Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Day in Bali

Tuesday is a lazy day. Sleep the morning away. Get lunch. Go to the beach. Get thrown around by waves. Watch lady balancing a giant bowl of fruit on her head sell fruit on the beach. Return to hotel. Shower. Nap. Read by pool. Lazy and relaxing like a vacation should be.

People leave you alone in the hotel complex. Guards w/ metal detector wands (presumably just to put on an appearance of security since the bombings- they didn't detect my camera or other people's laptops or anything) keep taxi drivers and assorted rif-raf away. Key-holding rif-raf like myself excluded. The beach is pretty nice too. The surfing is obviously quite good.

Z, the first of my friends, is set to arrive in Bali at 6.30. Around that time I tell the receptionist that a friend will be looking for me before long and ask that they direct him to the pool area. They promptly ignore this message and it's not until I return an hour later to check that I see he's been waiting in the front lobby. Fresh off multiple nearly missed flights and something like 20+ hours of travel time, he's grateful to have a place to leave his bags and shower.

Friend #2, K, is not due to arrive for some time, so Z and I head out for food. We wander past the closed tourist shops and find an open faced building on the corner with a sate trolley out front. In addition to the chicken and beef skewers, we get some rice, a soup of some mysterious meat and 2 large bintangs. We watch a guy enthusiastically pulverize a tomato into a fine pulp and Z asks what he's making. "Chicken" is the reply. I am skeptical.

We're back at the hotel pool when K arrives & manages to find us. While we're exchanging pleasantries about airports and inflight movies and assorted things travelers enjoy discussing, there is a splash behind me in the pool. I turn and see something frantically swimming across the pool. About the time it reaches the other side and impressively scrambles out despite the lip of the pool, I realize it's a big rat chased into the pool by a cat that's watching it from the edge of the pool. Clever rat for swimming, dumb cat for not going to the other side of the pool.

Day 1 of our Indonesian wildlife tour is a success.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bali is a Hell Hole

I get to Bali and have little trouble finding the taxi stand and getting to my hotel. It's about 11pm and I figure I'll grab some food and wander around a bit. I don't bother with the Lonely Planet since my hotel is on the edge of the main touristy beach region. I figure it will be easy to find a laid back beach bar and grab some food. I quickly find out otherwise.

Instead of a lively night scene, the area I'm in is just a mix of hotels, resorts, closed-for-the-night tourist shops, and over-priced chain restaurants (sorry Hard Rock, Bali). To make exploring even worse, you can't go 10 feet without being harassed. Every taxi driving past honks. People on mopeds pull over to see if you want a ride. Everyone you pass on the streets cycles through the same set of questions. "Transport?" "Massage?" "Young girl?". In that order b/c obviously the only reason someone would not want to be driven somewhere is b/c they're too busy trying to secure a prostitute and the only reason you'd refuse one is b/c they're too old. I quickly come to hate everyone in Bali and decide I will ask the next taxi driver I manage to approach w/o begin harassed to take me to someplace to find food and people.

I quickly find one (transport is readily available in Bali) and explain that while, of course I would love a massage, and, that, yes, young masseuses truly are the best kind, I really would like some food first. He seems to understand and I ask how far it is and how much it will cost. He asks for 50,000. Seeing as this is what I paid to come from the airport (w/ an exit fee) and that I know I'm not asking to go far, I refuse. Yes, in reality $5 isn't much for a cab, but when it's such an obvious buyers market and the guy was just sitting on the sidewalk begging to drive people around, I don't feel like overpaying some asshole.

I turn and walk away and he chases me down to haggle. I offer 20,000 to take me where there will be food and people. We agree on 30,000. In the cab he starts driving and asks for 50,000 again. I hate him. I tell him we agreed on 30,000. He shows me a video clip of a stripper on his cell phone and says he can take me there. I hate Bali a lot.

After what seems like far too long, we reach an area with people milling about in the streets and loud music blaring. I tell the cabby to stop. Having no smaller bills, I give the cabby 50,000. It angers me that this will likely only further encourage him to be an asshole, but I try about his situation and how he probably doesn't have many opportunities. I feel better imagining that his life sucks and go get a burger from a street vendor.

