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As you know, Indonesia is one of our absolute favourite travel destinations. Since our first visit in 1995, we’ve probably been here more than 20 times. From Sumatra all the way to Irian Jaya (or West Papua as it’s mostly called today) we’ve had our most memorable travel experiences, met wonderful people who later became friends and have seen things that most people will never get the chance to. Indonesia is a true paradise from A to Z. And our most recent destination was the norther most tip of Indonesia: a little island called Pulau Weh.

Especially during the Christmas holidays, princes surge through the roof in many places across Asia. We’re not willing to spend thousands of Dollars in a place that is then swamped by tourists, so if you’re looking for a tropical paradise, that’s still rather unknown and where you actually get your money’s worth, then this island off the coast of Aceh is the perfect spot.

Casa Nemo is definitely the best place to stay at on the island. Not only because the resort itself is amazing (review coming up), but also because the beach here is the nicest one on the island. And now I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

You’ll find various hotels across Pulau Weh, but the largest cluster is in the village of Iboih near the best dive sites. It’s a beautiful place to stay at, but also the most crowded and although the water is crystal clear, the stunning beaches can be found somewhere else.

The crystal clear turquoise water is just one of the highlights of Pulau Weh.

The beach right in front of Casa Nemo on Pulau Weh was one of the most beautiful ones we’ve been to.

White sand, pristine waters, palm treed and no one around is what made Pulau Weh the perfect getaway spot for us.

Pulau Weh is a tropical island in the North of Sumatra.

The beach in front of Casa Nemo is the nicest on on Pulau Weh.

Welcome to paradise.

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Many years ago, the Maluku Islands or Moluccas were a well travelled destination for divers, birdwatchers as well as sun & beach seekers. People lived together in harmony, Christians and Muslims with a few minorities as well. But in January 1999 it all changed and a year-long religious war with lots of victims on both sides erupted and turned these tranquil and peaceful islands upside down. The war resulted in the displacement of approximately 500.000 people, the loss of thousands of lives, and at the end the war drove a wedge between Muslims and Christians. Only a few visited this region of Indonesia after that. Last autumn, when we were looking for another destination to explore, we decided to travel to this newly unknown part of the world.

Off To Ambon With A Rather Unconventional Mode Of Transport These Days.

On our journeys we’re never too keen to meet (lots of) fellow travellers, so the Maluku Islands were just the right destination for us. Thanks to AirAsia, destinations across Southeast Asia are pretty easy to reach. Yet we wanted more than just your average travelling day. From Bangkok, AirAsia brought us to Surabaya and from here the real adventure to Ambon, the capital of the Maluku islands, began. For many years we again wanted to travel across the Indonesian islands by Pelni Ship and this was the perfect trip to do just that! Flying across Indonesia as become easy but back in 1998, when we visited Indonesia for the first time, things were a bit different and the Pelni Ship was pretty much the only way to reach unknown places. So this journey would be something special and would bring us back to a time when travelling actually required lots time.

As the KM Dobonsolo made it’s way from Surabaya via Makassar (known as Ujung Pandang back in the days) and Bau-Bau, Ambon came nearer. From Ambon, the ship would continue to Sorong all the way to Jayapura, the border town between West Papua and Papua New Guinea, from where it makes its way back to Surabaya.

Maluku Islands: The KM Dobonsolo at Ambon harbour.

Maluku Islands: Travelling by Pelni ship is still a rather cheap way to travel around Indonesia, especially if you have lots of goods with you.

Maluku Islands: Flights across Indonesia have become so cheap and Pelni ships are often considered unsanitary, therefore tourists prefer the easy way of travelling (plus of course it takes more time).

Maluku Islands: The transportation of cargo is the main source of income for Pelni.

Maluku Islands: Merchants and families with lots of luggage are the main passengers abord a Pelni ship.

Maluku Islands: Just your average scene abord a Pelni ship in Indonesia.

Maluku Islands: Welcome To This Beautiful Archipelago Within The Banda Sea. Welcome To Ambon.

