Sunday, 20 February 2011

It's back! The revival of the blog!

Well how do I start this update after such a long period of time?  Maybe with an apology for anyone who still reads this and wondered where the next episode of my life in words was.

Well here is my apology Mum! (I think there may be one or two more that read this but I haven't exactly given my avid readers much to keep them gasping for more now have I)

So the reason for such a belated update has nothing to do with me becoming bored of writing and everything to do with a sheer mountain of workload that has been piled upon me since my upgrade.  I have had a whirlwind time of it recently (Well the past 4 months anyway) and will try to explain all.

My upgrade training to become a Captain was certainly something I will remember forever.  It came just at the time when Ramadan was ending, and is marked with a festival called Idul Fitri I believe.  This is basically Christmas Day for Islamic folk and hence is celebrated beyond anything I have experienced in Indonesia before.  I think I counted 3 separate weekends in total, with 3 different 'class' of people arriving from all over Java to make Pangandaran, our training base, their own party central.  By the end of it there were people sleeping in trucks, on the beach, by the side of the road and even one guy I saw up a tree! (No comment!)

It's hard to describe in words just how busy the place was, but to try, I expect it would be tantamount to attempting an escape from the Wembley area after England had just won the world cup at home and the tubes, busses and taxies had gone on strike - you simply couldn't move!

Add to this the fact that not one of the people there seemed to sleep - ever - and you can imagine how much stress we were placed under to try and make it as Captains.  I was awoken constantly by fireworks, motorbikes, car horns, kids, cattle, frogs, a man with a megaphone and everybody else in my 'hotel'.  (In quote marks as the grand Hawaii hotel is not quite what you would class as a hotel, more a shack with a lock on each door)  Not an ideal situation with respect to the amount sleep required to absorb the volume of information that was due to come.

So groundschool began and we were paired with the new Co-Pilots, expected of course to know everything they didn't.  Hmm.  I came through the classes without any problems and then finally got my hands on the controls again, this time from the seat I prefer.  ( I know this bit was short, but did you really want an explanation of how we had to sit through numerous powerpoint slides and videos from days gone by?!)

So, things as ever in my company were not going to be straight forward and the flight portion of the training was to be no exception.  We had been advised that a large number of people were expecting to be taken up for a joyride around the peninsular and this had to happen over the weekend that we were starting our air-work.  Without too much fuss, but a little bemused by this late information, off we went to the beach landing strip, given a run down of what actions we would have to perform to get the engine running, take off, fly for 10 minutes and then land back on the said beach strip with a plane full of passengers!  Brilliant.

Not technically my first flight in the left seat at this stage, but certainly one whereby I was being tested on my Captaincy and I was expected to perform flawlessly.  It went well and 8 more joyrides later I was becoming really quite comfortable with the whole engine start thing!  No problem.  10 minute sectors certainly forced you to concentrate and trying to complete all actions and checklists in this time frame meant getting up to speed and very comfortable with the aircraft very quickly indeed.

It may sound a bit odd that I needed to get used to the aircraft again as I had been flying it for 850 hours over 9 months already, but the perception, controls, view and space on this side are all different and feel quite alien to start with.

After the joyride weekend had run its course we were then put into some more serious situations and paired with the new Co-Pilots.  They knew absolutely nothing and so the workload on each of us was dramatically higher than anything we had been used to before. Simple things that were automatic to us were quite a challenge to the new folk and we were responsible for ensuring that no limits were exceeded, the flight went according to plan and emergencies were dealt with correctly and safely.  Phew.

My co-pilot, to his defence, was quite able and picked up a lot of stuff quickly and so it made my job of managing the situation a lot more tenable.  The flights were of course fraught with problems such as engine fires, doors opening during take off with eerie frequency and a total loss of electrical systems amongst others, but the sheer fact I am able to write this delayed update means that of course I got us down in one piece!

I could tell you a whole lot more about these three weeks but I fear this may be a long post given the time since my last one!  Suffice to say is that we all passed and a good and thoroughly well deserved drink at the beach bar ended the period very nicely.

I was handed the information that I was to be based back in Medan, my choice of base, and so packed up my stuff to begin my life as a Captain.

I flew back from Jakarta with an aircraft that had been evacuated prior to the volcano mentioned in my previous post and managed to log a substantial amount of night time as a result which I was pleased with; this stuff is very hard to come by!


