everywhere and I never tired of it’s beauty. This picture was taken while we were driving so it’s not the best but this was the type of thing we kept passing. I guess we got used to it because I don’t have many photos to show of it from our drive.


We arrived in Amed and checked into the Amed Café which was by far and away our favorite accommodations so far. Our room was beautiful and the staff were beyond nice. We had a great pool, a ping pong table (where we spent many competitive hours and became quite good), a beach front restaurant and a little store next door. The cleaning staff were amazing too – they even folded our clothes for us! Breakfast each morning was included and we got all of this for only $15 a night!

Curtis on Amed beach

Amed has a very calm beach with excellent snorkeling and diving. Curtis did two dives while we there that he really enjoyed. Unfortunately, I got really sick while we were there (I’m guessing the culprit was a salad I ate in Kuta) and I was bed ridden for a few days and had to take anti-biotics to clear up a very nasty stomach ailment that lasted 6 days. Eating gave me terrible stomach cramps and I couldn’t keep anything in me…it was definitely the dysentery diet….I lost a lot of weight.

When I finally got better, we took a short drive along the Eastern coast.

Beach near Amed


Coming up: Our epic climb of Bali’s highest volcano.

Bali – Kuta


We got to Bali with Air Asia where we got sit wherever we wanted (at the very front on the way back!)

flight to Bali

We spent our first two nights in Bali in a quiet little beach town called Sanur. Our room was absolutely huge, the marble bathroom alone was bigger than some places we’ve slept. The town had some nice little restaurants but the beach wasn’t exactly what Curtis was looking for.

Kite in Sanur

Our Lonely Planet had said that Sanur’s beach was among Bali’s best but after seeing it, I wondered how they came to that conclusion. If they meant the best beach for walking along the promenade (while avoiding the touts) or best beach for fishing (tons of locals were thigh deep in the water with their fishing rods), then they were right. But it was not a surf beach or even a good swimming beach so we headed to Kuta on day three for the real waves.

Surfer in Kuta

Curtis the surf dude

Kuta was a very touristy town. There were heaps of people everywhere, especially at the beach. We stayed at a place called the New Arena Hotel which looked really lovely and fancy from the outside and the rooms were nice too. We had prepaid for 3 nights upon check in. We had met a couple on the bus from Thailand to Kuala Lumpur and we ran into them at our hotel.

Our first night in our room, we discovered big fat black bed bugs. We killed about 10 of them (which were filled with blood, having just munched on Curtis) but soon realized that our mattress was infested and there was no way we would be able to sleep on it. We summoned the guy from the front desk who came to our room to investigate. He told us that the hotel was full but that he could bring us a new mattress. This was about 1:30 am and by 2:00 am after he and another guy had lugged our old mattress out of the room and a new one in, we discovered that the new mattress was infested with the disgusting little creatures as well.

Curtis suggested that we bring up some lounge chairs from the pool and sleep on those and that was when it came out that there was in fact another room available but it was a “superior” room and since our original room was only a “standard” room, they wanted us to pay twice as much.

Up to this point I had been sleepily sitting out on our 3rd floor patio trying to read and stay awake while waiting for the bed bug incident to get cleaned up. After hearing this utter bullshit I snapped. I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen me really tired but it is not a pretty site when something is standing between me and my beckoning bed of sweet dreams. I came in from the patio and proceeded to lecture the poor guy about customer service and how no where else in the world would they dream of asking you for more money to sleep in a room that was free of bed bugs. I explained that it was the middle of the night, that I was tired and there was no way I was paying more for the “luxury” of sleeping in a room on the ground floor by the pool as opposed to one on the third floor. Frankly, he looked a little frightened when I was finished and said that we could sleep in the “superior” room and talk to his manager in the morning. Curtis left to go inspect the new bed, came back to report it was free from bugs and we moved our stuff down there and finally got some sleep. Our new room was in fact, almost exactly the same as our old room. Our old room was actually a little bigger and had a queen size bed but this new “superior” room had 2 single beds (which we pushed together of course).

The whole bed bug fiasco forced us to sleep in and miss the free breakfast which was included with the price of our room (standard practice in Bali). We were prepared for a big fight at the reception desk but they actually apologized and said no problem about changing rooms.


That night after a day at the beach and dinner and a movie at an open air restaurant that showed free movies on a big screen, we headed back to our hotel to find a pool party in full swing. It was after midnight and the pool party had moved from the water to pool side where the music blared and European and Aussie surf types entertained us with their renditions of Hotel California (now changed to “living it up at the Hotel New Arena” and other clever parodies. This was a step up from their earlier pool shenanigans when there was a group of 8 or so European guys all in a group hug in the pool singing some kind of team song. Needless to say, it was another late night….of course missing breakfast again.

Kuta had lots of cheap places to eat with great food but I was sick of the young party vibe (especially the one that happened right outside our door) and ready to see the rest of Bali. We rented a jeep for $12 a day (including insurance!) and set off with our maps to explore the rest of the island.

Kuala Lumpur

I felt like a real traveler today. A real backpacker.

