Tuesday 6 April 2010

Indonesia - Summer 2009

After the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong, Indonesia made for a great contrast.  We landed in Jakarta at about 7PM and welcomed by big red signs warning the death penalty on anyone with drugs in their suitcase.  My friend (Conor) that i was planning to meet was a guy i had lived with in Nottingham during my degree who had gotten married to his wife Rini in indonesia.  I had promised to go out and see him, and now was my time.  Having not spoken to him since leaving England 5 days ago, i was a little anxious that he may have forgotten to pick us up... he didnt.  We put our bags into his car and he drove us straight to a seafood restaurant to eat (below).  Without a doubt, this kind of restaurant in England you would expect to spend no less then £30 each for the evening.  We ate mussles, squid, prawns, clams, fish and much more and i was a little worried that i had blown half my spending money on the fist night.  Turned out that it cost less then £5 each, including drinks.

Arriving at Conors house we were warned that they were having a few problems with mosquitos and Conor felt it good practice to tell us about his friends that have gone down with Dengu fever recently.  That night we played Poker, caught rat-like super mice (don't ask...) and Conor helped us plan out our trip for the next three weeks.  He knew every bit of indonesia; where we must stay, what to see and how long to stay in each place.  I left it to the girls to plan whilst i played poker and looked forward to a good rest after travels.  The girls paired with Conor found that the best plan would be to catch a 5 o'clock 8 hour train journey the next morning to Yogyakarta and gradually travel south over the three weeks to Lombok Island.  Confident in the knowledge that Jess has extremely similar interests to me, i was happy to sit back and tag along to whatever they planned.  And what a brilliant plan it was.

So early morning and we were on a low budget but kinda decent train to Jogja (Yogyakarta) getting our first views of indonesia in day light with bright green paddy fields and old school farms.  Half way along and a man comes round with a menu for something to eat and i saw the chance to order my first indonesian breakfast.  Not understanding a word of indonesian, the man recommended me the most expencive meal on the menu (about £1.50) claiming that i will like it a lot.  Not having a clue what i just ordered i sat excited waiting for my first traditional indonesian breakfast to arrive... never before have i been so disapointed to recieve steak and chips. 

8 hours gone we arrive in Jogja and now try and find a means of getting to our hostel.  Boring but safe Taxi? or exciting but seemingly deadly old man with a pedal bike (a Becak - left)?  2 Becaks it was, to carry three of us plus luggage across town.  I began to doubt our decision as we came to our first junction onto a busy main road and the old man jumps off the bike and starts pushing us into a hoard of oncoming traffic.  Surprisingly we arrived safely and they asked for just £1 for their troubles.   

Our first hostel was just £4 a night and had a swimming pool (right) and breakfast included.  After getting refreshed i headed straight out to make up for my disapointing indonesian breakfast and found a little stall selling some proper local food.  Bakso- a soup with some sort of meatballs, noodles and veg.  With a side of Spicy sambal (a crushed chilli and shrimp condiment) and chicken feet (below right).  Cheap food typically came from wheely street venders and stalls (below left) and though they look sketchy i regularly ate from them and had no problems.

We spent a few days in Jogja as there was a lot to see and our hostel organised a few trips for us.  The first day we spent roaming around Jogja taking Becaks to a temple, the water castle, bird market (below right) and a batik art show room.  The water castle was under construction so wasn't overly interesting.  I found the bird market pretty kool, though slightly disturbing as they had all sorts of animals caged and not best kept.  from lonely looking baby monkeys to great big grandad owls.  That evening we ate at a local restaurant where a really cute old man (below left - see actually really cute!) would come and sit on the floor and sing a really spooky song for money.  Also that night I splashed out and treated myself to the very rare (rarest in the world) Kopi Luwak (Civette Coffee) which originates from Indonesia and is famously made from cat poop.  Was about £7 for a cup, in comparison to the £45 it would cost in London, and it is deffinitiley one that had to be ticked off my list.

