Monday, May 31, 2010

Last days in Indonesia

May 30

Today I continue my mad rush to get to a ferry to Malaysia before my tourist visa for Indonesia runs out on June 1. I’m not sure how strict the Indonesian government is about that sort of thing but I don’t want any trouble so I’m making my way to Dumai, the nearest place where ferries leave from. Two days ago I caught a shuttle car for the six hour trip to Mukomuko (during which the Duel incident took place) and stayed the night there. It’s a tiny settlement and I had a pleasant walk in the countryside that evening. The next day I got another shuttle car to Padang (which is one of the bigger cities in Sumatra but which doesn’t sound too interesting in the lonely planet guidebook) taking eight and half hours, and then another three-hour bus ride to Bukitinggi. Bukittingi is up in the mountains so is a lot cooler and rainy which makes a pleasant change. It’s quite touristy with hotels and shops selling tacky stuff and I visited a museum and a small zoo. I stayed only one night. There are tours that one can take to lakes, handcraft villages, waterfalls, and other places but I don’t have time so I’m sitting in a bus at the terminal, waiting to depart to Dumai. The ride will take ten hours and I’ll stay the night, catching the ferry to Melaka in Malaysia tomorrow morning.

A painting on black velvet of Bukittinggi

It’s a bit of a pity I’ve had to rush out of the country because of the days I lost when my wallet was stolen. It means I haven’t seen some things which Sumatra is famous for like orangutans and Lake Toba, but I’ve still enjoyed my time here. There was some fantastic scenery along the coast between Bengkulu and Padang. A place called Painan seems to be where to go if you should ever come here. It had beautiful beaches and places to stay but with few tourists.

Last night in Bukittinggi I saw the first westerner I’ve seen in many days since I left Jakarta, in a cafe opposite my hotel. I thought I caught a glimpse of one in Kalianda but not sure about that. Westerners are seldom seen here and I’ve been asked dozens of times to have my photo taken by and with locals.

Elections are being held in Indonesia sometime soon and there are millions of posters up advertising candidates. Here are a couple of billboards. These posters are everywhere, much more prevalent than other advertisements. I think the country should spend less on election posters and more on the roads.

It's been an varied month, with good times and bad. Not sure what I think of Indonesia overall. It's a country with an interesting history, being used centuries ago by traders and as a source of spices. It's been influenced by traders from India and China, and then from the seventh century by followers of Islam from Arabia. Then it was occupied by the Portuguese, the Dutch and briefly by the Japanese in the Second World War. The Dutch tried to retake it after the war but rebellions led to an independent country being formed in 1949, with Sukarno as its first leader. In the 1960s he was replaced by Suharto who led the country until 1998 when protests following the financial crisis forced his resignation. There were worrying anti-Chinese riots at the time, and conflicts between Muslims and Christians a few years later. Sometimes it seems as though it is hardly a single nation since it is made up of many different groups, religions, and cultures. Since independence there has been an effort to create a single Indonesian nation, where there is a shared language and history, as well as separate cultures. I'm not sure that effort will succeed. The last twenty years of world history has been dominated by nationalist movements and the desire of national groups to have their own state and I think that'll happen here as well. Nationalist struggles seem to occur less when economic times are good. But when times are tough, they assert themselves. The economic situation in Indonesia did not seem good to me. People were poor and underemployed. That kind of situation makes people think that they can do better if they can rule themselves rather than be ruled by a central government. The conservative Muslim province of Aceh, in the north of Sumatra, already has a kind of quasi-independence: it has been given some authority to enforce sharia law. East Timor of course broke away a few years ago. Similar may happen in places like Papua and Kalimantan.


May 28

Has anyone seen the film Duel from the 1970s, Steven Spielberg’s first movie? In it, a businessman driving across America overtakes a truck, the driver of which gets angry. The conflict between them escalates into an epic road battle as the truck tries to run him off the road. Today I experienced something similar. Me and five other passengers were in a car to Mukomuko when the driver overtook a small truck in front of us. Within minutes the truck was zooming past us again. The driver overtook the truck again, this time almost killing an oncoming motorcyclist. A few minutes later and the truck was hurtling past us despite our driver trying to block it from doing so. Then the truck came to a dead stop in the middle of the road and the car pulled up just in time, almost rear-ending. The two drivers got out and our driver grabbed the truck driver by the throat. The front passenger of our car had also got out and he separated the two. His wife, also on board, had earlier told me he was a policeman so I felt relieved he was there. Soon peace was restored and both vehicles went on their way, with the truck going far ahead. About an hour later we caught up and I could feel all the fellow passengers tense as we again overtook the truck. Thankfully this time the truck stayed behind and we never saw it again.

