Langkawi and the Batu Caves

My next few days on Langkawi continued the pattern of lounging around and relaxing. I read some more books and headed to Underwater World an aquarium which started off not very good and got better. At RM22 (£4.50) for students the price was OK too. I also headed to a Reggae bar on the beach and a club where surprisingly as I am massively out of practice I was complemented on my dancing! The music was solid too. Not dance but more poppy music which I prefer. I don’t go clubbing that often – I can count the number of times on my trip on one hand but if you are with friends it is great fun (though as I want to have a real attachment to a woman it’s not my ideal place to pull women.).

After Langkawi I returned to KL which was fine though the bus trip was a bit dodgily organized so I had to buy the bus ticket twice. Only RM50 (£10) lost but still it’s not good.

After arriving into KL late I went to my absolute favourite restaurant (McDonalds) for dinner before going to bed. The next day after breakfast I headed by bus (which took seemingly forever) out to the Batu Caves. These are an awesome set of caves on the outside of Kuala Lumpur. The caves are a Hindu temple and have a giant gold statue of a Hindu god outside. The caves themselves are also impressive and absolutely massive and stretch up to the top of the hill breaking through into the jungle as well as giving a great view of KL. Unfortunately they are also very dirty and smelly and need more proactive clearance of rubbish. I also headed into the dark caves for an “educational” tour which was interesting and cost RM35 (£7). This contained lots of bats and other animals which live off the bat excrement including cockroaches that was interesting to see. We also got to learn about the beautiful rock formations in the caves and a temperature controlled “wind tunnel”.

After this I headed back to KL and went back to the Petronas towers to do a brief bit of book shopping and bought this weeks Economist (which has a very interesting article on the spread of English – EDIT: link) before heading to have dinner and watch Slumdog Millionaire. First though I had the most expensive meal I’ve eaten in Malaysia which was delicious Korean food. It cost RM17 so I would spend more than RM15 to get a free cinema ticket to see Slumdog millionaire. I did OK as the cinema would have cost RM8 otherwise. On the film itself I don’t know if it’s a true story but it’s an excellent and believable tale on modern India and love that is well worth seeing if you have the chance. The premise is a guy from the Indian slums beats lawyers and rich people to win 10 million rupees (about US$200,000) and the police don’t believe him as he’s uneducated. Of course coming from the slums exposes him to the “real world” more than the lawyers so not everything is against him.

Singapore and Milk

Note that the next three posts are all new today as I managed to grab some WiFi to get them online.

So leaving India early to go to Singapore was always going to be a bit of a paradox for me. Leaving the place I was looking forward to most to go to the place I was looking forward to least and only really staying to apply for some visas.

The good news is that I’m enjoying Singapore far more than last time I was here. Maybe it’s getting more laid back (people even jaywalk here which they don’t in Japan) or maybe I accept it more having been to Japan which it is similar to in many ways and yet also different. To give it a European analogy maybe it’s like the English and the French cultures.

On Friday I slept in the morning after a healthy Mcdonalds breakfast and afterwards headed out to lunch at a nearby and excellent restaurant. It was cheap too at S$5. After this I had some shopping to do including a smartcard for public transport and a copy of the Singapore and Malaysia bible Rough Guide. This took all afternoon before I had a burger king supper (I seem to have lost some weight in India.) before heading over to a nearby cinema to catch a movie.

There wasn’t much on so I picked the film milk which from the poster looked only OK. After sitting down to watch the film it wasn’t just OK and I will fully admit to crying at some of the more emotional moments. It is a great film that I thoroughly recommend and it is definitely a true story.

For those who aren’t aware Milk is about a gay businessman called Harvey Milk who in the 1970’s who was elected to the city of San Francisco as the first openly gay city official and they shot down a proposition banning the removal of teachers for being gay or supporting gay rights; in fact though at the time even Reagan supported them.

The sad truth is that this is still happening today with proposition 8 banning gay marriage and that influential organizations such as Apple are supporting gay rights today (though they weren’t as effective as Milk. In the UK things are much better as we have “civil partnership” for gays which has the rights of marriage but not the name to avoid upsetting the religious which is fair enough in my book and it seems the American gays haven’t taken that compromise position.