Our trip that we (i say we, i really mean Jess and Lizzy!) organised with our hostel was a 2 day trip to Borobudor, a Buddhist monument, followed by Dieng Plateau and then heading back to our hostel in Jogja.  It started in the early hours of the morning to watch the sunrise up some big hill but this didn't really work out as it was too cloudy to see anything.  Borobudor was pretty impressive for the first 10 minutes.  After that your pretty much walking around looking at the same thing from different angles for about an hour.
However, towards the end of the tour, a group of school kids came upto us with their teacher asking if they could practice their english with us.  The sweetest kids ever started with the question "how do you do?" followed by "what do you do?" and finishing with "is your country a republic or a kingdom?".  What kinda question is that??!!  Once the tour of the Buddhist monument was over we still had a few hours to kill before our car came to pick us up so the girls sun bathed and i sat and wrote post cards and chatted to the local people working there.  In this time i managed to get a full body massage and talk my way to a free tour on this dudes horse and carriage thing.  I called the girls up and he took us around Borobudor and showed us the resident elephants! We went down for a closer look and the keeper asked if we would like to feed them, which we did, and then he followed up by asking if we would like to ride one?!?! Hell yer i would (below)!  Out of pure happiness we paid the horse dude probably more then he'd usually make and i left with a great fat smile on my face.
It turned out that the guy that picked us up and was driving us to our next destination (Dieng Plateau) was the same guy that took us to the sunrise in the morning, had been working all day and now was feeling the strain and falling asleep at the wheel...  Lizzy was also feeling the strain and was getting travel sickness which strangely worked out well for us.  We sat her in the front seat next to the sleepy driver who suddenly became much more attentive.  First thing i noticed when we arrived at a little village in Dieng was that it was unbelievably cold and all we had with us were shorts and t-shirts.  Further more it was one of the dirtier hostels we stayed at in our whole time.  Me and Jess had a wander around the village and ate some beautiful barbecued satay lamb in a little tent/shack thing filled with smoke and old local men bemused by our presence. 

The next morning we trecked down to see a second sunrise and this time the weather held out for us and we were treated to the perfect sunrise.  From there we headed to a sulphur spring and then onto the Dieng Plateau.  The Sulphur spring was pretty much just a big boiling pot of eggy water but the Plateau was a great view and experience (right)

Back at the hostel in Jogja we were knackered and decided to have a wee break and some lone time to do whatever we wanted.  I took this opportunity to go find the strangest dirtiest meal out there and asked a becak to take me to the cheapest food place he knows.  I tipped him well as certainly didnt fail.  I entered through what looked like somebody's front door to their house and sat in what looked like their kitchen.  The meal consisted of barbecued chicken head, stewed cow hide, fried balls of chicken offal, fried fish, rice and sambal (above left).  That night we spent resting at the pool and i went out and ate snake curry which wasn't very nice.  This was our last night in Jogja as we (again just Jess and Lizzy!) had arranged to head to Mount Bromo the next morning.  Our hostel was great in helping us organise everything and even gave us packed breakfasts to take with us on our journey.

 Mount Bromo (above) was busy, full of tourists and hawkers.  We all agreed that we prefered the sunrise at Dieng though there was still something special in the idea of watching the sunrise from the top of a mountain.  The trip we organised with our hostel was to Bromo, Merapi Volcano and Ijen Sulphur mine.  Merapi next... and we wern't going to climb it, we were going to horse ride up it! Unlike Jess and Lizzy, i have never ridden a horse in my life and my first time was going to be atop a volcano with death defying drops to be flung off.  ok so im exaggerating... but not much!  Jess' horse actually threw her off! not over the edge but still, i had good reason to be shitting myself.  Having survived it however, i was soooo glad i did it.
I wasn't sure however whether or not i would survive the next feat, our 7 hour bus journey to the next destination.  This bus (above) was shocking and would fail any mot 10 fold.  Forget airconditioning, you would struggle to open the windows without them coming off!  It had 8 seats and we squeezed 11 of us in there, the floor was burning hot from the engine so you had to keep your shoes on, and pretty much the whole thing was held together by duct tape.   And incase we had not noticed how dreadful this bus was, pasted along the side of the bus were the words FEAR FACTOR!? 
 None the less, it got us there... Ijen crater lake and sulphur mine.  A looong uphill treck with the occassional wiff of egg is absolutely knackering, but then you feel like a complete wuss for being tired when you cross local mine workers doing the exact same treck but with 60 odd kilograms of sulphur rock on their backs!  Once you reach the top, you get the outstanding view of the crater lake and the thick smokey sulphur gas seeming to come out of it (above right).  Now you have the option to climb down through the thick smoke to get a closer view of the lake and see the sulphur miners at work... or spare your lungs and climb up to see the view from higher up.  The girls chose up, i chose down.  From where we were standing, every now and then the wind would blow the smoke towards us making you cough and splutter.  However, wrapping my sarong around my face i endured the sulphur gas and reached the bottom drenched in sweat and nursing a soar throat.  But my gosh it was worth it.  It was here where i got the best photo i have ever taken in my life (above).  If you're reasonably fit and healthy, i could not recommend Ijen enough.  A steaming baby blue crater lake and fascinating sulphur mining is well worth the effort in getting there.