The hard work I'm afraid to say only began on my arrival back to base.  As a newly minted Captain I am under the scrutiny and watchful eye of a Training Captain.  He would be my Co-Pilot and strangely would go through all sorts of schizophrenic behaviours during the 10 flights I had with him!  One minute he was the most co-operative person on the planet, then he not only forgot how to fly but also started suggesting all sorts of crazy ideas to try and get us killed…!  This of course was by design and so the onus was on me to manage these different co-pilots and still keep my head on the job at hand.

It went well and at the end of that very tiring and mentally draining week he informed me that I had met his standard and was cleared to fly on the line.  Great!

As a new Captain you are eased into the role by flying morning flights with experienced guys in the seat you once occupied.  This is supposed to give you a chance to fly in good conditions with a guy who is capable and easy to manage, if possible this tends to be people with lots of hours, experience and almost being considered for upgrade themselves.

I on the other hand had a mixed bag of people given the fact that the base had only really started recovering from the evacuation.  I had one arrogant guy who thought he knew everything and was quite happy to try and tell me what to do, one who treated me like I was some sort of aviation god and one, who I really enjoyed flying with, who had just the right balance of respect for my responsibility for the flight and personal authority when it came to making his own suggestions and decisions.  It seemed like my schizophrenic pilot from before had morphed into a whole load of people!  Now I understood the training.

Lucky me, I also got the worst of the weather!  So much for easy flights to start me off with.  I had to really exercise my Captains hat for real and made command decisions that both I and my co-pilot agreed was the correct course of action.  I didn't die, kill anyone or cause any flight safety issues as a result of my actions and so a big pat on the back was awarded (By myself, to myself, in private and without telling anyone - except the internet community now!).  But seriously, the responsibility brings a whole new level to your flying and I was relishing it.

So there I was, happy, enjoying my flying and certainly enjoying the pay increase that came with the job.  I could finally start to eat away at those strangling credit cards that helped me get here!  Then a position came up in the base that I felt would be a nice addition to my time in Medan and also add another string to my CV bow.  This was to become the deputy Base Manager.

Oh how I was not prepared for the following few months and hence the main reason why I have simply not had the chance to pen anything to my beloved blog!

Here we go!

To sum it up, I was keen on helping out with the base operations position and thought it would be a good way of improving the quality of life where I would now be living permanently.  The position of deputy base manager was available but was offered to someone else initially.  Oh well, I would be happy just plodding along with my new role as Captain and would go from there.  Two days into the job the other guy decided that it wasn't for him and so by the sheer fact that nobody else was even interested in the position, I was offered it!  Second choice, but whatever.

So the first thing was to try and fix the food situation, then I would get onto scheduling and see what other small things I could improve on.  That was until the base manager had to leave for personal reasons and there I was, suddenly sitting in the big chair and trying to run the base without any information or assistance.  From day one (Which was only 1 week into my deputy role) I was dealing with disciplinary procedures, aircraft maintenance, scheduling congestion, holiday requests, housing nightmares and a whole bunch of other tasks.  Oh, I still had to fly as well.

I managed to get a break off over Christmas and this was very much overdue.    I've missed home more than I thought and so it was good on so many levels to get back.  The 13 hour stopover in Doha was not exactly pleasing though.  It was nice to get back and see everyone, but the cold did really hit me when I arrived off the plane at Heathrow!










After my all too brief 'holiday' home it was time to head back to Indo and then it was all supposed to be back to normal with a base manager and me doing deputy work.  Not so!  I was once again left on my own to run the show as the other guy had to head back home again!

So for 3 1/2 months I have been doing the best part of 14 hour days mixed with office and flying duties.  Lets see how long that lasts!

Ok, I will leave the blog update there as I want to write a new one for the most recent news!  I am now a Training Captain…  Drum Roll!


Thursday, 7 October 2010

Meet the parents.

Well the past few weeks since Jagoda and the troops left have been hectic to say the least!  I'll try and summarise it up in as short a space as possible, but there's a lot to remember on this one!  Over a month since my last post, I know.

So I got back to Jakarta and had the embarrassment of trying to get out of Indonesia when my company forgot to pay my baggage allowance and also sent me one day after my visa had expired..  A quick note slipped here and there  into various palms sorted the whole situation out but I was then left with no cash and heading to Kuala Lumpur.  Hey ho, good thing corruption still exists somewhere! (The best bit was trying to claim back the cash outlay and being asked for a receipt - for a bribe!)