I stop in a couple of bars and find some drunk Australians. I pass the memorial for the 2002 bombing that killed hundreds of people at a night club and stop in a couple bars with more drunk Australians. After being in Korea and throughout Indonesia, the herds of drunk Australians seem really big. I notice upon standing up, though, that I'm actually taller than most of them. I am reminded of the weird way you start to project what you see around you onto yourself and how it slowly shifts your sense of normalcy. Slowly and subtly, I'm sure my time out of the US is warping my mind. Hopefully not in a terribly bad way.

There is a multileveled bar/dance club that I wander through. The fat old men buying drinks for young looking Indonesian girls saddens me a bit and lessens my anger at the people who harass me on the streets. Other, lone girls ring the outside of the dance areas and are scattered throughout the bar. Stop for a drink or make eye contact and they will come flirt with you. While ordering a beer, I ask one such girl what she does for a job. She smiles and says she's working now. I wish her luck and head out.

The roads are narrow and crammed with cabs. So many people trying to leave and no one getting anywhere. Moped taxis descend like vultures the second you step outside, eager to rush you into the traffic jam. I ponder whether to risk walking when I have only a vague sense of where I am or to fight for to sit in traffic. As I'm debating it starts to rain and I opt for choice C, more beer.

I watch a guy passed out on a bar stool for a while. He begins to tilt, then his body convulses in an effort to regain balance. Each time he comes a little closer to crashing to the floor. It's engrossing. One bartender seems mildly concerned and fetches an older Australian woman to ask about the guy. She doesn't seem to know the drunk, but inform's the bartender that the guy is "fucking wasted" and wanders off.

The bartender then tries to rouse the guy by hitting him in the face. Not slapping him on the cheek, like you'd expect, but more of an open palm to the center of the face. It works to an extent, but instead of leaving, the guy comes close to my spot at the bar. I decide I don't want to be puked on and head out. The rain has stopped, the line for cabs is less crazy. I hop in one and head back to the hotel to sleep.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Temple Part 2

I got back to the hotel around 2. My flight is not until 8.30. I ask the travel agency if it's possible to check out Prambanan and still make the flight. Turns out that Prambanan is located near the airport and for $25 I can check out temple #2 and get dropped off at the airport.

Unlike Borobudur, Prambanan is a Hindu temple. It's set in a sprawling, peaceful park. I decline the guide who pushes to show me around b/c I really don't care and would rather just wander by myself and look at some pretty piles of stones without feigning interest in the Hindus and Buddhists who built the place.

The Biggest Temple in the Prambanan Complex

There are actual a number of temples spread throughout the Prambanan complex. The most impressive group of temples is located close to the ticket gate. Given how dismissive the travel agents had been about Prambanan compared to Borobudur, I wasn't expecting much, but it was definitely worth the trip.

Just inside the complex, I notice a Muslim girl eyeing me. Since she's wearing a terrorist outfit, I naturally assume she wants to kill me to destroy my freedom. However, what I had thought must be a bomb turned out to be a camera. Fearless ambassador that I am, I nod, willing to take a picture of her and her family at the temple. Except it turns out she actually wants to take a picture of me w/ her family at the temple. I can only hope that the 3 yr-old with them is shown that photo when she's older and told the story of the time the family encountered an actual foreigner.

Further into the park were several other, smaller temples in various states of repair. There are also a couple of guys who want to sell me a collapsible blow dart gun. As useful as this would be for battle dragons, I can't imagine any airline being a big fan of blow darts.

A statue of something

Having seen all I care to, I make my way through the maze of crap peddlers that surround the exit and find my driver. 5 minutes later I'm at the airport.

The airport is incredibly relaxed. I've got plenty of time so I get dinner and read at a small coffee shop for a while. Around 7 I walk through a metal detector, get a boarding pass at the check in counter and head to the single waiting room.

As 8 approaches, I notice that my flight is set for gate 0. In the room are doors marked gate 1-4. I ask and am told they'll announce the gate when it's time. Indonesia is not a great place if you need to have detailed plans in advance. Around 8:15, gate 4 is opened and boarding is called for my 8PM flight. Since you just walk out onto the tarmac and climb into the plane, I understand why the particular door you exit isn't so important.