Next on our plan was slightly off the beaten track and it was our intention to rest for a bit here after some pretty intense last few days.  Next stop was Baluran national park, east Java.  Not a tourist in site, only locals and school kids on science trips!  Aside from food, i am fascinated by animals and so this place was the BEST time out.  We spent one night in a cabin in the centre near a watering hole and one night on the beach.  Miles away from the nearest shop we had to live on pot noodles (indonesian pot noodles taste beaut!) though the first night our cabin neighbours, on a research trip, invited us for a fish barbecue!  Me and Jess went on a hunt for Python in a mangrove but didn't find any and got malled by mosquitos instead,  I caught a lizard and its tail came off... and we were struggling to decide whether it would be reeeaally lucky or unlucky if we bumped into the rare leapords on our explorations.

After our rest we were ready for crossing the waters to Bali, hoping to find a place to stay in Kuta.  This is something we probably should have done before hand (and we did try from an internet cafe in Jogja!) as it took a lot of walking around with our bags and rejections before we ended up staying in our first over budget hotel.  We spent one night here and made the most of our first hot shower and my first shave with hot water and then found a much cheaper, just as pretty hostel round the corner.  Kuta was by far the most touristy place we went to and the most expencive.  Some great seafood restaurants though, where you pick out your food from the front (above right) and they cook it how you want! This was a difficult decision for me so i went for a selection of sea creatures (prawns, giant clams, crab, fish, lobster and squid) prepared in a selection of ways (right - the other dude was some guy the girls picked up on the beach)
We only spent 2 nights in Kuta as we planned to head to Lombok and the Gilis pronto and then come back to Kuta to finish off our holiday.  We booked a bus to a ferry port called Padangbai purely with the intention to catch a ferry to Lombok.  Arriving in Padang Bai I realised that this little beach front (above) was easily my favourite place in the whole of Indonesia and Topi inn  was my favourite hostel.  It had a few rooms and the rest was a line of mattresses out on deck in the open (left).  The girls stayed in a room with all the bags and I slept out in the open air with the sound of the sea putting me to sleep. 

Padang Bai also happened to be the first place I ever snorkelled.  Not being the best swimmer (understatement...), the thought of jumping off a boat in the middle of the sea with no life jacket was making me a lil edgey.  But with a bit of peer preasure from Jess i went for it and told the boat dude i was a good swimmer.  The second i jumped in and 'put' my head underwater i was amazed by how many fish, coral and colours there were... and then inhaled about a pint of seawater.  But once i got the hang of it i realised how much i had been missing out on all these years!  There were soooo many different fish and i even saw a green sting-ray with blue spots! but nobody believed me because they were just jealous that they didn't see any.  But i really DID!

Our plans to cross the pond to Lombok and Gilis soon changed when we saw the price and the time we'd lose travelling.  We scrapped the idea completely and came up with a much better one.  More time in Padang Bai followed by a mini road trip across Bali! Our whole time in Indonesia we had been recommended to try and see a funeral...  how on earth do we get ourselves involved with a random persons funeral!?! Talking to other travellers, apparantly a box of cigerettes works well.  We kinda dismissed the idea until we learnt that the whole village of Padang Bai was closing down for the day to celebrate the cremation of a famous, well loved judge. 
The night before they had a special show of balinese dancing which funnily enough was also something we were recommended to see! Now the dancing was pretty impressive but i couldn't help but be a little (or a lot) freaked out.  The eerie music (old ladies playing with bells and gongs - extraordinarily well may i add) would fit perfectly in some oriental horror movie.  The dancing... well the dancers were kids made up to look like plastic dolls and danced like they were puppets!!  now thats pretty scary.  The next day was the main part though, so dressed in my sarong (which was compulsory) I dipped in and out of the funeral which lasted the entire day.  Went from carrying the body (just wrapped in a cloth), dancing with it, putting it on the top of a great big funeral pyre, put it in the sea (above left), danced with it some more and then set fire to it (above right).