The onward journey was less stressful, as Malaysia is a much more organised place, but there was still the waiting around and being bored in airports that has now become quite routine to me.  I was still on a high after the previous 2 weeks and looking at the pictures kept me entertained!

Arriving in Medan after Papua felt like I was like going back a step, but I now had a lot of hours and so knew this was the time to start knuckling down.  Who knows, Captaincy might just be around the corner and I don't want to be cramming numbers at the last minute.

My first flight back on the line was with the base manager and was quite unique.  We flew around the whole west of Sumatra for the Forestry Commission who were taking photos of the replanted areas, with the cargo door open!  I flew for 3 hours at 1000 feet with someone hanging out the back of my aeroplane!  It was so bloody noisy!

The rest of that week was basically just gearing up for my weeks holiday in Thailand to visit my Mum and Dad.  At that point I had been in Indonesia for 10 months and as you all know, have not been home in all that time, so this was going to be a nice shot in the arm and a slice of home that I've been missing.  My only request was for some tea bags!

So I left my last flight of the day, changed clothes in our waiting area and then boarded my flight to KL - again!  I stayed one night there in a cheap and cheerful hotel and despite the room being about half the size of a prison cell was actually not too bad.  I had satellite TV, my own bathroom and free internet.  It was at this point I realised I had managed to leave my camera in Medan somewhere..  Me and cameras have this constant urge to separate from each other and this love-hate relationship had come about again.  Anyway, I managed to watch a live game back in the Uk, unfortunately it was Arsenal, but still.  An early start in the morning followed and so the alarm was set to 'stupid-o-clock'.  I checked my email one more time only to find that I had been scheduled in for a Captains upgrade course the week after I was due back from Thailand!  Short notice indeed, but I wasn't complaining!  This was big news as I wasn't expecting it to come quite this soon.  Sleeping was tough that night.

I got to KL airport with no problems at all which just goes to show how well I know this city now!  The flight was 2 hours to Bangkok and I slept for nearly all of it given my thought-filled night.

So then, back in Thailand for the first time since Christmas and about 2 hours away from seeing my parents.  I jumped on a coach and headed south for Pattaya.  I was getting a lot of SMS's from my mum at this point but couldn't reply as Indonesian phones run out of cash very quickly when abroad!  An hour and a half later and then I was about a 5 minute Baht-Bus ride away.  I later found out that this should have cost 10 baht - it cost me 100.  Tourist thiefs!

So then, I arrived at the Amari Orchard Hotel and Tower to find my Mum and Dad sat having a drink and waiting to see me.  I haven't been on holiday with them since I was about 16 so this was going to be different in itself.  I was really happy to see them and I think they were too.  The hotel looked amazing from the outside and the first time I have stayed in something this grand for a long time.

I had so much to tell them and there were a lot of changes back home which I listened to over the next hour.  Checking in was funny though, I was informed that if I were to bring 'someone' back to my room then I have to inform the desk and pay 1000 Baht!  They are so open in Thailand!

I grabbed a quick shower and then we headed out for some food.  We sat around talking for ages before deciding to go and get changed and head out for dinner.  Staying pretty local, we ended up in the sports bar of the hotel and after a few pints thought darts and pool would be a good idea.  Somehow, coming back from the past, was my Dads aim!  He won all the darts matches and beat me at pool every time!  I couldn't believe it!  Mum wasn't so hot and was constantly taking out chunks from the wall.  Still, after breaking 4 of the 6 darts we decided enough was enough.






The next day was fairly standard of my week there.  Rising at a respectable hour, heading to the hotel pool and relaxing!  I hadn't done this in a long, long time and although it seemed like a typical englishman on tour kind of thing to do, I loved it!  No work, no hassle, just sun and swim :)

Scoffing down some Thai Green Curry and exploiting the happy hour was nice and then sitting at the pool bar sipping cocktails put the icing on the cake so to speak.




The beach wasn't up to much in Pattaya and so there was no incentive to go down to the sea but walking around the town opened your eyes to the bars and the rather social girls who work there..  Some are not girls as I'm sure you are aware.

