About A Backpacker: What It Is To Be Backpacker

Although I am a traveller, I don’t like being called a backpacker because there are certain images that people get of backpackers that I don’t exactly feel I fit.  I don’t like to call myself a budget traveller either because everyone travels on a budget.  Some people have high budgets while others have low budgets.  I like to call myself an independent traveller.  Occasionally when I’ve been travelling, I have had people join me who are on holidays and I have felt clashes in the style of travelling that I have never felt when I link up with random travellers on my travels.  It has made me realize that I am a backpacker.  Being a backpacker is not about the type of luggage you use, the clothes you wear or how unkempt your hair is; it’s a state of mind.  The following are some points that define backpackers.

1. The journey is as important as the destination. It’s like being a treasure hunt. At the end of the hunt, you may not find the treasure but you enjoy the hunt.  In the literal sense, it can be likened to choosing independent travel over tours. It is much easier to have someone else organize your travels for you but we actually prefer to do it ourselves.  It’s part of the adventure.  Figuring out local transit, sitting on old rickety buses, being packed into buses beyond capacity, and dealing with awkward schedules is all part of the fun of travel.  In other instances, you may not have the ideal situation for visiting your destination but you can still have an amazing time because you enjoy the moment. Sihanoukville beach, Cambodia 2003, with two other travellers, raining and yet we still had an amazing time in the sea and crashing someone’s beach party.

2.  We form intimate connections with strangers very quickly.  It’s amazing how quickly travellers seek each other out and how quickly in a short amount of time we will divulge intimate details of our lives that normally would take time to reveal.  I think about the man I just recently sat beside on a plane who shared with me his disappointment that he had never been able to have children.  He even challenged me in some of my thoughts toward my future.  After this 1 hour and 20 minute plane ride, we both bid each other farewell and said good bye.  Amazing, how we do this.

3. We relish the hardships of travelling.  Being taking advantage of by a taxi driver, getting lost on your travels, losing your money- all horrible things that can go wrong, but somehow or other, these are the stories we thrive on.  These are the stories that get swapped among travellers.  When we encounter hardships, our emotions may get the better of us, but these are the memories that we take with us and the stories that we repeat to everyone.

4. We sometimes feel a bit superior.  We feel that we are better than tourists because we get to know the locals better.  The truth is that most backpackers stick together and seldom go off the beaten track.  We usually travel along networks and stick to touristy areas.

5. Probably the most defining feature, backpackers don’t convert money.  We may come off as cheap to many tourists, but we simply don’t convert prices back to our home currency.  We are aware of the conversion rate when we exchange money or make a big purchase but once we work out our limit for accommodation and food, we learn to function in that currency.  So yes, we will haggle over what converts to be 50cents.  We will bargain for better rates at hostels, and market stalls even if it’s only a dollar we are saving.  Once we know the basic price of certain things, we feel taken advantage of if a vendor is trying to take more money off of us, we are not walking ATMs!  We will spend precious time shopping around to get the best rates even if it converts to be an insignificant amount.  We are aware and okay with the fact that there are two pricing systems, one for locals and one for foreigners, but we don’t buy into the philosophy that locals have so little and we have so much- it’s not just about the material things. It’s not that we are cheap, by no means are we cheap.  We are enigmas because we somehow have money to travel forever, and when there is something meaningful to us, we cough up the money to spend.  We are just selective on what we spend our money on.

I embrace the fact that I’m a backpacker, the good and the bad of it. I wouldn’t do it any other way.

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The Gilis

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After almost two weeks in Bali, I met up with friend from London and we headed to the Gili Islands which are located off of the island of Lombok.  Gili actually means small island, and there are several small islands surrounding Lombok, but there are three islands which have collectively come to be known as the Gilis: Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan (Gili T for short).  I had only heard great things about these islands and that it is a must to do in Indonesia.  Their populations are small, they have no police here and they have no motorized transport, so you either walk, ride a bicycle or take a  horse drawn carriage around the islands.  Each island has a personality of its own and I only wish that I had had more time to explore each island thoroughly.