With a few hours delay, the KM Dobonsolo arrived in Ambon at 2 am. While getting off, some officials asked for a “Surat Jalan“- meaning a travel permit for the Maluku Islands, but this is no longer required and we knew that. They tried anyway for a bit of pocket money. After all, we were an easy target since we were the only tourists disembarking (and on the entire ship as a matter of fact). There was not much going on that time of the day and even the Rickshaw pullers were sleeping. We started walking out of the harbour and turned left on the first corner, where a hotel sign seemed inviting. Le Green Suites looked good, but – unbelievably – was fully booked. The night shift manager told us about their second hotel with available rooms and woke one of the sleeping Rickshaw pullers and within 15 minutes we were in the hotel Le Green Suites 2 – with nice rooms and Wifi throughout the property.

In the morning we really didn’t have any plans, so we started walking as we usually do, to get a first impression of Ambon. Our way lead us through the main street, passing a huge Mosque before strolling down to the beach where the markets are scattered along. Morning is always market time and it was very (very!) busy. We could hardly pass through the crowds and a sudden downpour didn’t make it easier. It was rainy season after all and mother nature makes sure you know why it’s called that. We escaped to a restaurant, where delicious Indonesian food was served. At the nearby bus station we enquired our options for continuing north. From Ambon there are Bemos in all directions and we decided heading to Pantai Liang, where the local slow ferry to Pulau Seram leaves at 11 am.

Maluku Island Hopping – Pulau Seram To Pulau Saparua.

Pantai Liang itself is a little village with stunning beaches and it would have been nice to spend a few days here, but we went with the ferry to Waipirit on Seram island. From there we continued by Bemo to Masohi, which would take us a couple of hours. It was already late in the afternoon and one of the passengers in our Bemo suggested the “New Kelemuku Hotel”. We spent a couple of days here, but were longing for some serious beach action. So we continued up north to the village of Sawai. This place not only feels very remote, but it actually is very far out of the way. Tourists are rarely seen due to the difficulty of getting there, plus crocks are nothing uncommon. As beautiful and tranquil at Sawai is, you won’t find white sand beaches.

Maluku Islands: If you’re visiting Indonesia during the rainy season, you’ll have to face downpours like this quite often. Sometimes it rains for days, sometimes the rain stops just as fast as it came. Here we were at Lisar Bahari Resort in Sawai on Seram island and it was actually a mystical atmosphere being above the water with this heavy storm hitting us.

Maluku Islands: As seen here, Sawai village is located far away from civilisation and therefore not visited by tourists often.

Maluku Islands: Lisar Bahari Resort in Sawai is definitely the place to stay at. You might not have sand beaches here, but you can jump into the crystal clear water straight from your room, which is not too bad if you ask me.

For a classic beach paradise, we would have to travel further on. Saparua island would be our next destination and this meant finding a boat that would bring us there. One thing is for sure, travelling around the Maluku islands is definitely something that requires (a lot of) time and patience. If you have both, you’ll be rewarded with memories that will last a lifetime. As we hoped, Saparua was the right spot to spend more than just a couple of days.

Maluku Islands: Puntih Lessi Indah Homestay on Saparua is the best place to stay at for some serious beach action.

Maluku Islands: Saparua offers the best beaches with crystal clear water with pretty much no one around.

Maluku Islands: Saparua beach paradise.

Maluku Islands: getting around by boat is unsurprisingly the best way to get around the islands.

Maluku Islands: From Haria, the main town on Saparua island, you’ll pretty much get anywhere on the island.

As our journey slowly came to an end, we decided to return to Ambon a bit early, to check out the Southeastern part of the island. Though you also won’t find sand beaches here, Ambon island should not be underestimated because it’s still blissful, beautiful, quite, simple and peaceful.

Maluku Islands: Fishing is the main source of income here on the islands.

Maluku Islands: Fishermen along the jetty can be seen pretty much everywhere along the islands.

Maluku Islands: Ambon might not be your typical beach paradise, but the islands offers stunning landscape scenes, beautiful markets and crystal clear waters.