I got to eat English food in a British Legion restaurant which again made me look like a  tourist, but sod it, I have been away for a year and so deserved to sample a roast dinner!  I haven't quite come to terms that I'm an expat now but it's slowly sinking in! It wasn't all about English food though, we went to the hotels 5* restaurant and ate more glamerous food too!  This is my gold leaf topped truffle and broccoli soup...


We generally relaxed while I was there and just caught up on all the stories.  We played golf at a driving range and again my Dad somehow managed to launch a ball into orbit on most occasions!  How?!  The last and only time I have seen my Dad hit a golf ball it was on the Nintendo Wii.  Oh, I also had my feet eaten by fish in a fish-spa which was a very strange experience!




The week went pretty quick and before long it was time for me to head back to Indonesia.  It was really nice to see them both and generally get out of Indonesia for a while.  Hopefully it won't be as long until the next time!

So I had to depart Thailand, wondering if there were jobs going that I could apply for there!  I got up early, said my goodbyes and set off back to my second home, an airport!

I didn't wait long until I was boarding the flight to KL and starting to really figure out what was to be expected of me on the Captains course..  Now was the time to make a plan and get busy!

Sitting in KL was as much fun as it always is.  The staff in Starbucks now recognise me and I get biscuits free of charge.  I sat down and watched Grand Tourino on my laptop and then had a quick look at the news.  Oh, a Volcano in Sumatra had decided that after 400 years it would blow its top.  Great.

I went over to the airport information desk, who hadn't a clue about the situation, then went direct to Air Asia's information desk, who surprise-surprise were equally as clueless to whether the flight was still going ahead or not.  I decided it was worth looking into hotels just in case.
Eventually the time came for boarding and it seemed as if I wouldn't be stranded.  The flight for me was a bit tense as I still don't have 100% faith in Indonesian pilots.  Given the fact that there was a volcanic eruption not more than 30 miles away from where we would be approaching and having knowledge of what ash does to engines all came to my mind!


I got back safely to Medan however at 10pm.  Arriving back to the house I spoke to one of the other guys here.  He assumed I was flying in the morning and so I got myself ready for a 5am pick-up and set myself up for a  good nights sleep.  On waiting for the usual bus to turn up in the morning I found no movement from anyone anywhere so went back to bed (Remember how organised my company is?!).  I got up again at 10am ready for the 10:20am pick-up when a Captain came to my door and said, "the bus is here..  Where is all your stuff?"  I was a little surprised by this comment and then when asking what he meant he informed me that we were evacuating Medan due to the volcano!  Great.  30 seconds later I was in a bus heading to the airport.  Funny how Air Asia and Garuda airlines thought it not important enough to cancel their schedules.  My faith in Indonesian airlines withers a bit more everyday.

The usual confusion was evident at our airport office and so luckily I had time to go back and pack.  I was then told I would be flying a full load of staff to Jakarta and then would be staying there for a week until my upgrade course.

That week I basically spent either revising and going through the pre-course material or out with my friend Stephanie catching up on the company gossip.  There were some funny stories, but you would have to know the people and the company to get them.

So the week past by, I got my orders to be ready to go and then off I went!  I got to Halim airport and was told that I would be flying as a Captain, taking the crew and staff down to South Java!  Right then, straight in at the deep end!  I had never started the engine before and there I was being asked to do it! ha ha.  This company.  Of course I knew what to do, I'm just making it sound dramatic :)

The flight was really good and I immediately got a taste for the decision making..  From now on I would be calling the shots, great :)

We arrived in Pangandaran with no issues and my landing was perfect.  The problem now came in the fact that we were in the middle of Ramadan and the place was swarming with people, millions of people.  The noise was crazy and the fireworks seemed to never end.  Not good when you are being dragged up for class at 7am every morning and then asked to fly intense, problem filled, emergency riddled flights! (Part of the training, not actually real emergencies!)

Ground school was fairly straight forward (easy!) but then we were asked to go and fly tourists around the peninsular!  I mean we had less than 1 hour in the plane as Captains and now we were expected to go and do 10 minute joy flights with people on board and landing on the beach strip!  Bring it on!



The training continued on for a week in total, although it was spread over 3 weeks due to the end of Ramadan celebrations..  We joined in, but drank too.  Well, I'm no Muslim am I!


Essentially the upgrade was more of a testing exercise than formal training and after becoming more and more familiar with each and every flight I felt really ready for the line.