Journey to Tokyo

I took the train up from Wellington to Auckland on Saturday which was pretty good and the train left early on Saturday morning for it’s journey first along the coast and then through the mountains. Unfortunately the windows are far too shiny to really get a good photo and there is too much pollen on the viewing platform for me. We did stop at lunchtime which gave me a chance for a quick walk as I’d already had some sandwiches on the train.

We arrived into Auckland in the evening (though 1.5 hours late which I wasn’t at all happy about – the reason was that the track was too hot.) and once there I went to sleep before my early 7.30am flight to Brisbane. For this flight I got up at 4.25am which is ungodly and then as the airport bus was early (4:40 not 4:44 as it was supposed to be.) I had to run up a 1:4 hill to catch it before collapsing on the floor of the bus (you try it with a 18kg rucksack – I’m not in the army.). I did manage to get a shower at the airport in Auckland. The flight was uneventful except that I had to run for my plane at Brisbane and JALWAYS gave us lots of food and drink though the films were all absolutely terrible. The best one was about a playboy bunny and solority houses and I’m not even kidding. It was also followed by the worlds longest taxi into the airport.

After that I made my way through the friendly and efficient security checks (the other airport staff and people around the airport were friendly too – male and female :p) to get my Japan Rail Pass and train ticket to Shinjuku station. I should also mention how insanely reliable the Japanese trains are. The 18:10 rapid train that I didn’t catch shut it’s doors at 18:09:5x but was still standing in the station when my iPod touch went over to 18:10:00. The track is also insanely smooth as it’s dark outside it doesn’t feel like the train is actually moving at all, ok it had stopped but I hadn’t noticed.

Further on on the journey we passed houses with garish Christmas lights though in general Tokyo is a lot darker with far fewer lights visible than in a Western city. The centre is still very bright though.

The other thing I’m immediately interested in discovering aside from the general culture is the technology. Japan has a reputation of being the most technologically advanced country on the planet, yet most of the most successful companies for 100 years have been American; from IBM to Microsoft to Apple and Google today.

The trip to Christchurch

As I didn’t want to go on the internet for an hour I haven’t been on Wifi for a while so I haven’t made any posts. So the post on Wellington is also new.

First thing on Saturday I headed across from Wellington to the port on the South Island known as Picton. The boat ride across was fairly windy but the boat was so big (and undoubtably has stabilizers) that it didn’t get tossed around by the sea. After arriving in Picton which was a bit chaotic but I safely made it onto the train south and as it left at 1pm I had plenty of time for lunch too. Then after a relaxing train ride down the coast I arrived in Kaikoura. My accommodation, like most accommodation in town was a long 500m walk from my hostel which wasn’t much fun. In the evening I went to a fairly pricey restaurant to try some crayfish which was very well cooked but unfortunately the crayfish itself didn’t really taste of anything (so basically the sauce was nice).

Then in the morning I got up early for the Dolphin Encounter, the weather wasn’t as nice as the previous day so the boat rocked and heaved a lot in the water. It was also really cold especially on my hands and feet, though even on Tahiti I don’t think the sea is exactly warm. Anyhow getting to see the dolphins so close beneath you was amazing and a hugely rewarding experience and there were loads and even some with babies and even though they didn’t pay much attention to us, maybe because the sea was so rough or they were bored with people in their water. On the last trip when returning to the boat one of my flippers fell off so I had to swim faster than I’ve ever swam before to get back to the boat; I think the sea was pushing me away and then I did feel seasick.

After that I had a simple but good chicken and Brie panini and hot chocolate which definitely warmed me up inside. After that I headed back to the hostel to get my stuff for the train. The train ride passed through a lot of tunnels and spectacular scenery visible through shiny glass on it’s way to Christchurch. Once I got there I got a taxi for the first time since Iquique in Chile to my hostel as I wasn’t going to carry it from the train station to my hostel. In the evening I avoided McDonalds for a cheap meal by having some Greek food for dinner. You may notice I haven’t had much traditional New Zealand food (like guinea pig in Peru) as you aren’t allowed to eat Kiwi and even the Maori meal was chicken and lamb. I then went off to the cinema to see the new Bond film which was excellent and it had a good plot as well as lots of action, the only criticism was that it was a bit too Hollywood (I.e. Bond would get shot at lots and all the bullets would miss and he’d shoot back once and hit.) The cinema was pretty comfortable too; much more comfortable than the cinemas in Oxford.