Maluku Islands: The way down south on Ambon islands lead us through several beautiful palm tree alleys.

Maluku Islands: Tourists are a rare sight in Ambon, especially with the kind of camera gear we use, so these boys immediately started posing for us.

Maluku Islands: Collin Beach Hotel on Ambon islands was a beautiful places to stay at.

Resumé After Three Weeks On The Maluku Islands.

The lack of development and commercialisation on the Maluku islands is bound to not last and this is what gives when their charm. When coming here, don’t expect infrastructure that you might find elsewhere. These islands not only been off the radar for a while, but are a truly forgotten paradise in Indonesia.

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It was an adventurous moment, mixed with utter excitement; after 25 years of having the infamous Iron Ore Train on my bucket list, I finally parked my car in front of one of the sheds in a dusty side street in the outskirts of Nouadhibou, where the responsible officials spend their working hours.

I actually found the place by luck, I didn’t ask anyone for directions, I just drove my car up and down the peninsula of Nouadhibou. I wanted to get an overview of one of the most dilapidated cities I had ever seen. This is where Iron Ore Train ends, one of the longest trains in the world, which makes Nouadhibou the most important area in poor Mauritania.

When A White Western Woman Enters The Office Of The Mauritanian Railway Authorities.

So here I was, walking into the shed of the Mauritanian Railway Authorities to enquire about the possibility to transport my car and myself to Choum, approximately 500 km east of Nouadhibou. The deal was done in the blink of an eye. With one place still available, I could put my car on the train. I only had to decide immediately, since the train was about to leave. I quickly checked my water and food supply, which would last for some days and gave it a go. 120 Euros for the car plus myself was a fair price and within the next couple of minutes, my car was loaded and tied to a platform for vehicles. My ticket said no passengers in the car, but nobody obliged when I asked if I could spend the journey in or on the car. I started making arrangements for the coming 30 hours: water, food, snacks were all at hand, towel, toothbrush and toilet paper on the dashboard, cameras and mobile phone as well within easy reach. Check, check, double check.

It took hours of turning switches, pulling the wagons and platforms up and down the tracks, back and forth to have them all in right position ready for the long journey East. Finally, around 8pm, after seven hours of waiting (talk about an immediate decision making), everything was set and the train took off honking repeatedly, taking the endless semicircle track out of Nouadhibou.

A Long, Rocking Night, The Most Beautiful Sunrise And A Frustrating Awakening.

Even with 40° Celsius during daytime, temperatures drop fast and I was happy that I had blankets and a sleeping bag nearby. Lying outstretched in the back of my station wagon, the night was almost comfortable… well not really, but better than expected. Nights in the desert are cold and pitch-black. I knew this from my trips across the Sahara Desert in the 70s & 80s and so I wasn’t able to see anything when the train stopped at night. I just heard voices somewhere in the distance. The position of my platform was near the end of the train, so I was not bothered by anyone during the night.

Morning arrived and I watched a beautiful sunrise while the train tugged leisurely into Choum. The wind had covered everything with layers of sand mixed with dust of iron ore from the wagons. Choum was actually the place where I had planned to get off, but I quickly realised that there was no loading off point for cars. “Sorry Madam, next stop for unloading cars is Zouérat” I was told, though in the guys in Nouadhibou had told me otherwise. Unloading cars in Choum was only recently stopped, so there was no chance for me to get off here. This was a bit upsetting, because it would put me approximately 200 km in the wrong direction, but I couldn’t do anything about it. I sat back down on top of my car and looked into the Mauritanian desert.

The toilet situation was a bit of a hassle. It was a new experience for sure. Hanging out of the car, hanging on to the platform needed concentration, one wrong move and you could fall off. I got the hang of it after a couple of times.

From Hero To Zero.

Another few hours further, with lots of stops in between, the train finally pulled into Zouérat. Again, the turning of switches, pulling and pushing of wagons took two hours until my platform finally came to a halt somewhere in the middle of nowhere. All I could see was how the Diesel locomotive pulled away.

