Monday, December 22, 2014

On top of the world - volcano trekking - Bali, Indonesia


It was a night like all other nights except that this one was special.  We woke up at 1:30 in the night to get ready for a volcano trekking on Mount Batur.  Our driver was a small guy riding a car that look somehow like an old jeep.  As small as he was he was driving fast as the wind on the roads of Ubud.  I remember I was feeling lucky is night, there is no one on the streets and the trees are standing still.


One hour drive got us to a local farm for Luwak Coffee were we served breakfast.  Walked on a small path to an open air room with not more than 3 tables and some chairs around them.  We were the first to arrive and we devoured the served coffee and banana pancakes.  As the cold was setting in we decided to join the ladies in the outside kitchen cooking for the other people that were expected to arrive.  Slowly more tourists were starting to arrive.

 
Around 3:30 in the morning everybody was packed in cars and on the road to the volcano.  We met with the guides that accompanied us up the mountain.  The trek was well organized with a guide for every 3 -4 people.  We were all provided with lanterns and started walking on a wide path with black volcanic sand.  Slowly the path got narrower and tilted so that everybody was walking in a row and we had to pay attention all the time not to slip.  Light was coming from so many lanterns that at some point I had to close mine just to keep my head from spinning.


After 1 hour and a half of walking on the titled path I was getting worried about the walk and more and more tired.  At first it was cold outside and then it started to get warmer and warmer as we were walking more and more up on the volcano.  With the help of the guide we reached almost the top of the volcano at the guides’ refugee where everybody stopped for sunrise.  Gabi (the courageous part of Areyouhappy :p) and some other tourists together with part of the guides took the higher path made only of volcanic sand to the top of the volcano.

Since it was my first time trekking I was too tired to walk the last part of the trek I decided to wait for the other climbers to come back at the guides refugee place on top of the mountain where everybody stops to watch the sunrise.  It was windy and cold outside and these guys were nice to invite me to stay inside with them until the sun will rise and my friends will be back.
 


I could hear outside the rumour of some tourists waiting for their friends and the wind blowing.  Inside the fire was burning, hot tea and coffee was served together with banana sandwiches (nothing more than warm bread and warm banana served all together).  I spent maybe 1 hour or more with six local guides and a mid-age Danish lady in the same big room, with a stone bed, a table and chairs around it, and a simple cooking area.

Most of the guides knew some basic conversational English and I knew only a few words in  Bahasa Indonesia.  We didn’t know each other’s names but that didn’t matter.  They told me stories about normal life in Indonesia and shared with me their fried banana sandwiches.  At times they were talking amongst themselves in their language in such a peaceful voice that I had the feeling I can perfectly understand them and feel their worries and concerns for everyday life.

At 6:15 Gabi called me from the top of the volcano.  She was waiving to me and I could barely see her.  She had the voice of a happy person, a voice that reminded me why we travel and why we are so lucky to be able to do it as often as we do it.

While the sun was getting ready to show its face one of the guides was slowly singing “Everybody loves somebody”.  Our guide was laying outside on the stone bench sleeping and I was warming up in the shades of the sun going more up and up on the sky while gazing to the lake that was starting to take a shape at the bottom of the mountain.  It was one of the best sunsrises I've seen in my life.



When the sun went up we were shown the crater of the volcano and places in the mountain where hot air is coming out just like in a sauna.  We started the descent at 7 and we reached the bottom of the mountain and the cars to take us back to our hotel around 8.  The descent was on the same path and seemed to me easier than the walk in the night because this time I was starting to get used with the path and the dark was gone.

Our guide on the mountain was Senegal – a nickname that he got for having a well-built body and some tattoos.  He is the one we have to thank for bringing us safe and sound at the bottom of the mountain the next morning.  He learned English with the tourists because school is expensive and his parents did not afford to send him to school (like it happens with so many in Indonesia).  He made amazing hot banana sandwiches.  He smoked but said that’s not damaging his health because he is constantly trekking the mountain.  He was not that tall but all the guides called him hot because he was strong for an Indonesian man.  He walked up the mountain every night with tourists to earn enough money to survive.  Like him, so many others are mountain guides in Indoneisa to make a living. 



Tips and tricks:
  •  wear appropriate shoes; the last part of the trek (towards the top of the volcano) has a path made only from volcanic sand so you need good shoes (Gabi trekked up to the top in New Balance while I had some slippery Tommy Hilfiger shoes so not good for trekking);
  • have a cap or something to cover your head and a long sleeved blouse; the wind is blowing stronger on the mountain and the morning is pretty cold taking into account also the fact that the trek will make you sweat;
  • the trek has medium difficulty if you have experience with trekking mountains; for the first timers (like I was) it’s pretty much difficult;
  • trekking sticks are not that useful since the path is sandy and with volcanic stones and it’s hard to find a place for support;
  • pay attention to the stealing monkeys;
  • on top of the mountain eggs boiled in the volcano and friend banana sandwiches are served included in the price of the trek; you can also get hot tea or coffee for small price;
  • you can spend time inside the refugee of the guides if it’s too cold outside and you want to take a rest;
  • buy trekking tours (as other tours around Bali) from the agencies in the city; in Ubud we found the trekking tour for 25 USD per person while or travel agency was selling the same trek for 87 USD and our guide for 65 USD;
  • try this trek; the experience is well worth it :p. 
You can find more pictures from Bali here https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.607745202687374.1073741861.230727360389162&type=3

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The magic world of Harry Potter, Warner Bros. Studio, London


Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you'd expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn't hold with such nonsense...” this is how the magic world of Harry Potter begin.  The idea of Harry Potter came to J. K Rowling on a delayed train from Manchester to London in 1990.  In 1995, Rowling finished her manuscript for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and after several refusals the book was finally published by Bloomsbury in 1997.  This was followed by 6 more books and 8 movies that conquered the world.
 