Leaving Padang Bai we caught a bus to Ubud where we bought most our presents for friend/family from its famous market and played with monkeys at the Monkey Temple (top).  I took bananas in with me which all got stolen, pretty much straight away, by getting tricked by two monkeys! one destracted me(left) whilst another jumped on me and took them all! Refusing to be out smarted by monkeys i went to take my bananas back, until the monkey showed me its teeth and looked like he was ready to pounce.  I dont like bananas anway...

Then we rented our car 'Suzy'  (right), the cheapest one we could find! I am yet to be able to drive so how well it drives had little effect on me.  But as far as i gathered, it did not drive particularly well! Nonetheless it took us the whole way up north to Lovina beach with a few stops on the way.  We went to a hot spring which you could bathe in but in my own opinion hot springs in hot countries are more uncomfortable then fun.  Then we made a foolish attempt to drive round a big lake (above) on a crazy, narrow dirt 'road' that was far from friends with our car.  Jess and Lizzy were brilliant and we almost made it the whole way round! until the path kinda disapeared... after a 17 point turn we took a different route.

Lovina is famous for its big black sand... theres nothing pretty about black sand, it just looked like mud. (above left). Nonetheless Lovina was worth the visit and definitely worth the road trip.  Driving back to Ubud we visited a waterfall, another hindu temple and ate at a posh, over priced, tourist buffet restaurant (with amazing view - above right) that gave us about 70% off when we decided to find somewhere else to eat.  I wish i knew this technique at the beginning of the holiday! 

Having dropped the car off back in Ubud we headed back to Kuta to finish off our holiday in the most popular holiday destination of Bali.  Kuta beach is beautiful (left) with great waves to paddle, body board and surf.  It is well known for being a great place to surf... not so much a place to learn how to surf.  Or atleast that was my excuse for wussing out.  I had a great time body boarding instead.  An old lady told me that my nails needed cleaning and 'twisted' my arm to let her give me a manicure and pedicure.  After 4 weeks backpacking i did need it. 

Bali is also known for its massage parlours and i couldn't leave without a traditional balinese massage.  I've never been to a massage parlour before and my view of them has been tainted from various stories.  Not wanting to get myself in possibly the most awkward situation of my life, I chose the massage parlour wisely.  One with a completely open plan and great big windows instead of walls.  I walked in passing the rows of people getting massaged to some gentle rain forest background music.  I asked for a full body massage, they came and washed my feet and then i waited in line to be called.  One by one, people from the line were summoned forward by their masseus and then followed them to the rows of massage stations to get kneeded.  Then my name was called by a particularly pretty lady and i followed her... and kept on following, passed the rows of massage stations, up some stairs and into a dark, curtained off, private room... with a mattress on the floor!?? Shit...   In the little english she knew she asked me to get ready whilst she waited outside.  What "ready" actually meant i wasn't quite sure about so i simply took my top off and called her back in.  She giggled and hinted that more clothes needed to come off, so again she waited outside and i took off my trousers.  A second time she giggles and hints a little more... soooo standing bare butt, heart pounding and clutching my pride with both hands i nervously call her back in.  This time she didn't giggle.  This time it was a full blown laugh as she pointed to the pile of neatly folded sarongs which i was apparantly supposed to wrap myself in.  double shit... But, aside from my distracted mind desperately thinking of an excuse against a "happy ending", the massage was amazing... low and behold the massage finished, i paid, and i left. :o)
For our last full day in Bali we booked ourselves onto a day trip to "turtle island", organised through our hostel.  This included a glass bottom boat trip to get there, a spot of snorkelling and then a tour of turtle island.  The boat was good and had i not been snorkelling just a few days ago i would have been really impressed.  Turtle island was a project to conserve the turtle population of Bali and had plenty of other animals to attract more tourists.  I loved having the opportunity to play with all these animals but i couldn't help feel bad as most of them were blatantly badly kept and malnourished.  That night we watched the sunset on Kuta beach and finished with a night out in Kutas busy nightlife.

We had flights back to Jakarta the next morning to rest a couple of days with my mate before heading home.  Ramadan had started somedays back but had little effect on us in the Hindu island of Bali.  Jakarta was a different story and my friend and his wife were fasting.  Nonetheless, the great people that they are, they did not mind us eating where and when we wanted and Rini cooked a feast at sunset.  In the day Conor gave us a tour of Jakarta centre and then for our last night, we were invited to break the fast at Rinis sisters.  This was great as though we had eaten so much food on our trip, not once did we ever sit down to a proper Indonesian family meal (above).  I couldn't think of a better way to finish our holiday. :o)