Bay of Islands

I had a fairly lazy stay in the bay of islands actually and I didn’t do that much except wince at the food prices as every meal seemed to cost £9 which makes it more expensive than New York – of course now the exchange rate is approximately $1=£1 that is no longer the case but it was certainly true when I was there before the exchange rates went insane.

On the middle day I headed out into the bay on a sail catamaran which was great fun – the boat got really wet so it had to be dodged as we sailed pretty damn fast as the wind was strong. I also did some sea kayaking which was great fun around an island where we stopped for lunch and I also did some shoeless walking as the boat captain refused to bring my shoes over in his dingy and I didn’t want to get them wet in my kayak.

Then on the Thursday I caught the bus down towards Rotaruha – as usual the bus didn’t show a Hollywood movie – not even the Zohan and it also regularly stopped for rest stops rather than providing food and toilets on board. This is a total downgrade from South American buses.

Heading North

From Auckland I headed north of Auckland on the bus. Unlike the buses in south America they didn’t have Hollywood’s greatest on offer for entertainment and they also stopped the bus at a service station on route.

So instead of the low-brow film I get to talk about the book I read instead. I’m currently reading a book on Mathematical Finance (generally my absolute favourite topic) and randomness which is very interesting and it is called Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholad Taleb. It has a lot of relevence to the current financial crisis which is more interesting as the edition I am reading was published in 2004.

He made his money betting on random events occurring as even though he then took small losses in the steady markets he makes big in volitile markets. He also has an interesting view on Hedge Funds which are usually dispised that they are actually a good thing and show that the stock market isn’t rational. Basically he is saying that many investors (who I believe are primarily banks and pension funds so aren’t just investing the money of the rich) act stupidly and people are promoted because of knowledge of the current market that don’t take into account of bad events that aren’t occurring at that moment. Of course those things do happen and in the process banks lose hundreds of millions of dollars in a very short space of time. Maybe we need to put our money with banks who will invest it sensibly (and often conservatively, though he also says that risks are fine if you understand them.). To an extent I’d guess there is positive correlation with good customer service, though I’m sure it isn’t 100%.

Once I got off the bus my cousin picked me up and we went and did a few chores before having a nice dinner at home and heading out to a band launch and some other bars/clubs in Whangerai. The next day we headed out down the winding roads of the region to the excellent Kauri forest museum (the Kauri trees are massive New Zealand trees that last for thousands of years and are a bit like a redwood.) which talked about both logging and the Kauri gum trade which were at there peak at the start of the 20th century. The museum also had lots of information on logging and how the wood was exported, mostly to Australia, but also to Europe, Hong Kong and the Americas. The museum also showed some wood buried in coal for 20 million years that still had a wood-like appearance. If Kauri furniture could last even a fraction of that time it’d be seriously special. So after seeing that we had a late lunch before heading back to my cousins house. In the evening we watched Matrix Revolutions which was as shit and overblown as the last time I’d seen it. It also dragged on for hours meaning we didn’t get to bed until 1am.

Then on Sunday we headed out down more winding (and in cases non-tarmaced but decent roads) to take a look at both the biggest and second biggest Kauri trees which were massive. Something else I liked was that unlike the redwood they aren’t the only trees in the forest meaning you can get to see a good look at the scale of them. After that we headed to a forest lookout so you could see the unbroken canopy of forest of the region which although lots of logging has taken place the remaining forest isn’t broken into tiny pieces as it is in Argentina.

You may have also noticed that I haven’t talked about the culture in New Zealand compared to the other places I’ve visited. This is because the culture here is pretty similar to the UK. It is a bit more relaxed and trusting though.

Jungle and El Soberbio

The short version is that the Jungle wasn’t very good and it probably made me sick and then El Soberbio was full of kind helpful people who helped me get better. If you really want to know more gory details you’ll have to wait as I need a refund for the advance payment for the trip out that they insisted on (I should note that in general the Argentinians are honest and don’t pull tricks like this, of course I still shouldn’t have agreed to it.).

On the way I did go on a boat trip to Saltos del Monica a set of waterfalls in the middle of the river Uruguay which was amazing and we got really up close and personal to the waterfall. I also got some really cool sunset pictures as it was just getting dark when the boat got back to shore. Some even came out well without the sunset mode being on on the camera.