The plane is full-sized (6 seats per row) and close to capacity. It's also apparently designed for midgets as even sitting straight up as far back as possible my knees are wedged into the seat in front of me. 1 hour to Bali.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Temple Time


8AM comes early. This was the first night I slept soundly and am groggy and disoriented thanks to it. I pack, grab breakfast and stop by the travel agent to double check my arrangements for Borobudur. I check out of the hotel, leave my bag at the desk and head out with the driver.

Yogyakarta is big and I have pretty much only set foot in the tourist friendly central parts stretching from the train station to the Sultan's palace. Driving into the greater Yogyakarta metropolitan area is an endless repetition of moped shops, small sidewalk restaurants, and (for a strangely long stretch of the road) statuaries. Just in case you need a giant stone Buddha to set apart your petty cab service from the competition.

More than anything though, I'm struck by the sheer number of people. Milling about, sitting around, doing whatever- there are just a crap ton of people everywhere. I ride in silence and stare at people I know nothing about going about their days. Maybe they glance up and see me passing by, maybe they don't. I will most likely never see any of them ever again and they will never know or care about anything I ever do.

I'm happy when the city begins to fall off and we turn on a road lined with rice paddies. The green is a nice antidote to the depressing thoughts of my own insignificance.

The driver pulls into the Borobudur parking lot, points me in the direction of the ticket gate and tells me he'll wait in the car. I am greeted by throngs of vendors peddling assorted crap and pine for the blissful anonymity of passing the car window had provided. I grab a ticket and head into the fenced off temple grounds where vendors are thankfully forbidden to tread.

The temple grounds are nice and green and open with mountains ringing them in the distance. I wander up the main path and catch my first glimpse of Borobudur:
First View of Borobudur

My pictures don't really do the temple justice. It's massive and contrasts wonderfully with the tropical green of the park around it. Built in the 9th century when the Buddhists were apparently doing alright for themselves, it was abandoned around 1400. Then it just sat for 400 years until some locals happened to mention the giant awesome temple to the British ruler of Java in 1814. While I'm sure it's more impressive in it's current restored state, there's something pretty sweet about finding an ancient overgrown temple. In an Indiana Jones sorta way.

The whole thing is carved like this

The other reasons the pictures don't do the temple justice is that you can't really see all the layers that make up the temple from ground level. As you walk up the steps of the temple there are a total of nine levels, each of which has an open walkway lined with relief carvings. So not only did they haul a crap ton of stone from somewhere to build a giant temple out of, they also carved almost every stone to tell various Buddhist stories.

There are also a bunch of Buddha's scattered throughout (apparently statuaries have a long tradition in this area). A lot of them are headless and most of the ones on the top levels have been imprisoned in stupas.

Buddha checks out the view

This Buddha broke free of his Stupa

Borobudur is Big

After wandering all the levels, I stopped by an art gallery located in the park area. There's not too much to it, but it's free. A few paintings and large word carvings are pretty much all there is on the first floor. I head upstairs and am greeted by a midget. On the 2nd floor is an exhibit that's kind of like Ripley's Believe it or Not. Except worse. It's just pictures of people with physical deformities and stuff. The world's tallest and fattest men, a guy who looks like a cat (with whiskers and sharpened teeth).

The exhibit appears to have just been made by printing crap off the internet. And the midget apparently just hangs out as part of the exhibit. B/c when you have a chance to put a poorly made freakshow exhibit that close to an amazing and beautiful landmark, you don't really have a choice, you know?

Heading back to town, the driver stops at Mendut, a smaller temple we'd passed on the way to Borobudur. It looked much cooler when I glimpsed it unexpectedly on the way there, but it pretty much pales in comparison to Borobudur.


Truth be told, Mendut also pales in comparison to the awesome, gigantic tree next to it.

I suspect this tree is like the internet, or whatever Avatar's nonsense was about

I went over to the tree to investigate it's alien tentacles and am startled by two loud thumps maybe 5 feet behind me. I turn and see two good sized (~1 foot) lizards lying dazed on the ground. After a little bit they come to and start to fight (?) with one attempting to eat the other's face. Unfortunately some old European people got to close and the lizards fled back into the tree.

