Monthly Archives: February 2008

Borobudur: Icon of Indonesia

Posted by on February 29, 2008

Moon over Borobudur

Moon over Borobudur

Iconic symbols are a theme I will be referring to often. For example, when you think of Paris, what image comes to mind? Probably the Eiffel Tower. Rome? The Colosseum. London? Big Ben. New York, LA, San Fransisco? The Statue of Liberty, the Hollywood Sign, and the Golden Gate Bridge.

I can go on and on about how certain places have certain images associated with them.

Sometimes the image isn’t of an object or a building. If you think of Argentina, you think of people doing the tango or of gauchos.

What comes to mind when you think of Indonesia? Unless you live there or have visited there, my guess is it isn’t a good image. It is probably one of earthquakes, landslides or tsunamis.

I would like to suggest, however, a new (actually quite old) iconic image for Indonesia: Borobudur

Borobudur and Prambanan have not achieved the level fame of a Taj Mahal or the Great Pyramids, but they probably should be on the short list of the great, ancient places of the world.

It was difficult to get the entire structure in my camera, even with a wide angle lens.

It was difficult to get the entire structure in my camera, even with a wide angle lens.

Borobudur is a Buddhist temple in central Java which dates to the year 800. Prior to the introduction of Islam in the 1500’s, Hinduism and Buddhism were the predominant religions in Java. Borobudur was constructed during the Srivijaya Empire which covered all of Java, Sumatra, peninsular Malaysia, and coastal areas of Borneo.

It is labeled as the largest single Buddhist temple in the world. Many people think that Angkor Wat is, but that is technically a temple complex. Borobudur is larger than any one temple in Angkor Wat.

The temple was lost for hundreds of years, buried in volcanic ash and covered in forest growth. It was only during the brief period which the British ruled Java (1806-1811) when Sir Thomas Raffles re-discovered Borobudur. Being covered in ash for that long probably preserved the temple from thieves and earthquakes. The Indonesian government commissioned an expansive restoration of the temple in the 1980s and it is in relatively good condition considering its age. (It should be noted that the temple was never really “lost” to locals. Local legends always knew it existed, it is just that no one ever bothered to excavate it. it should also be pointed out that much of the archeology on Java was done during the brief British control of the islands, where as the Dutch controlled it for hundreds of years and did very little.)

Bas Relief

Bas Relief

The architecture of the temple is quite clever and isn’t readily apparent. The temple is built in tiers. The traditional way to go up to the top of the temple is to climb up and walk around each level in a clockwise direction, so the reliefs are on your right. The major divisions of the temple represent parts of the human body (head, body, and feet). Moreover, it was later found to be built in a 9:6:4 ratio, which is used in other Buddhist temples in Asia. In the 90s it was discovered that two other nearby Buddhist temples were in a straight line with Borobudur, making the construction of the temple even more impressive. There is also evidence that there may have been a lake near the temple which was filled with ash in an ancient volcanic eruption.

Near the top of the structure are many bell shaped objects called stupas. They contain statues of sitting Buddhas. There is one grand stupa at the top center of the building which does not have a statue inside.

Me and the teachers

Me and the teachers

My trip to Borobudur started out at 4:30am. I had signed up for the sunrise trip and I was the first person the tour van picked up. In addition to seeing the sunrise, if you arrive early you will not have nearly as many vendors trying to sell you stuff. The size of the vendor area seemed many times the size of the parking lot. Everyone seemed to be selling the exact same things. I’m not sure how anyone was able to make a living selling stuff.

I had a bunch of students walking up to me and asking me questions in English. Everyone also wanted to get their photo taken with me (something which happened to me all over Indonesia). It turned out they were there for an English class trip so they could practice speaking English. I was able strike up a conversation with their teachers. They said that Borobudur used to be packed with foreign tourists. Since the 2002 Bali bombing, hardly any foreigners come to Java anymore. Now you will see mostly domestic tourists at Borobudur. That is really a shame because Borobudur and neighboring Prambanan are really the two standout attractions in Indonesia.

Well, This Sucks

Posted by on February 28, 2008

It is now February 29 and my bank card is valid until the end of the day. My parents sent my new card to me about two weeks ago and it still hasn’t arrived. If it doesn’t show up in the afternoon mail in a few hours, I am going to be really in a pickle.

I went and extended the stay in my room until Wednesday. I did this because my card is still good so I figure it is safer to reserve more than I need so I can cancel if my card arrives. If it doesn’t arrive, I’m good until then. I’m also going to take out as much cash as I can today.

If it doesn’t arrive, I’m going to have to contact the bank and see if they can send me a new card via FedEx or something. My ability to use PayPal will also go away.

This is really the one scenario I’ve really tried to avoid my entire trip. You can usually deal with most things so long as you have access to your money.