Then I got the bus back to Buenos Aires with Via Bariloche again (arranged by my hotel) and that included a free transfer to the bus terminal at San Vincente so I’m not complaining. On the bus we saw a crappy Disney movie and then an endearing and sometimes irritating French film.

One thing I did learn from the French film was that words that refer to life’s pleasures such as sex and alcohol are generally the same in every language! Modern words such as computer and air conditioning are the same but that’s not the same thing.

After dinner we saw another Hollywood film called “Licence to Wed” which was a cold dark thriller (OK it was a romantic comedy). It starred Robin Williams and was set in Chicago and was pretty funny and enjoyable.

Then this morning I got back to Buenos Aires on time, which was a surprise but I have several things to do today.

The Iguazu Falls

So I caught the bus with Via Bariloche to Puerto Iguazu which was about £30. The bus was very comfortable; much more so than buses in England. After dinner they played a Disney movie called Game Plan about American football (and ballet) which was quite bad but still fairly entertaining; it contained the worlds most mature eight year old it was worse than Gossip Girl’s 17 year olds who act like 21 year olds in maturity. It also contained the worlds most predictable love plot (it hasn’t actually happened yet as I’m writing this but it’s sure to — in the end they went on a date.).

We arrived in Puerto Iguazu at 1.30 pm which was 2 hours late so I didn’t have much time at the waterfall yesterday. I went up to see the Gran Diablo falls at the top of the Iguazu system. You had to go on a walkway a long way (1100m) to get to the waterfall. First you were tempted by a haze of spray from above the trees and then once you did you got the most amazing view of a waterfall that I’ve ever seen. You can’t even see the bottom due to the spray and there is a permanent almost circular rainbow in the spray. After spending 15 minutes at the waterfall and taking lots of photos (sometimes a bunch of spray came up from the waterfall so I carefully protected my camera from that.)

After that I then got a boat back downriver to the centre of the complex. This went on quiet waterways and let you see birds flying overhead as we went which was a relaxing end to the day.

After that I went back to my room and cooked myself some dinner as I have a stove there. I had bought food in the supermarket to do so, it was great fun afterwards washing the stuff up with a cloth and cold water. I also didn’t get food poisoning as of 8am as I write this. Then after dinner I watched some TV, they had some American TV with subtitles in Spanish so I could actually understand it!

Then this morning I got up really early at 6.30am so that I’d have lots of time at the waterfall. I left just 7am and had to run to get the bus as I was given the wrong time, I had to do this past the bus station attendent with a whisle yeah when running for a bus I’m really not going the bus way and it’s totally safe anyway (they’ve literally done this when the bus station is empty.). After I got on the bus after passing through immigration I was told where to get off for the waterfall which was very kind of them (unlike the attendents the bus drivers are all really nice). By 8am I was at the park in Brazil. Unfortunately even though I am here really early unlike the Argentinian park the damn place didn’t open until 9am! The other problem with Puerto Iguazu itself is that they don’t have any obvious foreign exchanges fortunately it wasn’t a big issue though I had to get some Brazilian currency from an ATM making my bank very rich; guys I hope you’re happy, you’re the only ones who are with the cash issues here.

After that I went and had a look at the paroramas of the waterfall from the Brazillian side of the falls and they were absolutely awesome. Even though I’d seen the Gran Diablo the day before they were still incredible. There were several viewpoints and by quick-marching off the bus I managed to have several of them to myself. There were a few other people around though so I got some shots of me in front of the waterfall (which my friend Jamie will love :p). As usual you will need to have a Flickr account and be on my Flickr friends list to see those pictures though my others will be generally viewable.

From there we got a bus to the border and then a taxi to the falls on the Argentinian side with some other English people for $7.50 each which for a 50 minute ride wasn’t bad at all.

Then after I got back to the Argentinian side I had lunch and drowned a wasp which got in my drink (they were everywhere). I then went on the upper trail which was only OK though the view at the end was really good.

After that I headed down the lower trail to get up close and personal with the waterfalls which was also well worth seeing there was a lot of climbing to keep me fit too. I also went on a boat ride into the heart of 2 waterfalls which was fun but very wet! Pictures will come from back in Buenos Aires.

PS I hope everyone back in the UK (and elsewhere) has had a good summer so far, let me know in the comments what you’ve been up to.

PPS there’ll be no more posts until I’m back in Buenos Aires as i’m heading into the jungle and there is no internet there.