The five of us on the course all passed and were asked which bases we wanted.  I didn't really care and so offered myself up for Medan.  Not a favourite among the others but I knew the place, knew the routes, enjoyed the area itself and felt it would give me a lot of hours quickly.  I was not wrong!

I have been here 3 weeks now and have logged almost 70 hours in my logbook!  Insane!  My first week was line training with the Training Captain and this was hilarious.  He basically played the dumb co-pilot and essentially I had to watch his every move.  At times he couldn't fly straight, couldn't understand the computer system we have, didn't know the effects of flying through a thundercloud and then forgot how to land properly..  I told him I would be speaking to the boss to reassess his position in the company!

Anyway, he was very pleased with me and passed me fit to fly on the line!

I've been flying with experienced co-pilots (Some who have more hours than me!) and so none of this dumb co-pilot stuff has happened - yet!

Will try and give you an insight to the Captain flying in my next blog!

See you all soon I hope.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Jagoda and Indonesia finally meet!

Starting from the top, my holiday with Jagoda and co. went a little bit like this!  (Oh, this is a long one!)

Cast: Me, Jagoda, Egil, Adriana, Erika, Paul and Joe.

I steamrolled my way back from Papua a few days after they had arrived.  Although slightly annoyed I couldn't head back and meet them at the airport, given my companies recent planning disasters I should be thankful I made it back at all.  I could quite have easily been left somewhere in the Papuan wilderness and learning how to make spears and pierce my nostril cavity.  Alas, it was not that way!

They had already met a couple of English guys, Joe and Paul, and were marveling over the sights of Krakatoa, the volcano that blew up a few years ago, so I would have to spend at least a night in Jakarta eager to see Jagoda and get going on a holiday I have craved for a long time!

The time, date and place was set - Jakarta train station at noon; or as close as you can get to noon with the formidable Jakarta-noon traffic!  But sure enough (after a little confusion as to where we both thought we were) I saw her bounding out from a corner of the station with a big, but tired smile on her face!  A long time since I'd seen that!

I had previously introduced myself to her buddies and all was good..  I had a plan in mind but didn't want to dictate the run of things as I was sure they had plans already.  The only problem I could see was that they simply had no idea how vast the country actually is and how completely inept the Indonesian transport system is!  After proposing my route they seemed to agree (Or at least I hope they did and didn't just think I was getting all Chairman Mau on them!) that this was as good as any.  So the plan was to travel south and then east before dropping them off as close to Bali as I could get them.

So off we went!

Being the only Indonesian speaking person, ahem, I was happy to try and negotiate our way though this crazy mess I was sure it would end up being!  The first mission came when trying to order the train tickets.

You have to fill out a form, tell them everything about you, where you live, your birthday, shoe size and star sign and then request x number of tickets on the train name, destination, class and time you would like to go on.  You then take this to a small lady behind blacked out glass windows and hand it over.  If you are lucky then you get what you want - if not, well I don't know what happens, we got lucky!

Executive class tickets were booked on the train heading to Bandung and was leaving in about an hour.  Perfect.

So the train journey number one started the trip off nicely.  Relatively luxurious seats that reclined, power connectors to recharge phones and computers and even food served on plates with knives and forks if required. (Indonesians usually eat with their hands by the way - or actually I should say right hand.  The left is used for the unmentionable lavatory stuff - eww)




Having been here for 10 months now there was a lot to talk about and so I bored her with all the intricate details of my life here as the setting sun slowly disappeared and the darkness fell to hide rural Indonesia.  We arrived in Bandung and thankfully found that the hotel most likely to have us was just a 3 minute walk over the road.

We all settled in to two rooms (boys and girls of course) and then went for a stroll around town to find some food - this was where the culture shock would really start to come into play.  Nothing was really open until we spotted a small but clean traditional food place.  The choice was Chili fried rice, or Chili fried rice with egg!  No, not quite that bad, but the choice was fairly limited, especially when coupled with the usual "Already finished" from the waitress whenever someone found something they liked!

Time for bed came relatively quickly and I had organised us to fly with my company the next day to the beach resort of Pangandaran, where all my first impressions of Indonesia were formed (Read my first post to figure out how deluded I was about this place!).

Arriving at the airport and checking in was good, especially with half price tickets and the information that we would be the only people on the flight!  VIP charter for backpacking Europeans!  Ha ha - at least I could pull one or two strings in the right direction.