The thing is, if I have my bank send a new card, I know, in the bottom of my heart, that the card sent by my parents will show up tomorrow. That is just the way these things work.

I should rename this site to the “Sitting in a Room in Melbourne Travel Blog”. It would be a more accurate representation of my recent travels.

The Dark Side of Traveling

Posted by on February 27, 2008

I get a lot of comments about my site that are like: “wow. what your doing is amazing. I wish I could do that”. Indeed, traveling is pretty nice. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be doing it. I’ve been able to see things, go places, and meet people that most people would never do in their lifetimes.

However, as glamorous as it seems, there is a dark side to traveling. The side you never think of that you have deal with on a daily basis when you are out on the road.

  • Body odor. Have you ever had to sit next to someone for a long period of time who had some horrendous B.O.? Often times, that guy is me. It isn’t as if I don’t shower every day. I do. I’m usually pretty paranoid about smelling bad. Back home, I would usually shower twice a day. The fact is, I only have a very small supply of clothing and I’ve spent a lot of time in places where you pretty much sweat all day. Even if I smell good, my clothes doesn’t and you can’t really wash clothes every day on the road.
  • Being stuck. I’m writing this in Melbourne. I’ve been here for it seems like forever trying to take care of paperwork. Until I get everything take care of, I can’t really leave. I’ve experienced this in the Pacific as well. I was stuck on Samoa for a week because of flight schedules. There isn’t much you can do about it but deal with it.
  • Being rushed. When you aren’t being stuck, you are often times rushed due to flight schedules. I only got to spend three days on Pohnpei, Micronesia. I wish I could have stayed there longer. Weather cut my visit to South Korea short. I got rained out on my visit to Tanna Island, Vanuatu.
  • Not knowing anyone. Yes you meet new people on the road, but they do sort of blend together. Everyone from the UK under the age of 23 is sort of the same person to me now. Almost everyone seems to fit into classification I’ve seen before: the young couple traveling, the group of girls traveling, the group of guys traveling, the guy traveling by himself. (I am not immune from the rule). Most of the people you meet have been to the same places, just in different order. The standard UK gap year trip seems to be Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, LA, New York. They may toss in some side trips to Hong Kong and take a train to Angkor Wat, but for the most part, the trips are all pretty similar. In Australia I’m seeing the “European here to work for six months”.
  • Rapid depreciation of stuff. Things tend to fall apart faster on the road than they do when you are at home. My spiffy MacBook Pro laptop which is less than a year old is really showing its age. The screen is dirty. The keyboard is dirty. The metal parts are scratched up. It works fine, but it is aging fast. My camera bag has tears in it. My clothes has stains which I will never get out. I’ve lost two hats, had a pair of sandals rip on me and crushed my prescription sunglasses. The effect of these things gets magnified when you only have a bag of stuff to your name.

Twiddling My Thumbs

Posted by on February 27, 2008

I’m still in Melbourne. My debit card expires on February 29, which is tomorrow. My parents sent my new card to me about two weeks ago and it still hasn’t arrived. If it doesn’t show up in the next two days, I’m really going to be up a creek without a paddle. I will have to contact my bank and have another card sent overnight, or as fast as something can get to Australia.

Until I can get that taken care of, I’m pretty much stuck here. I can’t really rent a car and I cant leave this facility because this is where the card is supposed to show up.

I’ve had a stomach ache all day. I’m trying to improve my diet. I’ve eaten a lot of fruit the last day and I think my body is adjusting. This is definitely the part of traveling which is no fun. The “not traveling” part.

Also, let me make my periodic shout out to vote for my site in the Bloggers Choice Awards. I’m up against a guy in the best travel blog category who runs a hostel in Buenos Aires. He gets his customers to vote for him, so I have an uphill battle. I’ve been in first place for a while, but he’s pulled up even.

Man Without A Passport

Posted by on February 25, 2008

Well, I managed to get my passport submitted and put in the queue. Going to the consulate was like my previous trips to US Embassies, which is to say it was a very weird experience.

First, the whole “appointment” thing was a total farce. It turns out the system ended up making my appointment at the Sydney Consulate. When I showed up they just waved me through anyhow, which made me wonder what the point was of the whole process of having to register days in advance on the web.

Going to the consulate was like going to the airport. I had to go through a metal detector and put my stuff through an x-ray machine (including taking off my shoes), and to wear a bar-code tag on my shirt, got escorted to an elevator which only went to the 6th floor where the consulate is. When I got up, they scanned my bar code, made me go through another metal detector and finally dumped me in a room……which was exactly the same as going to the DMV. I had to take a number and wait in line. There was no interview.

While I was waiting for my number, they showed some video on the process of getting a US visa and a “Hooray for America” video which looked like it could have been shown at the American Pavilion at Epcot Center.