A friend

May 27

Before I left Bengkulu I phoned Dewa, the local who had helped me when I first arrived with no wallet or money, and invited him to the hotel to pay him back. When he arrived he was incredulous that I had got in touch with him. He must have said ‘I can’t believe, I can’t believe it’ over a dozen times. Apparently many people had told him that I was probably a liar and that he should forget about me, that he’d never hear from me again. I was a bit shocked by this. Do westerners perform scams like that, pretending they need help, in order to get money? Anyway, we talked at the hotel and then went out for food. He took me to a place where I had perhaps the tastiest food of my trip so far. It was beef satay but in a sauce that tasted different to usual, reminding me a lot of KFC’s gravy. It had some kind of root vegetable in it too, a bit like a soft slightly sweet potato. He then took me for a brief ride around some of Bengkulu to see some sights: a large mosque, a long beach which had nightclubs along the street beside it, and a road where lots of teenagers parked their motorcycles and stood around doing nothing which reminded me of Moorhouse Ave in Christchurch on a Friday night. Along the way he told many people of the story about how he had helped me and how I had repaid his help. If I ever find myself back in Bengkulu I think I’ve got a lifelong friend here.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Crazy building

The architecturally crazy hotel I'm staying in.

Rescuing Kittens

Yesterday I was walking by the beach of Bengkulu when I heard the plaintive miaowing of a cat. I located it coming from a big box covered in a tarpaulin. I poked at it a bit but was afraid of being bitten or scratched. I waved down a man, woman, and child on a motorbike and drew their attention to the noise and together the man and I moved the tarp a bit to find a hole. From the noise I was expecting a full grown cat but out popped a tiny kitten the size of my hand. It was all alone and desperate. I carried it to a grassy spot and put it down but it wrapped itself around my legs and also sometimes around the other man's, though he didn't seem too interested. Worried that the kitten would starve, I went up to a fisherman and asked for some of his bait, offering to pay. He gave it to be for free and I ripped the small fish into pieces for the kitten, which hungrily chewed at it, making noises like a tiny tiger. It even nipped my finger when I tried to take a bony bit from it. I gave the man and child some money and pointed to the kitten, hoping they understood that the money was to look after it. I don't know if they will but I could only hope.

I left them and walked for an hour or so and suddenly heard more miaowing. 'Oh no' I thought. I can't save every kitten in Indonesia. I told myself to walk away. But I couldn't. The noise was coming from a boat on grass near the shore. I was expecting another small kitten but gasped when I saw two newborns, still with their eyes closed, unable to walk, just wriggling around, and no mother in sight. I bought some milk from a nearby shop but they didn't take to it so I took them to the people in the shop. About a dozen locals gathered round, no doubt wondering what this crazy foreigner was doing. People just don't seem to care about abandoned kittens here. I gave money to a small girl, hoping she'd be sympathetic, and pointed at the little kittens. I then walked away, hoping I wouldn't hear any more!


This is actually quite an interesting town. It was a British colony with a fort built in 1719. The fort has been restored and I spent some time looking around it. The colony seemed to ahve all sorts of problems with rebellions by locals and hostilities from the French. Apparently it was on an important trade route between India and south east Asia. There's a monument to Thomas Parr, one of the British governors, but one who was beheaded by locals in 1807. There's a cemetery of colonials who died of malaria. The British swapped Bengkulu for Malacca from the Dutch.

Fort Marlborough

Thomas Parr Monument

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


My wallet was stolen! I was on an overnight bus from Lewi to Bengkulu. I’d got on at 4.30pm on May 23 and had my wallet then because I paid the bus fare from it. At about 8pm I noticed it missing. It had literally all my money in it and ATM and credit cards. We searched the bus but no luck. The driver stopped at a remote police station and after they searched the bus, they filled out a report and gave me a letter to give to the ‘immigration office’ in Bengkulu. The wallet must have been picked from my pocket by one of the people who got off the bus earlier. I got back on the bus and we set off. I couldn’t sleep of course for worry and it was also a bumpy ride through the remote jungle of western Sumatra.

We arrived in Bengkulu at seven in the morning and the bus stopped at a small terminal. I looked around for a policeman but there wasn’t one. I showed a terminal worker my letter. I couldn’t understand what he was saying, no one spoke English. I just kept saying ‘police, police!’ and eventually Dewa (as I later learnt was his name) gave me a ride on the back of a motorcycle to a small police station. I showed my letter and four policemen had a long discussion, the conclusion of which was that Dewa was to take me to the central police station. I was very shocked at the policemens’ indifference and I really started to worry about what I was going to do. Dewa was hungry so we stopped for food and he bought me breakfast. I then decided the best thing to do was to make some phone calls. We found a phone shop and Dewa paid for me to call the NZ Embassy in Jakarta who said they would contact my parents to see if they could send me some money. I then phoned my credit card companies to cancel my cards. Before I could finish doing this, Dewa ran out of money and so I had to hang up.