Falling out of the tree did not diminish the bloodlust

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Random Yogy

It's afternoon and I'm wandering aimlessly. Sorta lost, sorta don't care. I stop for coffee. The lady in the coffee place- well place, it doesn't seem to really specialize in coffee, or anything for that matter, mostly it's just an open faced building with tables- anyway, the lady says she has coffee when I ask. It's hard to tell what anything is here. I don't know any Indonesian so I can't read signs, but more than that, places don't seem to be dedicated to any singular purpose. Houses and shops blur together with motorcycles parked inside doorways and anywhere else they can fit. Sidewalks are restaurants and places to hang out. People seem to be everywhere, with or without purpose.

The coffee lady is curious about my shoes. Specifically how much they cost. Apparently her husband is unemployed and living in Germany. For 2 years now. Her accent is difficult to understand. Also, the things she's saying don't make a lot of sense. Her jobless husband sends her money with which she has purchased multiple houses. Or something. She asks about people in the US not having any jobs now. The fact that I work in Korea seems to confirm to her that the US economy has collapsed completely.

I head back towards the hotel through a random swath of Yogyakarta. At one point, a small group of children playing with paper airplanes spot me and are thrilled. They stop running about and wave hello. I high five the closest, boldest child. Upon realizing that high fives were an option, the other children rush over for high fives all around. You're welcome, small children.

I time my return to the hotel well and wait out the rain before heading back out in the evening. While the general area I'm wandering in has an abundance of shops, restaurants, hotels and such, there's not much going on once it gets dark. Aside from a few Batik scammers who are desperate to lure you into their indistinguishable galleries, there's not a lot happening around here.

Well, when the Lonely Planet mapped portion of town is boring, what better to do than wander off into the unknown areas off the map? Not far into uncharted Yogyakarta I hear music and follow it to a strange open-fronted Karaoke place with people dancing about and a couple tables set on the sidewalk. Indonesian Ray Liotta is sitting at one of the tables and is glad that I've come by. "Have some of this," Ray offers, pouring me a shot from a plastic pitcher.

"Random booze from a total stranger? Just what I've looking for! Thanks, Ray!" Ray tells me it's whiskey, but the shot tastes like candy. If there's any whiskey in the pitcher, it has evaded my shot. Regardless, I join Ray at the outdoor table and meet Slinky Bill and Rat Face (names have been changed to protect the innocent). Everyone is happy to meet me and mildly terrifying to meet. That said, I'm sitting outside and can see a police station just up the street, so I'm not too worried.

Amongst the revelery there is a lone female who is the only one singing and seems to be in charge of the place. Also, Fat Joe is here. He welcomes me and asks if I like to sing. I'm ok with sitting at the sidewalk table, but there's no way I'm setting foot inside the place. Ray asks if I want a drink and I offer to buy a round for the table. They are pleased. It will be ~$12. They do not bring me change and I do not ask for it.

Rat face, a handsome man with facial tattoos, no front teeth, and bleached yellow hair, teaches me an Indonesian dance. First you raise one hand, then alternate the other slowly with the beat. I imitate his dance and he is pleased. High 5's all around!

Slinky Bill has a brother in England. Due to this we are all brothers (meaning me, him,his brother, I guess,...maybe Rat Face too). I was unaware of this Indonesian marriage by-law, but am pleased that Slinky Bill seems less likely to stab me now. Ray asks if I want a girl. I decline and he apologizes. I say it's fine. Slinky Bill tells me he's not gay. I say Ok. Rat Face raises his hand with the beat.

They help themselves to the beer I ordered, but are diligent in keeping my glass full. I set a timer in my head and plan to head on after this round is done. Having basically exhausted our conversational abilities, the group goes back to chatting amongst themselves. After a bit, Ray announces he's leaving and heads off on a moped. Slinky Bill reiterates that we are all brothers (Ray was included as well). Rat Face continues his dance undisturbed. I swig the last of my warm beer, thank everyone and depart as well.

I head back to the quiet, restaurant lined streets of the Lonely Planet map and wave down a bike taxi to take me to the hotel.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Sultan's Palace

I slept poorly again and am groggy at 10AM as I head to breakfast. The omelette is good. The potatoes less so. 'Bacon' is not really bacon and is terrible. Mostly Muslim country, so pork isn't so readily available. It's like the anti-Korea.

The Kraton Courtyard

After breakfast I head to the Kraton. It's a massive complex, but I really have no appreciation for Indonesian Sultans. The whole of my knowledge being what I read yesterday on the train. As sweet as a giant palace complex would be, I'm pretty sure I'd take air conditioning and indoor plumbing any day.