The thing which always weirds me out when you have to go to any sort of Federal building is the photo of the President hanging on the wall. I don’t know when the tradition started, but it strikes me as very…….Soviet. I don’t know why the US does it. The only place where I’ve seen photos of political leaders hanging on the walls were in Brunei, Tonga and Sarawak; all of which had monarchies. If anyone knows the laws, rules or traditions around why American federal office buildings have a photo of the president on the wall, I’d love to know more.

I’ve completed most of what I set out to do in Melbourne. The passport is in the works. I got a new bag. I got most of the fixes to my website completed (although there are still a bunch to go). I should be leaving Melbourne in a few day, but I do have to be back here on March 7 to pick up my new passport. I think I’ll go visit Tasmania and maybe Adelaide before I come back and drive up the East coast.

The Seven Wonders of the Philippines

Posted by on February 24, 2008

Rice Terraces in fog

Rice Terraces in fog

Rice Terraces of Banaue
The Rice Terraces of Banaue are perhaps the most well know attraction in the Philippines, and no list of the Seven Wonders of the Philippines would be complete without them.. Located in central Luzon, they have been carved by local Ifugao people over the last 3,000 thousand years. When you visit, you can see terraces still being built today. The locals often describe the terraces as the largest man made structure created without forced labor. If each terrace were laid end to end, they would stretch almost 14,000 miles. They were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995 and placed on the endangered list in 2001.


Photo by Lexxmax

Tubbataha Reef
Located in the middle of the Sulu Sea, Tubbataha Reef is one of the largest and best preserved reef systems in the world. Actually composed to two atolls, Tubbataha is far removed from any human settlement, it is a 92 mile boat trip from the city of Puerto Princessa. The marine park covers over 968 km² and is home to over 300 coral species and 400 fish species, rivaling the diversity of the Great Barrier Reef. The few pieces of atoll which are above water are also home to a large number of seabirds. It was inscribed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites in 1993.

Chocolate Hills:

Public Domain Image from Wikipedia

Chocolate Hills
The Chocolate Hills are located on the Island of Bohol. They are over 1,200 hills, covering over 50 km² and get their name because the grass which covers the hills turns brown during the dry season. The hills are almost all conical in shape and made of limestone. Many people have believed that they were human creations. Geologists are not entirely sure how they were created. Theories include erosion of limestone, volcanic uplift, and accretion of limestone around basalt fragments from a volcanic eruption. The government of the Philippines has declared it one of their flagship tourist destinations. The Chocolate Hills are so central to the people of Bohol, they appear on the flag of the province.


Taal Volcano: Image by Johs Bousel

Taal Volcano
Taal volcano has a unique distinction in the world. It contains the largest island, inside of a lake, which is on an island, which is inside a lake, which is on an island. (got that?) Taal is a very active volcano which has killed over 5,000 people in recorded history. It has been named one of 16 decade volcanoes in the world worthy of special study. Inside the Taal caldera is Lake Tall, which is a 25km across. The lake is know for its high sulfur content and is also home to many endemic species of freshwater fish. Taal is only 50km from the city of Manila.

Mayon Volcano:

Mayon Volcano: Image by Kool.Angot

Mayon Volcano
Mayon volcano is perhaps the most perfectly shaped conic volcano in the world. It has been called by some the “Filipino Mount Fuji”. Located in south east Luzon, it is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. It has erupted close to 50 times since the year 1600, with the most recent eruption occurring in 2006. 77 people were killed in an eruption in 1993 and 75,000 people had to be evacuated from their homes during an eruption in 1984. It rises 2462 m over Legazpi City in the province of Albay.

Underground River

Underground River of Puerto Princessa

Underground River of Puerto Princessa
The Underground River is not only a UNESCO World Heritage site, but was named as one of the Earth’s New7Wonders of Nature. The Underground River is the longest subterranean river in the world, extending 8.2km underground. Over 2km is accessible to the public. The surrounding National Park includes many species including monitor lizards, the blue-naped parrot and macaque monkeys. The park is located 50km north of the city of Puerto Princessa on the island of Palawan.

Public Domain image from Wikipedia

Public Domain image from Wikipedia

Boracay is a small island approximately 200 miles south of Manila and is very close to the major island of Panay. Its white sand beaches and direct flights from all over Asia, have made it one of the Philippines most popular tourist destinations. White Beach is the longest beach on Boracay and extends 4 km on west side of the islands.

Honorable Mention

El Nido
Located on the northern tip of the island of Palawan, El Nido is known for its distinctive limestone islands and inlets. El Nido consistently scores high in surveys of top eco-tourist destinations in the world. Forbes magazine rated the wreck dives off the island of Coron as some one of the top 10 dive sites in the world. Archeological evidence of human habitation dating back 22,000 years has also been found in El Nido.