Close by, though lightyears away, I could see the unloading facility for cars. Another platform was already loaded for the trip back to Nouadhibou, while my car was just a stone throw away, without a chance of getting off. This was very annoying and put my patience to the test. I asked several officers and workers when my car would be unloaded and I got the same answer every time “In a while Madam”. In Africa, “in a while” can mean one hour, five hours, 12 hours or more than 24 hours. Time runs slow here. So, after waiting another three hours in the soaring heat, with someone occasionally walking by, noticing my impatience yet not doing anything, my nerves went rock bottom. I stepped down from platform and walked along the railway tracks up to the station office and demanded to speak to the station master.

Mauritanians are generally very polite people but are definitely not used to talking to Western (female) tourists. The country is dominated by males, especially in this business. Politeness is very helpful and I demanded politely to see the station master. It took a while until one of the men started to move to show me the way to his office. After a couple of minutes, this guy came out of his office with some other officers in tow, and was frankly quite irritated to see a Western woman demanding to speak to him. I explained my situation and he and the others didn’t seem to be bothered at all and said that my car would be unloaded in a while. Then it was over, my nerves collapsed and I started crying.

My breakdown changed the entire situation. The officers stared at me and my crying, not sure whether to be astonished or shocked and immediately started talking in their local language. After a minute of discussion, the station master said I should stop crying, they will immediately start the Diesel locomotive and will unload my car within 10 minutes.

What more can I say? The station master guided me to his car, drove me back to my car and presented me with a big box of water bottles. During my breakdown, I might have also mentioned that I was running out of water, which I hoped would increase the unloading process, and he must have really felt sorry for me. It didn’t take long and my platform was towed up and down the tracks to bring me to the unloading section. The car was unlocked from the platform, I drove down and followed the station masters car until I was on the right road back to Choum where I actually had planned to get off.

This evening I stopped near a military checkpoint along the road and asked for permission to sleep nearby, since there was no hotel to be found anywhere. I set up my tent and fell asleep immediately.

The Iron Ore Train fills its 2.5 km of wagons (which is the second longest on earth) with the iron ore and then heads back to the coastal city of Nouadhibou.

The view off the coast of Mauritania’s Bay of Nouadhibou used to be spotted with rusting hulks in every direction. Today, this Ship Breaking Yard is almost gone, due to an injection of capital from the Chinese.

The Mauritanian Railways opened in 1963. It consists of a single, 704 km railway line linking the iron mining centre of Zouérat with the port of Nouadhibou.

Two or three trains make a daily departure to pick up iron ore from a mine in Eastern Mauritania.

Uploading my car onto the Iron Ore Train in Nouadhibou was already an adventure itself.

While the Iron Ore Train snakes its way through Mauritania, you’ll come across wrecks from all sorts of vehicles – here, old Diesel locomotives that were once in use have been parked.

Wrecks are a normal sight when riding through Mauritania on the Iron Ore Train.

One thing is for sure: the sunset and sunrise while on the Iron Ore Train in Mauritania were some of the most beautiful ones I have ever encountered.

Sitting on top of the Iron Ore Train, while looking at nothing around you but the Mauritanian desert, is an experience of a lifetime.

The bulk cargo train travels from the Sahara desert to the coast through dry nowhere to transport valuable minerals across Mauritania.

The Mauritania Railway serves not only as the sole connection between remote locations and the country’s only major shipping port, Nouadhibou, but as free transport for locals seeking to travel from isolated communities to the coast.

The Sahara desert lived up to its nickname, ‘the White Man’s Grave’, as temperatures during the day sore to a blistering 50° Celsius.

The Iron Ore Train is up to 2.5 kilometres long, making it one of the longest and heaviest in the world. It normally consist of 3 or 4 diesel-electric EMD locomotives, around 200 cars each carrying up to 84 tons of iron ore, and 2-3 service cars. The total traffic averages is 16.6 million tons per year.

Nouadhibou is the second largest city in Mauritania and serves as a major commercial centre and is the country’s economic capital, due to being the final stop of the Iron Ore Train.