I didn’t know what to do next. I needed money. Dewa took me to a bank where he said his sister worked and I tried to ask if they could lend me some. No. All of this was really difficult to communicate because I don’t speak any Indonesian. Eventually I managed to get them to understand that I wanted to transfer money from NZ to here. The bank worker then gave me the account details of someone who she said was her cousin. I couldn’t understand why it had to be an individual account rather than just the bank that the money was sent to and I wasn’t keen on doing that. There was an free internet computer in the bank and I logged in to my ASB account in NZ but there was no way to transfer money internationally. To do that I would have to phone but I didn’t have the money to make a call.

By this time, my parents had phoned me - they had been called by the NZ Embassy - and said that an emergency credit card could be sent to me within a couple of days. So then I thought the best thing was to go to a hotel and convince them to let me stay until the card arrived, and I would eat at the hotel, running up a bill. The first hotel I went to did not accept credit cards and the next two were full up. Dewa was still driving me. At this point I started to despair and said to Dewa to take me to the central police station.

The police there were a lot more helpful than the other police. They sat me down on a sofa and gave me food and water. It was about 2pm. I rested and in the meantime got texts from my parents saying they could send money to Western Union. This made me feel a lot better because during my rides around the city, I had seen a couple of Western Union signs. A policeman called Taslim took me to two branches which were closed and then a third which was about to close. There I managed to find out that some money had been sent and even though I could not pick it up til the morning, it was there. Much relieved, I asked Taslim to take me to a hotel where I convinced them to let me pay the following day. Exhausted, I went to sleep early, without dinner, and slept for ten hours.

The next morning, May 25, Taslim picked me up and took me to Western Union. Finally I had money. My parents had also arranged for a replacement credit card to be sent to the hotel and it is supposed to arrive this afternoon.

So there it is. One of the worst ordeals of my life, twenty-four hours of being in remote Sumatra with no money, not being able to do anything about it, not being able to communicate with anyone, not knowing what to do, and having had no sleep. There were moments when I thought ‘If I get out of this, I’m getting on the first plane home’ but somehow, after I got the money and rested in the hotel I began to feel more optimistic. I’m back to feeling good again now and will continue my journey. I only have five days left on my tourist visa so I will hurry north to Padang, then east to Dumai, where I can get a ferry to Melaka in Malaysia.

What I’ve learnt: not to keep all my money in one place. Unsurprisingly I’ve become a lot more security-conscious, locking everything away, and thinking ‘what if...’ to myself, so that I’m more prepared if anything like this happens again. I'm incredibly grateful to my parents who sorted out everything, my girlfriend Kristen who texted me some phone numbers to call to cancel credit cards, and Dewa who I will try to pay back before I leave.

Endurance Rating for this is 10. If someone told me I had to go through that again or walk through the Saharan desert, I would consider choosing the latter.

The police report listing what was in my wallet when it was stolen.

Danau Ranau

My breakfast of coffee and wafer biscuits at the lake.

May 23

This is a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains in the southwest of Sumatra. Very remote, there were no other tourists here and only one hotel. According to lonely planet: ‘Remote Danau Ranau, nestled in the middle of the southwestern Bukit Barisan range, is one of the least accessible and least developed of Sumatra’s mountain lakes.’ It was great, one of the highlights of m trip so far. I took an ojek to the village of Liwa and the journey took me around the lake, with more stunning views.

A day spent traveling

May 22

Today I spent twelve hours getting to the remote mountain lake of Danau Ranau. My lonely planet guide book is pretty sketchy with information about the southern part of Sumatra but I managed to work out the following plan: take the train from Bandarlampung bound for Pelambang which takes 10 hours but jump off after about 6 hours at a place called Bataraja. From there take a bus to Simpang Sender and then somehow get to Banding Agung which is right on the edge of the lake. As well as being worth visiting for its own sake, Danau Ranau is a sort of gateway to traveling up the west coast of Sumatra which I might do as far as Padang before heading over to the east coast to catch a ferry to Malaysia.

The plan started well when I managed to get to the train station at 8.30am just as the train was about to leave. There wasn’t time to buy a ticket so I jumped aboard intending to buy a ticket on board. When the ticket collector came round I discovered this wasn’t possible. He gave me an evil look but let me ride on the train for free even though I offered money. It was an economy class train, which meant very hot, stuffy, and crowded. Sellers would come through with everything from snacks and drinks to fans and childrens’ books. Buskers would also come through, perform, and collect money. They were actually pretty good and since I got on the train for free, I gave fairly generously.