The Province of Batanes is the northern most, and smallest province in the Philippines. It is located almost halfway between is island of Luzon and Taiwan. The culture of the Ivatan people is unique in the Philippines. Crime in Batanes is almost unknown as many police officials have complained of nothing to do with zero crimes reported and no one in the jails.

Mall of Asia
It may be surprising to some, but one of the largest malls in the world is in Manila. The SM Mall of Asia is third largest mall in the world in terms of gross leaseable area, surpassed only by two malls in China (neither of which is anywhere near capacity). The Mall of Asia consists of four separate buildings connected by open air walkways. It is 50% larger than the Mall of America and 10% larger than the West Edmonton Mall. It addition to the standard mall fare, it also is host to an Olympic sized ice skating rink.

Other articles in Gary’s Wonders of the World series:
Seven Wonders of the Philippines | Seven Wonders of Australia | Seven Wonders of New Zealand | Seven Wonders of Japan | Seven Wonders of Egypt

Melbourne Happenings

Posted by on February 21, 2008

Botanical Garden, Melbourne

Botanical Garden, Melbourne

I’ve been pretty busy the last two days. I got my camera sensor cleaned today. I also picked out some bags I’m going to buy and replace all the bags I’m currently using. I’m getting moving all my camera gear to a smaller bag and getting a real backpack.

I finally got an appointment at the embassy on the 25th. I’ll go, but I’m not holding my breath.

All my photos from Borneo through East Timor are now processed and up on Flickr.

I’m now starting to do more serious planning for the invasion of the rest of the country. I think the first stop from Melbourne will be Tasmania. I just need to figure out if I should rent a car before or after Tasmania.

I know the updates have been pretty infrequent, but it should pay off in the long run.

I’m getting sort of antsy being in one spot for so long, but I can’t really move until I get my mail sent from the US and at least get the passport process started.

I’m really looking forward to driving. I haven’t really driven a car for any length of time since June. I had some short rentals in Japan and Fiji, but those were only for two days each. I’ll be doing at LOT of driving in Australia which really doesn’t bother me too much. I’ve always enjoyed road trips and having a car gives you much more freedom than you have if you are reliant on public transportation.

Getting Things Done

Posted by on February 18, 2008

After a marathon session yesterday, I got through processing all my photos. However, the Internet connection here has been down for most of two days. I get 5-10 minutes of a slow connection here and there, but that’s it. So today, I’m sitting on about 200 photos which I have to upload to Flickr. I’m feeling sort of ripped off that I had to pay for wireless here (and it costs more than using one of their computers. I don’t understand that one) and I haven’t been able to really use it the last three days.

Now I can now start, you know, going out and actually seeing Melbourne and posting some of the articles I’ve been sitting on for the last month.

I did get an automated reply from the Consulate. The automated reply took four days and told me it would take 5 business days to reply to my email. Clearly, there is no sort of incentive pay in the state department. For all I know, the date for an appointment is even further out. Factor in the email response time, and it take two weeks just to get an appointment to start the process of renewing a passport.

I took time in Melbourne to get this done. I really hope I don’t have to sit in a city for two weeks to wait for my passport somewhere else now.

Now I can look into replacing my bags. My current bag set up is horrible and something needs to be done.

I also need to start thinking of actually exploring Australia. Getting a car, mapping a real route, and having a plan.

Passport Blues

Posted by on February 17, 2008

Still no reply from the US Consulate in Melbourne after four days. The consulate is structured such that you cannot actually talk to any Americans if you go to the consulate. The lobby is a security area and they wont let you in unless you have an appointment already. The only way I can get an appointment is to lie on the form or get a reply from my email. I looked into lying on the form and the earliest I can get an appointment is on Feb. 28……10 days from now.

The site says I should mail my application in, but I’m worried that if they can’t reply to an email, if I put my passport into an envelope I’ll never see it again and I’ll be in deeper shit than I am right now. Also, I wont have a return address. If they can’t even schedule a 10 min appointment for 10 days, I’m not sure how they can process a passport in the time I’ll be in Melbourne.

My other option is to try the consulate in Sydney or the Embassy in Canaberra (both of which I’m visiting), or try another country entirely. I know from talking to staff in the Solomon Islands that the Papua New Guinea Embassy does do passports and my guess is that they aren’t that busy. If not that, I could try Singapore.

The key is to get it renewed before April 20. Many countries wont let you in if your passport has less than six months left. Mine expires in October, so that is my hard deadline.

How many people who travel require passport renewals? How often do Americans in Australia require it? They are good for 10 years. Something this simple and done so infrequently shouldn’t be this difficult. When I went to the embassy in Manila, I was able to just go in, take a number, and see someone at a window. It was just like going to the DMV. While going to the DMV isn’t a pleasant experience, it beats the hell out of having to schedule an appointment to go to the DMV.