Performers at the Kraton

Apparently the Sultan still lives in the Kraton, though most of it is open to tours. I really have nothing to say about the pictures. People dress up and dance and play music and sit around and smoke. I wander out the back exit where there are fewer people trying to heard me into art shops and find myself in a quiet little neighborhood. I guess people just live right alongside the Sultan's complex. People smile, but don't want money from me here. This area is nice.

A Chicken

After a little bit of wandering I get a bike taxi and have him take me to the nearby Water Palace. Previously adjoined to the Kraton, the Water Palace was the Sultan's pool until an earthquake took it out of commission. It was restored in 2004, but apparently being the Sultan isn't what it used to be and the pools are mostly used as a backdrop for high school kids to take pictures of their girlfriends.

I'm guessing the ticket I bought is solely for the tourists since the place seems to have no guards or actual curators. Want to swim in the Sultan's private pool? Go for it. Even weirder, there doesn't seem to have been any zoning restrictions and now the Water Palace is just a part of a neighborhood that has sprouted up with houses sitting next to remnants of sleeping chambers and tunnels.
The Water Palace

Since I did buy a ticket though, I am led around buy a 'guide'. I suspect he doesn't actually work for the place and just acts official (tearing my ticket and such) so he can later try to push me into some art crap. I'm ok w/ this. He's not annoying and while his explanations aren't particularly enlightening

For example: Apparently the place was built by a Portuguese architect in the 1700's. So the Portuguese (I guess there are a singular entity) were brought in to restore it in 2004. Originally the pools were spring fed but in 2004 the Portuguese pumped in water from a well. Also, before 2004 the pools were brown. We don't know why the Portuguese painted them blue in 2004. All the explanations come across as oddly accusatory towards the Portuguese as if they just came in in 2004 and did what ever they wanted and the reasons have been lost to history. Which, other nonsense aside, I have to agree with them on the 'blue pools are better than brown pools' theory.

A pool and the neighborhood that has grown up around it

After wandering around the Water Palace the 'guide' does in fact take me into a Batik art shop (Surprise! 90% of Yogyakarta's appears to be based around selling Batik). At least the owner isn't particularly pushy and is not making up some BS story about it being the last day the stuff is available. I tip the guide and stop for some fried noodles and head off to wander some more.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Night on the Town

This place is dead. Maybe it's just early, but 10pm Saturday and nothing is happening. I stopped in a nice enough 2nd floor balcony bar. There's an older European couple and a couple of presumably local guys. This area is packed with hostels and restaurants, but it's quiet.

I like that there are lizards running around. They don't make me think of unsanitary conditions like a rat or a cockroach would. Instead I think, "neat, a lizard!".

Aha! My first awesome toilet. I'd read in the guide that non-flush toilets were common throughout Indonesia, but prior to this bar I hadn't encountered one. It's like a squatter hole toilet things that you can sometimes still find in Korea, but unlike those, this one doesn't flush. Instead there's a water basin and scooper for manual flushing. There was toilet paper though. No wiping with your left hand here. Even so, I think I will poop in my expensive hotel, thank you.

I move on to another bar. There is a giantess at the bar. Foreigner. Gotta have 6 inches on the guy she's with. Indonesian people are generally pretty small, so I'm a bit frightened. I'm never sure how to acknowledge other foreigners when traveling. There's always an odd moment when you make eye contact and both must nod in recognition of the fact that you too look different than other people around.

National Geographic has a music channel? Ah, and terrible Korean pop music is playing. Back to the hotel it is.

On the way home, I hear music in the street and encounter a quintet who've set up shop along the main road. The have a standing bass, drum set, 2 guitars, and keyboard. They've got a few friends watching and one filming them playing in the street. I stop and watch and they seem happy. After they finish the song they invite me over to talk and play drums. They seem amused and film my awesome drumming (yes, that's now 2 Asian countries that I have toured as a drummer).

As I leave the musicians and head on back to the hotel, I realize that I've been unfair to the Indonesians. Thanks to the Lonely Planet's prices (from 6 years ago) and constant warnings about pickpockets and kidney thief's, I've been predisposed to assume everyone is trying to rip me off or screw me over in some way. In reality, everyone has been ridiculously friendly. Even if they have been overcharging me, the prices are still cheap.