As I jumped off the train at 3pm at Batajara, the strap on my shoulder bag broke and I was simultaneously swamped with taxi and ojek (motorcycle taxis) drivers. I managed to fend them off while holding my bag awkwardly and jumped aboard a minibus trying to explain to the driver that I wanted to go to a bus terminal to go to Simpang Sender. I had no idea if he understood me but we soon stopped at another minibus and I hoped this was going in the right way. It turned out it was, which I learned from a women on board who spoke a bit of English. She was really friendly and helpful, so much so that at a place called Muruadua where her husband was picking her up in a car to take her the rest of the way to Simpang, she offered me a lift. Rosetta, Harry, and their friend Dewi were nice company even though we hardly understood each other. The ride took about an hour and once in Simpang I got on an ojek which Harry had explained where to go to. I wasn’t sure the ojek-driver understood because within minutes we had stopped at a house and he went inside while I stood at the front wondering what the hell was going on. He soon emerged again and it turned out he was changing onto a better motorcycle. I’ve been on the back of a few ojeks since I’ve been in Indonesia and don’t really like them but they are sometimes the best or only way to get from A to B. This one was pretty hairy, weaving around potholes in the road through the dark and I was very glad when we pulled up to the Hotel Seminung Permai in Banding Agung.

Having enjoyed three nights in the comfort of the Amalia Hotel in Bandarlampur (possibly the best hotel I’ve ever stayed in), the Seminung was a shock. I thought my hotel at Kalianda was grotty, but this brings it down to a whole new level. Grubby walls and bathrooms, no windows, no fan. I can’t bring myself to brush my teeth here. At least there are no cockroaches so far. Since I’d like to stay at the lake a couple of days I will see if I can find another hotel tomorrow. Anyway, I made it here and having had a brief stroll around it’s nice to be in a quiet town. And being up in the hills, the temperature is very pleasant. Oh, and I managed to fix my shoulder bag. Tomorrow I will go and look at the scenery.

Harry, Rosetta, and Dewi

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Now feeling well-rested after three nights in a hotel in Bandarlampur. Tomorrow, I'm going to try to get to the west coast of southern Sumatra to visit a mountain lake called Dunau Ranau. This will involve a train trip, a bus trip, and a minibus and I might have to stay a night in Baturaja if it's too much for one day. I'm going to be heading further off the beaten track so will start taking malaria tablets.

I haven't had much of a look around Bandarlampur. Had a walk around the polluted city centre today and didn't see a single other caucasian face.

Might be outside internet coverage for a few days.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Wiji Thukul

I've been reading Menagerie 5, an issue of an anthology series of Indonesian fiction, poetry, and essays. The short stories are okay but the highlight is a section of poems by Wiji Thukul, accompanied by a short biographical essay. Thukul was born in 1963 and lived in Solo in central Java. His poems strongly criticised the Indonesian government and social conditions on Indonesia. He has been missing since 1998, when he took part the anti-Suharto demonstrations occurring then, probably eliminated by government forces.

Here's a sample of his work. The translation is by Richard Curtis.

An odd puzzle
that night we got together and talked
from our mouths no grand issues emerged;
we talked about our hopes,
things simple and understandable

one person had been hoping for a long time
to add on a kitchen to the place he rents
which reminded others
they didn't own a saucepan, kerosene stove,
drinking glasses, or frying pan,
which made them remember
they had once wanted to buy such things
only to see their wishes soon buried
beneath weariness
and wages that so quickly changed
into toothpaste, shampoo, rent
and unpaid bills at the food stall

after that many of us found it difficult
to enjoy the warm tea that had been served
because we were still busy thinking
about where to rest our heads and where to hang our clothes

another person mentioned that for ages he had wanted
a bathroom of his own
from which topic the discussion jumped to cement and wall paint,
prices for which never seem to fall

we also talked about the election campaign,
the one just passed
and of the three parties that competed,
we concluded had no connection with us: workers
whose only use for them is our votes,
to be exploited for their own interests

we laughed because we realised
that for many years we had been deceived
and treated like buffalo
but in the end we asked
why it's so difficult for a worker to buy a can of paint,
even after working no less that eight hours a day,
and why it's so difficult for them
to send their children to school
when each day they produce
tons and tons of goods

and then one among the group stood up,
looked around and asked:
"are there any things you use
that are not made by workers?"
a question that made us observe
the many things around us: neon lights, televisions, radios, clothes, books...

since that time I've always felt
we are faced with an odd puzzle, one that arises whenever we talk
about saucepans, kerosene stoves,
drinking glasses, or frying pans
and also at times we count our wages
which so quickly change
to tooth paste, shampoo, rent
and unpaid bills at the food stall

I'm always surprised and ask myself
what kind of power it is that can so easily absorb
our energy and the fruits of our labour.