Gili Air is the closest to the Lombok.  I only did some small exploration on this island.  This island is known as the middle ground between mellow Meno and backpacker Trawangan.  It’s has a more chilled out atmosphere than Gili T.  It’s probably what Gili T was like 10 years ago.  When you go into the interior of the island, you can see the local villages and can get more a sense of their lifestyle than you can on Gili T.  The coral reefs tend to come right up to the island, so swimming is a bit more challenging off of this island.  If you are looking for a quieter more chilled place, then Gili Air would be a good place to rest your head.

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Gili Meno was completely different than both islands.  Completely not what I expected.  It is the least populated and has the least amount of tourists that stay there.  The beaches are better here, much easier to access the water.  The island itself is almost barren.  The most activity on the island occurs around the ferry port.  It has this amazingly eerie feeling to it.  It’s wild with jungle growing all throughout it with a lake on the north part of the island.  Parts of the vegetation are decayed and dying.  There are former resorts that have been abandoned and are crumbling.  You can’t help yourself from creating a story in your head as to what disaster could have possibly happened on this island to give it this feeling of a ghost town.

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Gili T, the backpacker island, is where I based myself.  The busiest of the islands with the most amount of restaurants and bars still had a chilled atmosphere.  Definitely a lot more chilled than Kuta Beach in Bali.  The best way to sum up the atmosphere of all the Gilis is when I went to rent a bicycle, I asked if they had a lock for the bike.  The guys response to me was “No one steals here.  If you lose the bike, then just come back and I’ll give you another one.”  Gili T has a small hill that you can climb and get a view of the Meno across the way.  When you explore the interior of the island, as you get further in, you see less homestays and start to see the locals homes and their farms.  The best way to spend the day there is riding a bicycle around the island, hopping off with your snorkel gear and going into the crystal blue water.  You can walk right out from the beach and snorkel around the island and see a variety of fish.

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Climbing pole- game that is played to get gifts down from top of pole

Climbing pole- game that is played to get gifts down from top of pole

 

 

Of course, there had to be some fun and adventure on the islands.  One night on Gili T, after dinner we went to have some drinks.  Being low season, the bars were quite quiet.  We went to this bar that was part of a dive centre.  There were 5  others there who were part of the dive centre. They were drinking and having a good time and then they started throwing each other in the pool.  My friend asked me if I had ever been thrown into a pool.  I said I’ve been thrown in water, but not a pool.  Maybe 10 minutes later we looked up from the bar and saw a couple of the people staring at us and then calling us to get into the water.  No way did I want to go in.  One of them came over to grab me but I lowered my body weight to the ground so that I couldn’t be picked up.  Then my friend, who was conveniently still in his trunks, decided to help them out and throw me in.  He undressed into his trunks before they threw him in.  When I came out, I was so drenched that water kept falling from my clothes every time I rung it out.  They (the dive people and my friend) I think threw me in 3 times.  But it was alright, I got some free shots out of it.  Admittedly it was a fun night.

To Rafters Out There, Where The Rapids At?

Having had my first white water rafting experience being on the Zambezi river in Zimbabwe which was then followed a few weeks later by rafting on the Nile River in Uganda, it’s no wonder that I’m a bit of a rafting snob. So I find it frustrating when I find myself somewhere with with white water rafting and I can’t get the information that I need about the river.  Most of the time, the booking agencies can’t answer my questions: how many rapids? what are the grades? which is the best season? And sometimes the company can’t either.  Looking online doesn’t help much either. You can’t find this information easily but instead find reviews from people who have rafted the river.  You can’t go on this information because people’s perspective is based on their experience. For the first time rafter, a river with grade 2 rapids provides enough of an adrenaline rush for them. I’m looking for grade 3, 4.

In Bali, I found myself in the dilemma of to raft or not to raft? I had one fact down pact, the Ayung river was too tame for me.  If I wanted extreme, then the Telaga Waja River was for me. I still wasn’t convinced and I couldn’t find the information I wanted online, but for around 30USD, I thought why not.  There are two dead give aways that the river is benign. 1, there is no need for safety kayaks and 2 all the guides are local.  When I arrived at the river, I was able to deduce that the river was going to be benign.  The Telaga Waja river is mainly grade 2 with a waterfall at the end.  It was different from other rivers that I had been on as it was narrow and shallow.  The guide did most of the work and we just had to forward paddle on the calm bits, but most of the time we were instructed to hold on.  There were many rocks in the river and along the bank, so we found ourselves being bumped around by the rocks.  It was almost like bumper boats against the rocks. The rapids themselves were mild.  It was being thrown around in different directions by the rocks that provided any stomach flipping moments.  We never found ourselves in a moment when we had to paddle the life out of ourselves in order to get through rapids, or else, be sucked into an eddy.  However, there were a few memorable moments: the waterfall which sent my legs flying in the air; the boat getting stuck on a rock and taking on water so we had to use body weight to get us around; and I slipped off the boat when I let go of the rope when I shouldn’t have.  I was able to grab the rope again before completely falling out of the boat.  So just my back was out off the boat but I could feel the rocks underneath me.