I feel even worse when I see many of the petty cab guys sleep in their bike/cart things. I'd avoided using them before, partly because I usually don't have a real destination and partly because I'd feel like a jackass being biked around town. Now I feel like more of an ass for refusing their service. One of the petty cab guys is still awake and asks me where I'm heading. I tell him my hotel. He drops me off and asks for ~$1. I give him ~$2 and head up to my swank hotel room overlooking the pool and he heads off to wherever.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Yogyakarta: Day 1

Trains get old. Actually, a day on a train isn't terrible, but the prospect of 2 more long days is daunting and unpleasant. The 'plan' I'd devised on the flight in was to get to Yogyakarta Saturday, hit Borobudur and move on Sunday. Hike Bromo on Monday and get to Bali Tuesday to meet up w/ my friends.

Upon getting to Yogyakarta ~5pm on Saturday, I revised this plan. Better to hole up in Yogyakarta and skip Bromo. Bromo might be beautiful, but I'll have to settle for nature in Komodo. Otherwise I'll wind up spending more vacation on trains and buses then anywhere worth being.

Wondering down the main street between the train station and the Kraton (Sultan's Palace), there are an absurd amount of clothes shops, motorcycles, petty cab bikers, and horses.

I like Yogyakarta. It bustles, but doesn't smell. The people aren't overly pushy. Don't look at the petty cab drivers and they mostly leave you alone. As I get close to the Krayton, I find out it is closed and I realize I have no clue what I'm doing. I consult the guide, pick a 'top end' hotel that's semi-close and decide to go. I'll try to find a travel agent there and arrange my flights to and from Bali. A long weekend isn't enough time for too much play-it-by-ear wandering.

It turns out this 'top-end' hotel is not just an 'Indonesia top-end' hotel. The lonely planet's $40 claim is less that 1/3 of the price. I decide I hate the Lonely Planet b/c it just makes me feel like I'm getting ripped off all the time. I'm not poor. I'm not trying to bleed out a month of traveling on a limited budget. If anything, I have the opposite problem of too little time. It's a bit pricey, but it's 2 nights top, has a travel agent in the building and a casting call for hair models on the second floor.

My room is nice. It overlooks a swanky pool w/ fountains and palm trees. I head down to the travel agent and book a flight to Bali for $60. Problem 1 solved. I also arrange for the return trip to Jakarta from Bali. Problem 2 solved. Hire a private car to Borobudur while I'm at it? done. I'm throwing money around and it's solving everything. And as long as I don't look at the Lonely Planet and read about the $5 bus where people will slash your bag to steal your stuff, I don't care. Hiring a car for $30 is a sweet deal.

Now free from concerns about my travel plans, I'm able to enjoy dinner and drinks by the pool. The weather is great, the place is beautiful, but the beer is still crap.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Jakarta, We Hardly Knew Thee

Jakarta is odd. Judging from the streets immediately around my hotel, the economy is primarily based on selling SIM cards for cellphones. To increase profits, rather than bother with paying for a building, they just set up on the sidewalk. A chair, a cart and some SIM cards, you're good to go.

I make my rounds and stop for dinner. Star fruit juice is awesome. There is a cone of rice, and egg, a weird crispy tortilla and some vegetables. The vegetables are spicy, the rice cone is sweet. The tortilla tastes not so good.

Everyone (but primarily 40ish year-old looking women) want to be my friend. Walking down the street I've been invited to join multiple groups at weird bar/restaurants/chairs and tables on the sidewalk. I decline and choose instead to try a Bingtang at a sidewalk bar. It's "International Quality" but comes in 24 ounce bottles. Tastes like piss. Costs ~$3.

Strange mix of people. There's a guy playing a keyboard and girl singing generally terrible music. There's a guy wearing a boa with a weird girl who is staring at me. Upon looking she says something and beckons me over. I decline. My celebrity is a burden. Another woman sits down next to me and repeatedly clanks her glass till I look up. Brief smile and back to the notebook. The place makes me uncomfortable. Creepy old expats. The women next to me informs me that she is named April and is staying nearby. I am increasingly uncomfortable. No, April, I do not like dancing. I finish my gross beer and call it a night. 8AM train tomorrow.