I demand change
one hundred latrines
mean more to me
than your big mouth
it's not important
who's going to win
we're fed up
with a life like this:
a hassle going to the toilet
a roof that leaks when it rains.
we don't need chants
magic spells
or promises;
a sack of rice
from the masters' food stores
won't wipe out poverty;
sympathy and second-hand clothing donations
are of no help;
we no longer believe in that.
political parties
and the language of their trade
floating so far over our heads
and our problems
will not fill our stomachs.
shut down this silly comedy,
we want to sleep soundly
with our debts paid off,
truly free,
not under pressure.
we're fed up
with a life like this
or to say it more explicitly:
I demand change!

Don't forget, my love
don't forget, my love
when the moon is full
and we are taking a stroll
those people sleeping outside, in front of the house
and on the edge of the drainage canal,
are our neighbours, my love

don't forget, my love
when it's five o'clock in the morning,
the throngs of female workers
with bleary eyes
who walk alongside you
are your friends, my love

don't forget, my love
to whomever should ask who your in-law is
to answer: a pedicab driver
for he is your father, my love

don't forget, my love
to whomever should ask
to tell them your name
and do not be ashamed
for that is your name, my love

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Arriving by ferry to Sumatra

Getting around and leaving Jakarta was hard work. The taxi drivers didn't seem to know where major train stations bus terminals were. One even had to stop and ask a policeman for directions to the main westbound bus station. When I got to a train station there weren't any heading to Sumatra for hours so I had to go to a bus terminal, and there I finally got on my way to Merak which is where ferries leave Java for Sumatra. The ferry ride was fine, although I got a little sick of being stared at by others. I don't think they get many tourists in these parts (apparently north Sumatra is the more popular place for visitors).

The ferry got to Sumatra at 6.30pm last night, during a fantastic sunset. Rather than make the two hour bus trip to the nearest centre of Banderlumpung, I chose to stop at a seaside town called Kalianda. Big mistake. Not only was it further from the main highway than I thought, but the first thing I saw in the room of my hotel (which was recommended in lonely planet guide) was a cockroach scuttling across the floor. And the fan didn't work. It was a hot, uncomfortable night and I left that place as early as I could. I got aboard a shuttle to go to Banderlumpung but it seemed to wait for ages before leaving. The driver and the other passengers also kept making mocking comments about me that I didn't understand.

All of this, plus the hard work of Jakarta has left me feeling pretty tired, so once I finally arrived in Bandarlumpung I checked into a Sheraton-style hotel for a few days of rest. Air-conditioned room, room service, etc. I had my first hot shower in two weeks since leaving Australia! There is a national park nearby called Way Kampas which I will make a day trip to perhaps the day after tomorrow. Today and tomorrow are rest days.

I've been watching CNN's coverage of the situation in Thailand. My route was going to take me through Bangkok but I will try to go around and avoid the city completely. It'll be another three weeks before I get close, so if things escalate to a civil war, I will probably skip the country completely and see if I can take a ferry from Singapore to Hong Kong.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Random photos

On the streets of Yogya, some school children interviewed me for a school project. I think the idea was they spoke to a western tourist. They were nice.

A poster in my hotel in Yogya, the Hotel Harum. The writing says 'Unless you spread your hand you will have no idea how much far you can gets the winning.' Quite.

My dining companion at the Arabica hotel in Sempol, East Java.

Graffiti in Denpasar.

Mural on the outside wall of a cafe in an alley in Ubud, Bali.


This place is crowded, noisy, congested, polluted, and hot. I managed to have a bit of of a look around but the city's best museum (according to lonely planet) was closed when I got there. I went to Manggo Dua Mall which is one of the biggest shopping malls in the world and I got lost there. Finally managed to find an exit and took a 'baijak' (three-wheeled vehicle like tuk-tuks in Thailand) which took me through the backstreets of Jakarta and I saw some terrible poverty - people living in tiny close-together rubbish-stewn shacks.

Tomorrow I leave for Sumatra.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


Detail of Borobodor temple

I had another early start this morning, rising at 4.30am to get Borobodor, a Buddhist temple built in the ninth and tenth centuries (though rebuilt in he 1970s). It was well worth it to beat the crowds - as we left at about 9am it was already swarming with tourists and groups of school children. The temple itself is amazing. You walk around the outside - clockwise is apparently the correct way - going up floor by floor, of which there are half a dozen. Along the way are hundreds of carved panels with pictures of Buddha and others, some of which are really detailed and beautiful. The ascent of the temple symbolises the stages needed to reach nirvana, which is represented by the high point in the centre of the temple. Most tourists simply charge right up the steps to the top without walking around the floors. There's something symbolic about that, I thought, showing modern impatience and the desire for instant happiness.