Everyone was really excited and it was personally an amazing feeling to finally share my work with friends.  No one has really seen what my day to day life is like here until now so it was kind of special in that respect.  Video cameras were on, cameras were at the ready and take off began!


I guess being used to it made the flight seem pretty mundane to me, but everyone else was constantly out of their seats in our private aircraft, getting the view from everywhere they could.

Landing in Pangandaran was another good feeling and after the photos with the Pilots we boarded a Susi bus heading to the beach!  Everyone was crammed in for the 45 minute journey but eyes were fixed to the villages and rice fields as we passed by.


We got to Pangandaran and although my efforts proved to be in vain, I spent a good hour trying to let my company put us up in the bosses house.  We settled on a cheapish, and what turned out to be a nice, little hotel on the beach front.  It was getting on to early evening now but the sun was still up and the waves were too tempting not to go and say hello.  We all jumped in, got our hair wet (Well most of us!) and even tried to bodyboard a little, before being slammed in to the ocean more times that I care to remember!  Boys and girls went their separate ways again until everyone was showered and changed and ready for the beach bar - Bamboo.

Since I have been there they added a nice collection of drift wood seating on the actual beach which was sensational.  Oil lamps dimly lit us all up and the Bintangs, Vodka and Redbull started flowing..

The rest can be imagined by yourselves I'm sure, but swimming, dancing and general debauchery ensued!  Sorry to everyone who witnessed my drunken behavior but in my defense it was the first time I had been able to relax in a long time.  Will I ever learn?!

The next days plans were to get over to the nice sandy beach and go for a snorkel, play with the monkeys and catch some well earned sun.


We stayed there for a good 6 hours and most of the fair skinned morsels amongst us were starting to turn a lovely shade of lobster..  I was very glad I had a base tan to start me off but still suffered a little!

The short boat ride back was as fun as the one going out and then it was time to get ready for the night.  It had been decided that the following day we would go to 'Green Canyon' which was supposed to be a lovely river boat ride culminating in a scenic waterfall and rapids-swim for those that dared.  We would be hiring scooters and planned to all drive ourselves out on the 1 hour long trip.

That evening we arranged to hire 7 bikes, paid the equivalent of £3/per 24 hours of use (!) and proceeded to teach everyone how to drive them.  This all went reasonably successfully although there were one or two moments best left out of this.

The next day, those of us willing and able to drive set off on the very Indonesian road trip!  We got 3 minutes in, had to stop so that a couple of people could get petrol and then managed somehow to split up into two groups in a town as big as a football pitch! (Bit of an under-exaggeration there you understand, but it's not a city by any means!)

So the decision was made to head to the destination and hopefully we would all be reunited.  A bit of waiting, some hard decisions being prepared to be made and then just as tickets for the boat ride were about to be bought, riding through the blazing sun came Paul and Adriana!  (Slightly pissed off, but still here none-the-less).

Again, boys and girls split into their birth chosen groups and off we went in two river boats.


The trip was very peaceful and scenic and although still in Indonesia it was actually fairly clean!  We turned the final corner upstream and in front was a lovely waterfall smashing down onto the rocks below.  Struggling to get the small lawnmower engine to haul 3 fat english guys up the rapids was entertaining and required some shifting of weights as directed by the crew!  Finally we got there and myself and Joe donned life vests ready for our swim and rock climbing/jumping experience!



The water was fast, cold and refreshing!  There was no way of fighting the current, you could only swim towards either side of the stream and do your best to avoid the oncoming rocks!  (Remember health and safety in Indonesia?!)  Great fun!

We eventually angled ourselves towards the waterfall and had a good shower before launching ourselves off the top!  The current continued to take us downstream back to where we started, but it was too nice to get back in the boat and so we decided to hang on the side and relax a little!

The journey back to the hotel was a nice, slow gentle commute with the usual cows moo-ing at us from the back of pick-up trucks, the local children just leaving school shouting at us for some attention and the local traffic treating us with exactly the same attitude as they would with locals - none!  Small mini-vans scream past you doing 3 times your speed, other motorbikes whizz past like they are late for their date with the President of the World and animals seems to wander aimlessly and without any care for the oncoming traffic!  Amazing!

After all arriving safely back it was time to get our stuff together, organise getting out of Pangandaran and head to Jogjakarta - not actually 'Jog to Jakarta', the two places are different!