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Moulay Idriss is not on every travellers agenda, even though it’s considered the holiest city of Morocco. For good reason. Until 2005, non-Muslims were not permitted to stay overnight in Moulay Idriss. Guide books warned the tourists who “dared” to visit to be out of town by 3pm.

We were yet again on a road trip through Morocco, this time our journey would take us all the way to Mauritania, but before, we wanted to explore the northern parts a bit more. Moulay Idriss made its way onto our map, because we wanted to see for ourselves, what made this city so holy.

We arrived in Tangier with the ferry from Geneva and had already passed beautiful Chefchaouen. Moulay Idriss would be our next destination before continuing to Fez. We heard that it was considered an alternative to the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca by many Moroccans. It was here that Moulay Idriss I, the great-great-great grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, arrived in 789, bringing with him the religion of Islam, and starting a new dynasty. In addition to founding the town named after him, he also initiated construction of Fez, continued later by his son, Moulay Idriss II.

Given its picturesque setting, colourful streets, historic core and Moroccan importance, it’s a mystery why not more tourists visit. It’s lack of popularity is a good thing though, because you can often have the place all to yourself. And it’s safe to say that the city will surprise you with it’s beauty and calm atmosphere.

The colourful streets of Moulay Idriss seem like another Chefchaouen, but instead of blue, cyan is the main colour in use here.

For some (Western) visitors, Moulay Idriss may still be too “dirty” or “undeveloped”, yet it is exactly that, that makes it authentic and gives it its charm.

Moulay Idriss was off limit to non-Muslims after 3pm until 2005. This was because of the town’s holiness: it’s a pilgrimage site, the burial place of Moulay Idriss I. In 2005, Muhammed VI, the current king of Morocco, issued a decree to open the town to non-Muslim visitors as part of his plan of Western-oriented reform.

The sheer endless streets of Moulay Idriss reminded us of colourful Chefchaouen, but also a little bit of the Medina of Marrakech.

Donkeys can be seen everywhere in Moulay Idriss. They’re used to transport everything from people, shopping, luggage, beds, fridges, tables due to the hilly nature of the town.

In the medina quarter of Moulay Idriss you will find many colourful streets that are the perfect photo spot.

Due to Mouy Idriss’ location high above, the views are absolutely spectacular.

One reason the Romans chose Moulay Idriss was for its potential for making olive oil, which is today the town’s primary product.

Moulay Idriss is reachable by just a pair of roads and spreads across two foothills of Mount Zerhoun, at the base of the Atlas Mountains.

The Mosque and Mausoleum in Moulay Idriss.

The archaeological Site of Volubilis is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Volubilis is a partly excavated Roman city, commonly considered as the ancient capital of the Roman-Berber kingdom of Mauretania.

While the streets in the Medinas of Marrakech, Chefchaouen or Fes are invigorating, they can also be exhausting. Moulay Idriss is the perfect spot to get away from the bustling city life, while still being in a city.

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Scotland might just be one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever been to. Whether you’re young or old, sporty or relaxed, easy going or an adventure seeker, everyone will get what they’re looking for. During our road trip, we managed to travel all across the norther tip of England, with the Isle of Skye as our last destination.

Apart from Scotlands landmark, the Old Man of Storr, the Quiraing is a must for anyone who visits Isle of Skye; especially if you’re a travel photographer!

The weather in Scotland can be very unpredictable, so it’s best to come prepared. It looked quite nice when we started the trek, yet it turned on us just before we got to the end where you decide to either turn around, or keep walking to finish the loop. It was really windy (really SUPER windy!) and it got foggy as well so we turned around in the end. We could barely keep ourselves from falling because the wind was that strong! On the contrary, it was nice because the wind pretty much pushed us all the way up. The trek itself is not hard, but we’re just going to let the photos speak for themselves.

A few facts about the Quiraing:
  • Length: 6.8km (the loop)
  • Duration: 2-3 hours (depending on the weather)
  • Difficulty: Easy (unless it’s super windy, then you should be aware of the drops)
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