I wandered around Yogya (pronounced 'jogja') yesterday, trying to throw off the con men. The common con here is to get you to come to an 'official government' art gallery and sell you a batik painting. They come up to you in the street and act really friendly as though they are just giving you some advice, not trying to sell you anything. I took a look at one place and the painting were actually pretty good. I was even prepared to buy one at the price but got sick of all the lies the guy said that I walked away. The (probable) lies included: buying a painting helps fund a scholarship for local painters (some of whom are disabled), that the one I picked just happened to be painted by the guy showing me the paintings, that today is the last day of the exhibition before they set off to another city, and so on.

Tonight I'm off to another temple, this time a Hindu one called Prambanan, to see a Ramayana ballet.

Shadow puppet show in Yogya

Kawah Ijen

May 12

On the back of a motorcycle at 4.30 in the morning, being driven through the darkness of the jungle in east Java.

Before I explain why, let me describe what I’ve been doing until now. Yesterday I arrived by bus at the western tip of Bali island and caught a ferry over to Java, the trip only lasting half an hour. On board were a group of 60 Javanese returning from a holiday in Bali, and a westerner being aboard was such a novelty to them that they took my photo four or five times with them. This was funny though also made me a little apprehensive that I was going to a place where westerners were uncommon. When we arrived at the port an official requested that I come and sign in at the tourism office. At first I thought that this might be some kind of scam but they didn’t want any money and later I checked my lonely planet guidebook which said the office was legitimate. I stayed in a hotel in nearby Banyuwangi and arranged to be taken the next day to Sempol which is a village up in the mountains of Ijen, Merapi, and Raung. The road up was terrible. I can’t really say it had potholes because that would imply that there was a road to have potholes in. It was more like a bunch of rocks at times and can only really be driven in a four wheel drive (though I wasn’t in one).

I arrived at Sempol at about 2pm and checked in to the Arabica hotel, a place that is surrounded by coffee plantations but was unable to serve me a decent cup of coffee. Taking a look around, I found some back streets and wandered through while hearing Muslim prayers on a loudspeaker in the middle of the village. The following morning I rose at 4am in order to do a sunrise walk up to the rim of the Ijen volcano which has a crater containing a lake, hence my 4.30am motorbike ride to take me to the starting point of the walk. The walk itself was hard going - three kilometres of steep incline. Workers collect sulphur from the crater and as I walked up some would pass by me carrying baskets up, while others would be walking down with full loads on their shoulders. One friendly worker called Tom decided he would guide me up and so I went with him to the rim of the crater. I could see very little because of the smoke and mist and the sulphur made me feel nauseas. As we descended into the crater, the sulphuric smoke got worse and I had to cover my nose and mouth with a cloth to stop choking. The vapours became so overwhelming that at one point I said ‘enough, lets turn back’ but Tom convinced me to keep going and eventually we reached a spot where the sulphur was collected. When the breeze changed, I could see the crater lake which was an amazing blue-green colour against the grey-yellow of the surrounding rocks. We walked up a different path from the one we had come down and had even more amazing views of the lake. Frustratingly, my iphone camera had stopped working so I couldn’t take photos but here are some I got from Sophie, a young Dutch women who I met there.

Just as I got to the end of the descent back down the volcano, it started to rain and on the motorcycle ride back to the hotel, the raindrops felt like pin-pricks as they hit my face.

Sophie and I managed to catch a ride on a bus from Sempol. It was a long wait before the bus arrived and there wasn’t much to do except try to talk to some of the locals who were very friendly. The bus took us along the shockingly bumpy road to Bondowaso and now we’re waiting for another bus to take us to Probolinggo which is a bigger city on the north coast of east Java. Sophie is going to Mt Bromo but I think I’ll move on to Yogyakarta which is the cultural capital of Java, and will try to get there by train.

Monday, May 10, 2010

My progress so far


Just got off the bus from Denpasar. I was planning to spend the night in Negara but that was because I thought I'd be arriving in late afternoon. It is only just past midday so I'll have a look around here, get some lunch, then get on another bus for Gilimanuk which is where the ferries to Java leave from. Not sure where I'll stay there - maybe Yogyakarta or maybe somewhere before there. I'll just see what looks interesting and jump off the bus.