If you happen to be in London and you are a movie lover you must not miss a tour of the Making of Harry Potter in the Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden.  Leavesden, originally an aerodrome for the production of aircrafts during the World War II, was turned into movies studios by Warner Bros. Studios.  In 2000 the studios started to be used by Heyday Films on behalf of Warner Bros. and have been the home of Harry Potter movies since then.

As the guide introducing you to the studios will say, a visit to the studios usually takes around 3 hours but it can also take anywhere between 30 minutes and 13 hours.  Walking through the gates of Hogwarts you are instantly teleported into the world of Harry Potter.



The visit carries you through two hangars and one outdoor area where you can see anything from rooms, offices, costumes, props, special effects, testing area for wands, special area for flying on broomsticks and so much more.
Everything we see in the movies, from costumes, to tapestry, paintings on the walls, props, newspapers, leaflets, wands was designed to bring to life the words of J. K. Rowling.


 What could not be designed in material shape was put together with the help of special and visual effects.   

Just to give you some numbers by the time the production ended in 2011 there were 5,000 pieces of furniture, 12,000 handmade books and 40,000 Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes products and packages specially made or purchased for the movie. 
More than 3,000 wands were made for the films using combinations of wood, plastic, resin and rubber. Olivanders was the home of more than 17,000 individually labelled wand boxes.  If you look carefully, you can see on the wand boxes the names of each and every person that was involved over time in the making of Harry Potter.
What impress about the studios is the fact that you get a chance to get behind the scenes of the movie, to understand a glimpse about visual effects, special effects, set decorations, hair and make-up, directing, producing, marketing and to get a sense of how important is each and every person involved in the making of a movie, from the person that appears in front of us on the big screens to the person that rubs the floors or brings the coffee every morning when the shooting starts.


It is said that 4,000 people contributed to the making of Harry Potter movies.  We don’t get to see them on screen and we don’t really get to appreciate their work.  But for what is worth, there would be no magic world of Harry Potter without these guys and visiting the studios in Leavesden makes each and every one of them special.
Practical tips:
- buy/reserve the ticket online http://www.wbstudiotour.co.uk/ ;
- if you plan to use the metro and trains to get to the studios plan around 1:30 – 2:00 for the trip to cover the metro, the train and the bus taking you from Watford Junction to the Harry Potter Studios;
- the bus from Watford Junction comes every 20 minutes; do check the schedule of the bus for the specific day you plan to visit; the ride takes not more than 10 minutes;
- if you get hungry, in the outdoor scenes you can find something to drink (the butterbeer is really a must try) and to eat;
- save some energy for the souvenir shop; it is full of all you can imagine and it’s a must to take home at least a wand.

J. K. Rowling: “The stories we love best do live in us forever, so whether you come back by page or by the big screen Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”

Friday, October 10, 2014

The voice of Boracay - Ferns Tosco

Do you guys know where and what Boracay is?  Well we admit we knew nothing about Boracay until we decided to embark this September on a journey through Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines.  Boracay is a small island in the Philippines; so small that its area is of 10.32 km2.  Still, it holds over 350 beach resorts, the best beaches and sunsets we have seen and some of the most amazing people we've met by now.

We arrived in Boracay on a Monday morning on a boat from the island of Caticlan following two flights in a row from Denpasar (Bali) to Manila and from Manila to Caticlan.  Once in the small Caticlan airport we booked a fast transfer to our hotel in Boracay.  Maria Torres (a Spanish name for a true Filipino lady) carried as fast as the wind from the airport to the boat that would take us to the beautiful Island of Boracay and than further to our hotel.
 
How does one fall in love with an island it barely knew before?  Well, here comes the subject of this post.  Because this is not a typical post about a location, what to see and what to do or not do; this post is about a beautiful singer we met during our trip that made this Island stick forever in our hearts.  
We found Ferns Tosco in our first night in Boracay.  Wandering on the beach near Beach Station 2 we could hear some live music coming from one of the beach bars. And we figure why not sit down, have a drink and enjoy the music of this amazing girl.
 
It ended up being a memorable night, with great music and good food.  At the end we couldn’t help it and we just had to meet Ferns and buy her album. We were surprised to meet this warm young girl, with big eyes and even a bigger smile, happy to chat with us.



We spent four blissful nights in the company of Ferns Tosco and the Bom Bom Bar talented singers and band members with a combination of Filipino music, Reggae music, oldies but goldies, modern tunes.  We sang along with these guys like we never sang before, we danced on their music in that way…you know…like no one is watching and we made good friends with their tunes on the background.



We will for sure never forget that feeling when you have your feet in the sand, a San Miguel beer in your hand, palm trees around you and you just sing “I want to go back to the Island called Boracay…there’s a place that I can call home…



For a detailed story about Ferns and how her album was born just click the link below - it's worth it



We say thank you Ferns for sharing with us your love for Boracay and we look forrward to meeting you again in Europe or in the Island, wherever our feet will carry us first...

As for you guys if you became just a little bit curious about this Boracay Island that Ferns is singing so frenetically about stay tuned for our next post where we unveil some tips on how to get there, what to do/not to do, what to expect and what to experience.