I'm up at 7 after a fitful night's sleep. Breakfast appears to consist of a salad (or something) that has been sitting out over night. I opt for just toast and coffee. The coffee is good.

7:15 I leave planning to walk the ~1km to the train station. In the daylight I'm less disoriented and figure I can avoid getting lost since the train station is located next to a giant tower that can be seen from just about everywhere.

Tower by the Train Station

Much to my delight, there is a Bajaj sitting out in front of the hotel when I walk out. I say that, yes, I most certainly do want to ride around in his awesome 3-wheel cart thing. I giddily climb in and ask him to take me to the train station. Only then do I remember to ask how much. "3" is the response which means next to nothing to me, but I don't care b/c I just want to be chauffeured in the awesome cart.

Bajaj are awesome

The train station is simple. The ticket girl has the friendly, amused/embarassed-about-English attitude of someone who doesn't hate tourists (*cough* Russian train agents *cough*). Since I'm going to be on a train for ~8 hours, I opt for the luxury train. It's twice as much as the guide says, thus setting me back ~$40. While waiting at the platform incoming Economy trains are so stuffed with people that some have climbed up to ride on the roof. I suppress the latent drifter urge that seeing people riding on tops of trains stirs and continue waiting.

There doesn't appear to be any visual way to distinguish the trains, so around 8 I show a guy my ticket and ask if the the train that is waiting is mine. He says, no, my train my be late like his, which was supposed to arrive at 7.45. He is unconcerned and friendly, asking where I'm from. He is curious as to whether there are seasonal weather changes and tornadoes where I'm from. So, yes, to people on tropical Islands, Missouri is exotic and fascinating.

The train eventually arrives and is fine. Jakarta is big. The outskirts have houses piled up on top of each other directly over a river with colorful clothes hanging everywhere . City planning and zoning are so over-rated. Outside of town the landscape quickly turns to large, wet rice fields and I fall asleep.
View from the Train

When I awake later I order lunch at random. Turns out to be chicken, rice and an egg served on a palm (?) leaf lining a wicker plate. The landscape has become more mountainous with layered rice paddies and frequent clumps of jungle. Villages sporadically appear with houses clumped together leaving only room for motorcycles to weave through most alleyways.

I read up on the history of Indonesia and learn that it's the 4th most populous country on earth. Java alone has 128 million people. The more you know...
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Monday, October 4, 2010

Arrival: Jakarta

A good portion of my flight is spent reading the Lonely Planet and trying to formulate something of a plan. Skimming through the section on Java (the island where Jakarta is located) I decided that Borobudur, a big Buddhist temple, and Bromo, a volcano, are the things I'd most like to see. Conveniently, they are both located to the East of Jakarta, the way I need to head to get to Bali.
My plan is to go directly to the Jakarta train station and figure out the earliest I can get on my way towards Yogyakarta. From there I can arrange a trip to Borobudur. Along the way, I will further investigate the feasibility of getting to Bromo. The Lonely Planet encourages an early morning hike to catch sunrise from the summit. I am not sure that will be possible, but figure I'll see how travelling goes before ruling anything out.

With my itinerary for the next few hours ironed out I watch and hate the movie Date Night. Yes, it is socially unacceptable to take someone else's dinner reservation. That does not make it a joke that can carry a film. Make more 30 Rock and stop being in bad movies, Tina Fey.

The Jakarta customs check is awesome. You pay $25, a guy stamps like a billion things without so much as speaking to you and you're on your way. The declaration card's notice that drug traffickers face the death penalty had led me to believe it might be a more tedious ordeal.

As I walk out of customs and skip the baggage claim, I discover that I am a celebrity in Indonesia. As I step outside everyone starts clamoring for my attention. Fortunately, the licensed taxi companies have clearly marked booths and everyone who just wants my autograph or whatever is kept behind a fence. Instead of feeling overwhelmed and/or harassed, you feel awesome.

I pick a cab company at random. The price seems high because money is ridiculous here. Exchange rate of like 9000 Rupiah to 1 dollar has left me with a fat wad of seemingly fake money. 200,000 for a cab? Why not?