Arrived here on a bemo (the name for shuttle buses here) from Ubud and had to transfer to another bemo to take me to Ubung, on the outskirts of Denpasar and where I take a bus westwards. I spent a night here and it was fantastic walking around the city centre, looking at markets, stopping for food at roadside stalls: chicken satay and nasi goreng seem to be the most popular dishes. During my several hours of wandering about, not only didn't I see any other tourists but I didn't see a single other white person amongst the thousands of locals. This was great, I really felt like I was off the beaten track. I got a few looks as if to say 'what are you doing here?' but everyone was friendly and I didn't even have to fend of hawkers too much. In the evening I was at a city park where there was live music and people dancing and generally having a good time.

I bought a DVD of ten movies for 10,000 Rp ( about $NZ2) but when I got back to my hotel and tried it, found that the movies were completely different from the ones on the cover, half of them didn't work, and of the ones that did, they were pirated movies of the worst quality: a home video camera pointed at a cinema screen! Thought about trying to return it but didn't bother.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Me in a sarong

Today I walked around in a sarong. Some but not many of the local men do too. I think it suits me, what do you think?

Strange painting

While being driven around Bali, I saw this strange painting in a shop at Tegallalong. I don't know if there is some hidden meaning regarding the use of the swastika symbol. It was a Hindu symbol for centuries before the Nazis stole it and Bali is 95% Hindu unlike the rest of Indonesia which is mainly Muslim. At the same shop there was a similar painting of Osama Bin Laden and of pop stars like Michael Jackson and the Rolling Stones.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


I’m in Ubud, a city on the island of Bali that’s known for its culture - temples, galleries, museums, music, dance, and so on. I arrived yesterday after a couple of days spent in the madness of Kuta, the tourism centre of Bali, a crazy place crowded with tourists and surfers and locals trying to sell them stuff. I’m constantly asked if I want a taxi, a massage, or to buy some trinket. The hawkers even bother people at breakfast in hotel restaurants. A hotel porter even came into my room one time, barely knocking first, offering me paintings he’d done. I’ve hit upon an amusing solution to the hawkers though - giving them some of their own treatment. I have a few DVDs with me that I’ve watched and want to get rid of but I couldn’t find any used DVD shops either here or in Darwin. So whenever someone asks me if I want to buy something, I say ‘no thanks, but would you like to buy these DVDs?’ I even get quite insistent, saying ‘come on, these are very good. I give you a special price, just for you’ and so on. After that, they leave me alone.

My travel guidebook says that the Balinese are naturally very friendly people and will smile at you and ask ‘where are you from?’ The book says that this is only sometimes a prelude to selling you something. Well, I’ve yet to find any friendliness that isn’t connected with trade. Once I make it clear that I’m not interested in buying, the smiling and courtesy disappear. This was most evident in a guide that I had yesterday who took me from Kuta to see some of the sights of Bali, including Mt Batur volcano, a temple, and rice terraces at Tegalalong. At first he was jovial and pleasant but after he took me to a snorkeling place and I said I didn’t want to do it, he became grumpy, no doubt because he didn’t get his kickback from the company that he’d taken me to. He lightened up a bit later on when I bought a sarong (to wear in temples) from the shop he took me to. (Wearing sarongs seem to be mandatory in order to enter temples. Anyone know whether this is really required by some religious text or is it just a scam to sell westerners sarongs?)

Arriving yesterday in Ubud I was taken by my guide to a hotel (probably one from which he also gets a kickback) where the world’s most annoying hotel concierge worked. After I checked in he said the key was in the door. I went there and it wasn’t so went back and he gave me the key. Once in the room, I couldn’t get the air-conditioner working and so I went back again to ask about it and he nonchalantly hands me a remote control without seeming to think that this could’ve been given to me at the start. I go back to the room and soon realise that there is no towel, so it’s off to the reception again for me, because I want to take a shower or a swim in the pool since this was the end of a very hot day. Barely looking up from the desk, he says ‘I’ll bring a towel to your room.’ I took this as meaning sometime in the next few minutes but after waiting a while there was no sign of him so again I returned to the reception. He was standing chatting to someone, and by this time I was ready to strangle the guy. But in my most sarcastic voice I asked ‘how’s it going with that towel?’ He then said he’d get me one and I said, even more sarcastically, ‘sorry to put you to so much trouble.’ I’m not sure if Balinese pick up on sarcasm but it felt good saying it. I did finally get a towel but I’m considering stealing some of the artwork in my room in retaliation.

I guess that’s quite a bit of moaning by me. I am, however, enjoying it here despite the annoyances I’ve listed. Lunch yesterday at a restaurant with a view of Mt Batur was great, and so was being driven through the streets to see some of the real Bali. Hopefully once I get used to things I can start to enjoy it more.

Okay, enough writing. I’m off to the Monkey Forest.