Today was the first time I’ve had my 50 pound backpack strapped to my back for quite a distance (Curtis usually carries it for me because it’s never been further than 50 feet). We left our hotel and had to walk about a block and a half to the first train station. Up several flights of stairs to the platform and then two stops later we got off, made our way across a busy street and down into the next subway system. I’m now sitting at KL Sentral with our huge packs while Curtis carries on to another station to run an errand before we take a bus to the airport. We’ve decided to take advantage of the price and lack of taxes to purchase a new camera here since our beloved waterproof Pentax has decided it is not so waterproof after all.

When I took my pack off, I literally felt 50 pounds lighter but my muscles are still shaking slightly from carrying all that weight. It’s a great workout!

We have spent the last two days in Kuala Lumpur and have enjoyed being in a big city again. KL has some amazing buildings. We never tired of gazing at the Twin Towers – at night they look like diamonds sparkling in the sky.

Twin Towers

We spent one day on foot exploring the city. The Twin Towers, the park surrounding it, the huge mall (catching Iron Man at the cinema a day before it came out back home), going to the observation deck at the KL Tower (the fourth highest in the world). We got to the KL Tower after dark so it might have been more exciting to see the city during the day. We enjoyed looking through the telescope, bringing the cars and people on the street into clear view – spying is fun! We even managed to spot our hotel.

Tune Hotel

The hotel we were staying at was great. It’s called Tune Hotel and the concept is 5 star beds & showers at 1 star prices. Our bed and pillows were the comfiest we’ve ever experienced, even better than the Pan Pacific or Westin Bayshore in Vancouver (at $20 a night instead of $350). It was great taking a warm shower again, we haven’t had hot water since we were in Bangkok. The shower head was one of those big rain shower ones too. You don’t get any extras for free though, you have to rent your towels (great fluffy white ones for about $1.60 each) and buy 5 or 12 hours of aircon (we got 5 hours for $1.50 and ended up using only 3 hours of it over 3 nights. There’s a big fan above the bed so the temperature is very comfortable). We loved the concept of not paying for anything we didn’t need and just purchasing any extras that we would actually use.

Me at the fountain outside KLCC

The lobby had a 7/11, a subway, some other coffee place and an area with computers that offered free internet. I would highly recommend anyone looking for an upscale budget hotel to stay at Tune Hotels in Kuala Lumpur – you get a lot of bang for your buck!

For the most part, KL is pricey. Dinner and drinks out can cost the same as home but movies and transit are a little cheaper. It’s definitely expensive compared to Thailand but it’s a beautiful city with all the modern conveniences one would ever need. And, best of all there are cheap flights to Bali from KL with Air Asia!

The monorail/subway system makes it easy to get around the city and we’ve enjoyed the architecture here as well.


Our last night in Ao Nang, Thailand, I was feeling a little sad to be leaving but as soon as we crossed the border into Malaysia, I loved what I could see through the tinted windows on the bus. Everything was so green! Rice fields, rolling hills, distant mountains and tons of tropical trees.

Our journey was a long one. We got picked up at 6:20 am in Ao Nang and took a minivan to Hat Yai, arriving there about 11:30 am. We had until 2:00 pm before our bus left so we grabbed a light lunch (fish ball and noodle soup) not far from the station. Walking the few blocks back after lunch, we encountered our first beggars. A few older women and one small child, two of which got up and came grabbing at my arms. A little creepy actually. We just kept walking and they didn’t pursue us.

At the Thai/Malaysia border we had to get off the bus and walk through Immigration with our passports. There were four well-dressed Malaysian women in front of us and when one of them removed her dark sunglasses for the Immigration official, we saw that she had fresh scars on her eye lids. A little trip to Thailand for a cheap eye lift.

At one of the rest stops in Malaysia, Curtis ordered a cappuccino and it came in a plastic bag with a straw. He found it super hilarious.

Curtis with his cappoccino in a bag

We’ve experienced a lot of firsts traveling. First time to get served by a waiter with a gun strapped to his side (restaurant in Ao Nang. Turned out he owns the restaurant and is also with the travel police), first train trip, first long tail boat, etc. but there was nothing quite like seeing someone in a burqa for the first time. There are a lot of Muslims in Thailand and even more in Kuala Lumpur – most women here wear head scarves. But it is different walking down the street and seeing a woman in covered in black from head to toe with only her eyes showing. Her husband (dressed in Western clothes) was taking a picture of her. Then in the mall, which is filled with every store you can imagine – from high end name brand clothing and shoes to electronics to absolutely everything in between – to see fully clad burqa wearing women shopping was a little startling. One of them was so covered up that she was even wearing sunglasses (inside the mall) and black gloves on her hands. Of course, I’m sure it was more of an unsettling experience for me because I just finished reading the book, A Thousand Splendid Suns (one of the best books I’ve ever read! I highly recommend it!) so right now view the burqa as a very oppressive thing for women, especially if her husband is making her wear it (which is how it worked in the book). I just couldn’t imagine wearing something that was so limiting – you can’t play sports or go for a run in a burqa, and you definitely wouldn’t be able to go swimming. Oh well, I try to respect others customs and religions, even if I don’t understand them. I’m very glad I was born in Canada and raised in the time of “girl power”.

Next up: Bali! Stay tuned.

Note: I wrote this post just after reading a book in which women were treated terribly in the time of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Now that a few weeks have passed, I’m not as freaked out by the whole burqa thing and do not mean to offend anyone who chooses to wear one.