It turns out that the cab people (and everyone else I will meet, for that matter) speak English pretty well. I say I'd like to go to Gambir station and we're off. The cabbie isn't sure if the ticket booths will still be open, but I hope to at least verify the schedule tonight. There's a strip of hotels not far from Gambir that seems like a logical next step.

I like the small streets crowded w/ random shops and food booths. The driver turns, "Mr., Bajaj, mister" pointing out an awesome 3 wheeled motorcycle-cart hybrid thing that we're passing. I want to own one. Also, I'm amused at being called 'Mr.' Don't get that a lot.

Bajaj are ever bit as awesome as you'd hope.

I get dropped off by the train station. Too late for a ticket, but there is definitely an 8AM train for Yogyakarta. A taxi guy approaches and offers to take me somewhere. I ask how much. He says $5. I tell him Ok, knowing this is probably a relative rip-off but not caring b/c it's $5. Also it's dark and I'm in a city I don't know with no real destination. It occurs to me that in my negotiations with the cabbie no destination has been discussed. I say I want to go to a hotel and the guy says something. It sounds like it could be the nearby district with hotels. Arranging transportation in this manner is probably how people get their kidneys stolen.

Jakarta has the most confusing streets ever. I'm pretty sure we're just going in circles, but since I've already agreed to a set price, that doesn't really make sense. According to the Lonely Planet the place I think I'm going is like 1km from the train station. We certainly seem to be taking the long route. Before I get too concerned though, we pull up to a nice enough place w/ a Bob Marley cover band playing out front. $30 for a room. This country is ridiculous.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


At 10AM Friday, September 17th I awake. I must be on a plane in 5 hours and 45 minutes. I have not packed for my trip. I have not planned for my trip. I know nothing about Indonesia. I do not know where I am staying tonight. I have a guide book, a round trip ticket in and out of Jakarta, and a deadline to meet friends in Bali on Tuesday.

Some months ago I read an article about Komodo dragons that cemented Indonesia as my first choice amongst potential Korea-based travel destinations. In July, when I floated the idea of traveling there during Chuseok (Korean thanksgiving) to a couple of friends, it was met with interest but not commitment.

Early August, I checked into the logistics and found it would be prohibitively expensive to charter a boat to the island by myself (in retrospect, this is probably not true. By just winging it in Labuan Bajo you could probably do everything pretty cheap, but if you want to plan ahead, things are pricier). Still lacking firm commitments from potential travel companions, I began investigating alternative Chuseok destinations.

Mid-August, I sent a final inquiry to my friends figuring if we were going it needed to happen. A wedding in California and general lack of flights from Korea during Chuseok made things look dicey. Finally, late August, it is decided. We are going. Tickets must be bought. Dragon tours must be arranged. The window of opportunity is narrow. The earliest we can all arrive in Indonesia is 9.21 the latest we can all stay is 9.26.

Unfortunately, the late date and fact that everyone in Korea was planning on traveling that week meant flights were expensive and hard to come by. Even more aggravating was the fact that many of the overpriced flights that showed up in searches were phantom tickets that disappeared when you actually tried to purchase them. Suddenly, it wasn't a matter of trying to juggle departure times, flight duration and costs; it was a matter of even getting a ticket. To make matters even worse, the day my friends sent me their flight confirmations, Korean Airlines' website went down and it appeared entirely possible that after championing the trip, I would not be able to make it.

The next day, as soon as Korean Airlines was back online, I bought the first tickets that would guarantee me a seat. Nevermind that it was twice the price of most weekends or that it took me to Jakarta when I needed to meet my friends in Bali (since that's where the Komodo trip arrangements were).

Heading there, this shouldn't be a problem. Since I'm flying today (Friday 9/17), I've got until Tuesday to figure out how to get to Bali. Coming back might be trickier. The arrangements in Komodo will return us to Bali around noon on Saturday the 25th. I have to catch a plane in Jakarta Sunday night. It seems there are many Indonesian airlines that are not on the major flight search engines, so hopefully this won't be a problem.

Truth be told, I kinda like the haphazard nature of this trip. I'll get to see more of Indonesia. It'll be more fun than just booking a Bali resort package, anyway. Worst case I suppose I miss my flight home and just have to waste more time and eat some more money. Not ideal, but not exactly the end of the world. Can't get to worked up about things. It's a vacation- gotta enjoy it.