Funny stories

As I make my way through different cultures I’ll take it upon myself to describe and make fun of the spiritual beliefs that I encounter. Let me start with Australia and New Zealand since I’m about to leave them. Wait til you hear this. They think there is an old man living in the sky who created everything and has the power to make any changes to the world that he wants. When people die, there is a kind of invisible intangible part of them, called a ‘soul’ that carries on living. If they’ve been good they go up to the sky and live with the old guy but if they’ve been bad they go to another place under the ground where things are unpleasant. It sounds like a story for children I know, but this is what adults believe! The old man in the sky originally created the first man and then, to give him a companion, took one of HIS RIBS (?!) and from it created a woman! I swear I’m not making this up!

There are other crazy stories like a huge flood and a big boat that contained two of every kind of animal, a talking snake trying to convince people to eat an apple that corrupts (!), but here’s the most popular one: the old man’s son, who could do magic tricks like transforming things and making sick people well, got picked on by jealous people for saying there was an old man in the sky. They don’t just call him names, they nail his hands and feet to a piece of wood (?!). He dies, his body get put in a cave, but he is brought back to life by his dad. This seems to show that he was right all along because he says ‘I bet you feel silly now’ to his tormenters. It seems to be this hah-that-showed-you-all story that appeals most to the locals.

I wonder if I’ll encounter any other cultures that can top that lot for ridiculousness!



Monday, May 3, 2010

Leaving Australia

I'm writing this from Darwin airport - the first and hopefully the last airport I will see on my trip - so barring any minor miracles, it means that I'm going to fly over to Indonesia, breaking my flightless goal. One one hand, this doesn't bother me too much because that goal was always just something interesting and challenging to try to do. It's not as though I'm pathologically indisposed to flying or to sticking to my goals when it would be worse for me to do so, so given the circumstances it's not a big deal to have to give up.

On the other hand though, what bothers me is that it's so difficult to go from Australia to south-east asia by sea. It's only a small body of water to cross - bigger than the English channel but smaller than between NZ and Australia. In fact, from Cape York at the tip of Queensland over to Papua New Guinea looks about the same as the English channel. So why can't some boats make the trip and take people? The low cost of flying - Jetstar flights from Darwin to Indonesia/ Singapore are around $150 - must be part of the reason, but there are other trips around the world where there are ferry as well as airplane options. Ferries can take lots of people so could be profitable. As people become more environmentally aware and less willing to fly, consumer demand for a ferry will increase, so it wouldn't surprise me if sometime in the near future there does become available a flightless option.

This is the last I'll see of the western world for a while. I'm looking forward to exploring some exotic (to me) cultures.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Kakadu National Park

It's been a few days since I’ve posted to the blog because I had to recover from this trip. The trip itself was great, although the one day I did it in probably doesn’t do the park justice (I couldn’t face another three-day group tour). I did, however, get to go on the Yellow Waters and see some crocodiles and walk around Nourlangie Rock and see some aboriginal cave paintings. But the trip back to Darwin was an ordeal because the air-conditioning on the bus stopped working and it was a five hour drive until we could link up with a different bus. The first hour was the worst. Everyone was dripping with sweat while the driver apologised profusely. Opening the sun roofs on the top of the bus made a bit of a difference but it was still a very steamy ride. The staff were great, handing out wet towels, urging us to drink water and checking up on everyone. Most of the passengers were elderly and there was a real worry that someone might keel over in the heat but thankfully no one did and we all seemed to make it okay. We stopped for a drink partway, compliments of the tour company, and I never drunk a beer so quickly as I did that day!

During the ride, to take our minds off the heat, the staff played a DVD movie on the monitors, ‘Australia’, directed by Baz Luhrman and starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. This was an ordeal in itself. It was packed with nearly every cliche about Australia you could imagine: tough beer-drinking Aussie blokes, mystical Aboriginal dreamtime mumbo-jumbo, prim Englishwomen encountering the outback, greedy capitalist English bad-guy, stolen generations. Everything was exaggerated to the nth degree - the red centre is red but not THAT red. The story was tedious and predictable - small cattle outfit owned by afore-mentioned prim English women takes on big corporation by driving cattle through the desert on a trail that no one’s ever succeeded in covering. And guess what? They make it! We arrived at our replacement bus just before the end of the film and when we were aboard, the disc would not play, so we never got to see the very end of the film. I wasn’t too upset.

Endurance Rating: Five hours on a bus without air-conditioning in the Northern Territory with 40 other people gets a 8 out of 10 (including the two days of feeling lethargic afterwards). The added discomfort of Luhrman’s ‘Australia’ pushes it to 9-and-a-half. Just short of having to walk through the Saharan desert.