We organised a 7 seat people carrier, approved the 700,000 IDR cost (About £6 each) and set off on what ended up being a 9 hour, pot hole ridden drive across half of Java!  Seat swaps and leg stretches occurred on the odd occasion, but maybe not quite enough.  The luggage was piled up on top, underneath and around anyone who had half an inch of space!  Not comfortable.  Still we eventually arrived in Jogja and found a reasonable hotel that a) was cheap and b) had rooms at 10pm!  My bed ended up being about the size of a coffin, was as hard as being in one, I suspect, and to top it off I was supplied with one of those itchy blankets that really allow a good nights sleep..  Hence I did not! After dispersing off the numerous cockroach families staying as permanent tenants, we went to eat fish in a fish bar.  We were welcomed in with the usual 'white people are here look',  ushered up to the wicker-work floor and was given yet another menu with not too much variety on it!  Oh well, I'm used to that, but I think it was starting to annoy the girls a bit.  Everything is either spicy, sweet or outright burnt to a cinder!

Still, we mopped up the food, headed for our delightful beds and then in the morning planned to find Boro Bodur, the largest Budhist temple on earth, in the most Muslim country on earth - go figure!

It meant us grabbing hold of a local bus before being rammed onto a slightly larger and far more annoying transit bus.  This is the sort where numerous people jump on board and either try to sell you something or play their guitar loudly and attempt to sing.  Neither is often that great!

We arrived and after being hassled with the street sellers trying to palm us off with tacky hats, small metal toy motorbikes or a ton of other random  items we got to the entrance.  Ouch, $15 entrance fee..  that was unexpected.  As a result, full use was made of the complimentary tea, coffee and bottles of water.  I don't think we managed to get a full $15 each, but we weren't far off!  My backpack was heavy!

Wandering around the gardens was nice though.  It was a peaceful place which is very rare in Indonesia as you may have worked out by now.  As we meandered slowly towards the place where everyone seemed to be headed we got a first glimpse of this place - and it was pretty big!  Actually I had not really thought about how big the 'biggest one in the world' could be, but after climbing a continuous set of steep slopes I soon got a good impression of it!  Reaching the top was great as you could see for miles and miles.  The mountains in the near distance were capped with clouds and although warm it wasn't so sunny that it burnt us to a cinder - perfect.

 We weren't able to get inside despite seeking an entrance and so after looking at all of the outside and making a few comedy photographs we set off in the direction of the elephants.  You can take a ride on these things, but not this time apparently.  We saw them in their penn though and to be honest I'm not a big fan of animals being chained up the way they were.  Having only 3m of walking room is not a nice way to live and I don't think they thought so either!  The bamboo shoots that were within grabbing distance were often being hurled towards the keepers at great speed!  Brilliant!  The keepers actually brought us some bananas out to feed them and I think they quietly appreciated this.


Anyway, we left just as they were being taken for a walk and at least got to see them unchained for a while.


The locals hassled one or two of us on the way out, but most of us got away lightly!




So then, time to head back to the nice but grim hotel.  We got the same bus back to the hub and then tried to disperse of the usual taxi touts until it was suggested that we go to the Governors Mansion to have a look.  At this point I managed to barter a price with the guy who proceeded to kick off a small, old lady and one school girl who had been patiently waiting for the bus to start its regular route!  We had just inadvertently chartered a local bus and it would now take us to wherever we wanted!  typical Indonesia!



In a bit of disbelief and now adding to our aircraft charter we eventually arrived at the Mansion - it was closed!  Typical.

A ride in some local Becac's was the next mode of transport to be tried and soon enough we were heading to the train station, via a local art gallery, to figure a way to get out of Jogjakarta!




I tried to keep quiet on this one as I really didn't care, but in the end it was agreed on that we would get the overnight train to Surabaya before catching another towards the south and into Malang, the entrance point for Mount Bromo - More on that later!

Having decided that the best option was to grab the 11pm overnighter to Surabaya our bags were packed and the beers were bought.  This was going to be a long one in 'Business Class'.  Trundling out of the 7/11 we had no idea how to get to the train station.  Taxis were, for the first time, nowhere to be seen and the traffic was almost non-existent.  Were we still in Indonesia?!  Persisting on though we managed to see a pair of headlights coming towards us and it happened to be a van big enough to take the whole lot of us and all our bags.. Perfect!  One problem remained..  It wasn't a taxi!