For 30 USD, you can have some fun being bumped around by rocks and experience a waterfall.  If it’s grade 4 rapids that you are after and having to work hard in the boat to navigate a river, then the Telaga Waja river is not for you.

Waterfall.  Sorry no actual rafting photos of me.

Waterfall. Sorry no actual rafting photos.

Bali Impressions

When adding photos to this blog entry, I realized that I have fonder memories of Bali than I thought.

Marcia's Travels

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Here I am now in Bali. While traveling through South East Asia, I’ve only heard the most amazing things about Bali. So I had high expectations when coming here. But I have to admit that once I got here, I thought what’s the big deal with Bali? The following are some of my impressions of Bali.

1. My first destination was Kuta Beach and the beach was absolutely filthy. The beach is a dumping beach and known for good surfing.  However, there was so much garbage in the water that you couldn’t enjoy a swim without a plastic bag getting caught on you legs with every wave.  I was told that since this is rainy season, the wind blows the garbage in from Java. In the summer months, the beach is clean and the water blue and it’s actually a really stunning beach. But for now when you go in the…

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It’s More Fun in The Philippines

Some photos to go along with the adventures. Such good memories! El Nido is a must see!

Marcia's Travels

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As my travels in the Philippines continued, it seemed that they were becoming more adventurous. My next location was on the island of Palawan, specifically El Nido. El Nido is this small rustic town, more like a village, used as a base for island hopping to do some spectacular snorkelling. This is a town without electricity between 6am to 2pm, no ATMs, no hot water and shops and restaurants that don’t necessarily cater to tourists.  Other than the island hopping there were other activities that could occupy your time.

One of these was cliff climbing. There should be no need for explanations as to what cliff climbing is, however, I sometimes don’t process things properly. At this point in my travels, I’d hijacked a German. He didn’t have proper shoes but true to Filipino standards of health and safety, he was told flip-flops were fine. For solidarity, I wore mine…

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D’Talipapa- A Fish Lover’s Paradise

Much better to see what the colourful fish and seafood looked like in the best fish market that I’ve been to.

Marcia's Travels

 

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After the north, it was time to head to the beaches and see what all the fuss was about the Philippine beaches.  First I headed to the small island of Boracay.  This island was so unbelievable touristy.  People from all over South East Asia fly here to just have a week of relaxation, partying, clubbing, water sports, whatever you may like, there is something for everyone.

Although a bit too touristy for me, it did have its little charms.  One in particular for me was the small fish market tucked into the alleyways known as D’ Talipapa.  Here you can peruse the market of freshly caught or still alive fish and seafood.  You can buy the fish or seafood and then take it to one of the many restaurant stalls, who will cook it up for you with a choice of different styles.  You can also get some vegetables…

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Trekking, Caving, Climbing- I love the Philippines!

I’ve added a few photos to this blog and thought I’d post it again.

Marcia's Travels

 

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As much as I loved China, it was time to move on from the coldness there and onto some sunshine.  To the Philippines I headed.  The Philippines, an archipelago, has many beaches but I decided that I would venture north into their “mountainous” region first.  I highjacked a Russian, who would keep popping up in my adventures in the Philippines, and escaped the diesel scented, traffic jammed city of Manila.   I’m glad I did this because it was up here that I noticed some South East Asian customs that I didn’t take note of elsewhere.  For example, the orange stained teeth and red splotches on the ground from the betel leaf chewing, and the not so pleasant spitting and snot bombs.

People travel north to Banaue to discover the rice terraces.  Banaue or Bagiou are the entrance points into this region.  Although, not the rainy season for the…

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