The Big Durian, quickly.

June 17th, 2010

The arrival into Jakarta was incredibly depressing on the count of the slums that the train goes through on the way to the station. For at least a couple of kilometers before the last stop, all you can see are makeshift tents and holes through the wall next to the tracks. All you can smell is the trash and whatever else the inhabitants are throwing around. We got a taxi to the main backpacker hangout and had a quick drink before having a quick nap in a hot room. Outside of that area, we quickly found out that Jakarta is a complete mess. For a city of something like 20 million people, it has no real public transport system to speak of, so we had to get around by taxi. From our short stay there, we couldn’t find any kind of neighborhood or logical planning to the city. Street names and numbers don’t seem to follow any logic. Much like most of Indonesia, it looks like it was plopped around willy nilly, supermarkets are next to office buildings which are next to hotels. We went out to check a camera shop and it was next to this fancy specialty wine shop where shitty Australian wines that are typically below 10$ everywhere were going on sale for over 40$. The streets didn’t have sidewalks, street vendors were everywhere.

It was a confusing couple days because unsure of what to do next. We planned on going to Sumatra, but there was an earthquake there a few days before, and the roads are notorious for being awful all over the island. We weren’t sure exactly what to do in Sumatra, or where to go, and while looking up the ferry we found out about a few other options. They were having sales left and right, probably due to the low season and the next day we were on our way to Tanjung Priok, the Jakarta port area. What we booked was a 28 hour boat trip to Batam, a small island not too far from Singapore, renowned for golf and sex tourism. We didn’t go there for either, but to jump on a 20 minute ferry over to Singapore, thereby completely bypassing Sumatra. It’s a shame that we didn’t go, but none of our plans are set in stone, and the spur of the moment decision to jump on a boat in a first class cabin seemed like the best idea at the time. For 50$, it didn’t bleed us dry, and from the few reviews of the boat we read, you definitely didn’t want to end up on the cattle class. The night before we left I got drunk at a “bar” on the side of the road. It was nothing more than a fridge, a tarp and a couple of benches, but the beer was nice and cold, and a jolly Papuan guy there on business kept buying me beers and trying to have a conversation.

The boat ride was nice, and to Helen’s liking, it was very smooth sailing all the way. I don’t think I’ve ever been in first class for anything but it was the only way to get a private cabin, and really outside of that it was only the meal time that seemed very special. They had about 10 stewards around our table while we ate pretty decent Indonesian grub like spicy fish, we had about 4 different forks each. We spent most of the time messing around in our cabin or reading on the deck, but there really wasn’t so much to do. The ride was nice anyway, and soon enough we were making our way through immigration after a 20 minute ferry across to Singapore. After what seemed like a long time traveling already, we were just about to change countries for the first time.

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Easside Java

May 25th, 2010

While being on the ferry away from Bali it seemed like we were escaping something. When we got to Java, everything just seemed a little sparkier, and despite the ferry only being about 1 hour, it looked like we were in the clear. We got to the train station in Banyuwangi, the eastern most town in Java, about 30 minutes late for the train up to Probolinggo, but then found out there’s a 1 hour time difference with Bali and we made it. Right before we got to the train station, a guy on a moped gave us some bullshit about registering as tourists and telling us how we should stay over in the town. Helen pulled out her magic line “we have a booking” thankfully he just accepted this and left us alone. Faced with nobody speaking english in the train station, they finally got someone in charge to sort our tickets out. He showed us over the platform and then sat down with us on an empty bench. He reminded us about the arrival times and then he fell quiet, as if he was going over something in his mind. He started talking about studying to be a lawyer, his home town and how we should really consider staying, and that they have mountains here too, and that really, we could stay over with his family. He really should have made his pitch before we bought the tickets, because he almost convinced me, and it was such a damn refreshing change from conniving balinese touts.

In high spirits, we got on a 7 hour train. It was packed and incredibly uncomfortable but we were happy and we didn’t mind so much when relentless salesmen would leave their junk on your lap in hope you’ll change your mind after a while, a sales tactic that might actually work in the west. The train had frequent stops over in small towns, and at one of them I bought a meal from little old ladies walking next to the train. I misheard them when they said the price and dropped about 10 times too much out the window. They thought I had dropped one of the bills by accident and ran after the departing train to give it back to me. At one point, a chubby slow witted teenager sat down next to Helen and started touching her clothes and her hair. I know the girl was sweetly retarded because this old man who was sitting across the way made the universal “she’s stupid” sign with a finger on the head. I ended up connecting with the old man, helping him to get his heavy bags out from the overhead storage, sharing a glance whenever something weird would happen. We got to Probolinggo pretty late, and haggled the price of a rickshaw (well, a basket in front of a bicycle) down to something reasonable all the way to a recommended hotel.

Helen managed to get a picture of the smiling old man as he pulled off in his own rickshaw. People in the street were shouting “Hello mister!” with no intention of selling us anything. At one point I caught the gaze of this woman on the side of the street. She was so surprised to see a white man that it stopped her mid-conversation to point at me. When I waved back, she let out a gasp and looked all embarrassed. Very cute. The room we got wasn’t too expensive and nice and cool after a long day. We realised that we’d actually travelled by bus, boat and train all in the same day, and we were exhausted, not to mention my back was really sore from the uncushioned train seats.

We spent a lazy day in the town and booked our Mount Bromo trip with the guest house we were staying at. We ended up getting ripped off quite a bit but set out on these windy mountain roads in the early evening. The town in Bromo was pretty beautiful already. For the first time in a while we actually had to get under some covers because it was nice and cool in the moutains. We had to wake up at 3am to get a jeep ride to the top of a mountain to catch the sunset over Bromo. We ended up leaving at 5am and we were packed in with a bunch of my greatest nightmare: Canadians. The sunrise was very ho-hum, I’m fairly cynical when it comes to sunrises, most of the time I’d rather have the extra sleep instead. However, it seemed to be mostly so we’d get a clear view of the volcanoes because the whole area goes up in the clouds very early. After way too long of standing around and taking the same photos as everyone else we got back in the jeep and were driven to the base of mount Bromo. About 30 men were trying to sell us a horse ride to the top but we decided to hike up there instead, not an easy feat. We got to the top fairly quickly and stood in awe at the amazing views that obviously do not translate right in the photos. I started realising that I was on the rim of the crater of a fucking volcano and I was frozen in place with my fear of heights while Helen took a leisurely stroll past the fenced area. “I think you can go the whole way around”, she said. People were selling flower bouquet offerings to throw into the crater.

We skipped going back to Probolinggo and went straight to Yogyakarta (often called Jogja), a fairly big city near the centre of Java. It felt pretty good to be in a big city again and we embarassingly succombed to some of the spoils, including going shopping and eating at Pizza Hut. Everyone kept telling us we have to check the Batik exhibition and when we finally gave in and had a look, it was nothing but a shitty store, the art wasn’t even so great. A day or two later we checked out Borobudur, this huge temple at the edge of town.

It was very impressive but the heat and the sun were bearing down on us so hard that we might have hurried through a bit too quickly. Numerous people took photos of us because we were white and exotic, it was the last time we’d get so much attention for a while. We had to walk through this maze of little stalls on the way out of Borobudur and I saw a Hot Water Music t-shirt at one of them, weird. The bus back to town dropped us off in the wrong place (we had decided to make it there by ourselves instead of booking a tour) and we had to walk around for quite some time. We were done with Jogja.

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