So this being Indonesia and everyone up for making a bit of cash in hand we hailed over what turned out to be a sparkling, almost fresh off the production line VW Camper van!  Brilliant!  In my broken Indonesian we settled on 50,000 Rupiah (About 3 quid!) we all jumped in and went up the road.  Yet another vehicle chartered!


The train journey was a nightmare to say the least.  People seemed to stand, sit and lay anywhere they could.  The seating was reasonable, but not comfortable and the 8 or so hours we were going to be on it seemed like it could turn out to be torture!  Somewhat blocked from memory now it all ended with us arriving in Surabaya at 7am and waiting for the next train ordeal to Malang!  Would this journey ever end?!

A quick bite to eat in Dunkin Doughnuts and a sleep on the floor of the entrance to the station was required before the tickets were bought for the next stage. The local train was only 'economy class' and luckily was only supposed to take 2 hours.  This was a crazy, hot and very crowded journey with the constant mayhem of people trying to sell you everything from water to chickens.  The only good thing was that the train had no doors and so got plenty of ventilation!


Arriving in Malang, one of the entrance towns to Bromo, we were of course accosted by a friendly 'Guide'.  After listening to what he had to say and decided that his offer of staying with him and his family was just a bit too weird we found a nice restaurant and made our own plans.  A guide turned up 20 mins later and from then on we thought it would be an easy ride up to Bromo, a nice stay in a home and then a 3am departure to see the sun rise and the volcanos appear..  That was until the driver decided that the 2 hour journey that was promised was too short for Indonesia and its guests and so got lost - 8 hours, yes 8 hours later we arrived at the home stay, were given 3 hours to sleep and no running cold or hot water to shower with..  This was turning out to be a nightmare.

The noises made from the people who dared pour buckets of sub-zero water over themselves are not really suitable for this blog, but you can imagine!  The next hurdle came when trying to mount our jeep only to be told that the things we had paid for had not been and we owed more money.  Scam artists at their finest.  I argued our side and eventually we got into the Jeep and calmed down.

The ride was cosy with 7 of us rammed in, but not too bad - the short trip was worth it when we finally made it to the summit of the lookout and waited for the sun to creep over the horizon revealing Bromo in a breathtaking array of colours.  Although crowded as most tourist spots usually are we still managed to see it all happen in front of our eyes and then continued to take some amazing photos.


After a short stop in a coffee hut and gobbling on some tasty sweetcorn it was time to head back to the Jeep and venture into the volcano!  There is actually a collection of 3 volcanos in one and we were actually on the hardened crust of one of them - in a car park conveniently located close to the pathway up to the summit of the steaming active portion.  Surreal, we were actually in a volcano!

The locals tempted us to mount a horse for the journey to the steps of the main viewing platform and this was taken up by all but one.  Simply given the reigns and told to go it was a few moments before we all got the horses under control and heading in the right direction!  This was a lot of fun and relatively easy dare I say!  I have this opinion that a horse has a brain and therefore is unlikely to crash or jump off a cliff all by itself - however, I chose not to 'fall asleep at the wheel' with the impending crater edge looming!


After dismounting and climbing the stairs to the rim we were greeted with a sight I was completely taken aback with.  There in front of me sat a huge steaming volcano crater and we could just walk around any part of it without hindrance!  Thank you Indonesia for your lax health and safety rules!  The photos show the scene relatively well but I have to say this was one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen and definitely the best thing I have seen in Indonesia.




Unfortunately though this was where my trip with Jagoda and the rest was about to end.  Company scheduling and visa runs stood in the way of me continuing with them to the beaches of Bali, Gili and Lombok and so after a short ride back out of the crater and to a city called Probolingo I had to say a sad farewell.

All in all it had been a lot of effort to get to the few places I had got to but the experiences were amazing and the chance to see Indonesia in all its raw 'glory' was something I had looked forward to.

I suppose you will have to ask them about the rest of their Indo trip as I don't know much apart from the odd snippet.

I gave Jagoda a final hug, boarded my bus and sat pretty much in silence for my joinery back to board a flight to Jakarta.

I miss all the guys and girls who were involved and glad that they seemed to have a good time.

Until the next time folks, it's over and out from the Pilot in the wilderness.