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Saturday, July 11, 2015

100 Days in a Backpack

3nd July, 2015
100 DAYS!!

Today marks a big mile stone for Brandon and me. We have officially spent 100 days living out of our backpack and life couldn't be better. I have gotten really good at packing/ unpacking and knowing exactly where everything is stored. I'm excellent at haggling and sometimes find myself trying to haggling even when I don't want something, only to realize I can get that hour long massage for 3 US dollars and end up giving in.

Nearly everything in southeast Asia is up for negotiation and after being in the area for over 3 months now, we know what things cost, and we stand our grounds. Unfortunately the dreaded "tourist tax" can't always be avoided. Previously called white man's tax, (enter politically correct term tourist tax) is when locals see your fresh white Westernized skin and automatically double maybe even triple the price. The local will size you up, ask where your from, and only then determine what your cost will be by how you answer. I can tell you one thing, America is the WRONG answer! Either way I guess this comes with the territory, and any Westerner, even a budget backpacker has more money than most locals dream of.

We've been in Indonesia for almost two weeks now and we're starting to learn the language, understand the culture and know what to order for food. It's definitely cheaper than anywhere we've been (full dinner plate .60 cents at a Warung), and the beaches are lovely and quiet. We started off by flying to the island of Bali by way of Borneo, an island that is half Malaysian, half Indonesian (more on that later), and we headed up to the island of Java to see the natural phenomena of blue fire from Mount Ijen. There are only two spots in the world where this can be seen and the most magnificent was here in Indonesia.

From Denpasar, Bali, we took a 4 hour bus, one hour ferry, and a 30 minute taxi ride before getting to a town about one hour from Mount Ijen. We were immediately surrounded by touts selling us packages and transportation to the mountain and different guest houses to stay in. We kindly refuse the first 10 minutes of their hounding before finally exclaiming "WE DON"T NEED HELP!" and briskly walk away. Indonesia is not only known for its beaches but also its relentless "touts." These are locals claiming they are guides or just "there to give you information," but they swarm you like bugs on a hot summer day. Trying my best not to get drawn into the usual "come have a look please, look is free, cheap price, morning price, how much you want, where you come from, where you stay, who you come with, first time Indonesia?" blah blah blah... I put my head down and continue forward. It's an endless battle, but an experience nonetheless. Some of them being extremely helpful, but the majority just plain awful following you sometimes for blocks. I still have yet to figure out how to deter them from me, maybe I'm too kind, politely saying "no thank you" and flashing a pitty smile. Either way if there was a tout repellent I'd be the first in line.

Once we finally shook the touts we still needed a way to get to the mountain and so far everything we had read said we either needed to choose a tour company or hire a car to take us to the trailhead. With luck on our side we made friends with the guest house owners son who called nearly every motorbike rental in town, only to find out everything was booked. We asked him what other options we had as we were budget backpackers and didn't want to pay for a tour or private car. Unfortunately, he didn't have any more options. After a few hours of chatting I threw out a great idea... Why don't we take YOUR moterbike.. (please please please say yes!) He thought about it for a moment, made a call to his wife and then accepted our offer. Relieved that we had a plan and were saving ourselves a chunk of money we hopped in to bed, and took a 2 hour rest before the midnight departure.

Up the windy steep road we drove, taking multiple breaks along the way to let the powerless moterbike cool off. A hour and a half later we miraculously made the daunting drive to the top using our head lamp for a light as the motorbike was ill equipped, and with time to spare before the tours started rolling in. We climbed the steep 3 kilometers to the crater rim using the full moon to guide our way. The blue flames burning 4 meters high in the distance and we carefully make our way down to the inside of the crater to get a better look. Closer and closer we get as thick sulfur fumes engulf us with poison. We arrive next to the flames and quickly slip on our surgical masks to avoid as much of the gasses as possible. Every direction change of the wind brings the sulfur fumes back in to our faces and we cough even with masks on. We try our best to dodge the smoke and watch a combination of the beautiful flames glowing before us and the hardest workers in the world slowly chip away at the mountain full of sulfur.

Mount Ijen is one of the largest sulfur producing sites in the world, where miners (usually starting their first of two journeys at 11 pm to avoid the scorching sun) break the cooled material into large pieces and carry it away in bamboo baskets. Getting paid by the kilogram men carry anywhere from 165-200 pounds on their backs up to the crater rim (nearly 1000 feet in elevation) and then back down to the bottom of the mountain for another 2 miles. They may be the hardest workers in the world enduring fumes daily and a daunting hike only to make 5-7 US dollars a day. Talk about a reality check.

To sum up our 100 days we have explored 20 meters below the sea, trekked over the highest pass in the world, gotten through sicknesses, made new friends, and created thousands of memories that are invaluable. This has been the greatest journey of our lives, and I can only imagine what the next few months has to bring.

We have conquered:
1 Natural Disaster
2 Sicknesses
4 things crossed off our ever growing bucketlist
5 Countries
11 Islands
15 flights
41 guesthouses
hundreds of different foods
and countless cities

We're not sure how long our adventure will last, but for the time being we are enjoying every moment of our freedom and exploring as much as we can. 


  1. This is so beyond amazing. I love reading and seeing your adventures! You guys are awesome!

  2. This looks amazing! We hope to do this when on our adventures. Are you able to do this on your own? My partner and I just left our jobs and home in Portland, OR, and are currently in NZ and making our way to S.E Asia. We're in Auckland and will be making our way to the South Island next.

    1. Hello! Congrats on leaving your job, such a hard thing to do but so worth it.. The best decision we ever made! We're in NZ now too :) South Island currently so if you need tips ask away.

      Ijen is do able on your own- but extremly hard to find transportation. We befriended a local in our hotel and borrowed his motorbike to drive to the starting point for the trek. Everyone will tell you you have to take a tour, but as long as you have your own wheels your good to go!