I was completely bored in Kendari as my last message stated, but it wasn't all bad in the end. I managed to read a lot, got out to a couple of beaches and talked with the hotel staff to try and advance my Indo linguistic skills.. But leaving there was definitely a welcome relief.
I thought I was going to have another 2 week 'holiday' after that, as my schedule had been planned that way by the base manager, but on returning I was told/asked if I would do a tour back in the South of Borneo.. Yes, yes, yes. Anything to actually work! What a strange sentence :) I would be flying with a guy who I had barely met, but that's usual in this company for the new folk - he turned out to be a great guy though. He knew the area a bit better than me and so took me to some local food places. It didn't look all that appetising but was tasty and nothing came back to haunt me the following day! And eating with your bare hands is something very traditional here - given that they had no cutlery I was forced to join in with the custom! Very messy.
The best thing we did however was to visit a floating market. Actually reading that back makes it sound like my life is appauling! But yes, the market was a lot of fun. We had to travel for an hour and a half on a barge that we hired just to reach the area and on the way we were met by the rising sun and the people getting up and taking a shower/bath/toilet in the river... Oh, and I was surprised to see nearly everyone brushing their teeth - although again in the river water that someone upstream has just relieved themselves in.. Oh dear. Most were quite shocked to see a couple of white guys heading down the river though - doesn't seem to be a tourist hotspot.
The pictures came out well as you can see, but they don't do the place justice as the noise, smell and general atmosphere of the place was fantastic. We stopped for a river coffee and after making sure it wasn't made with the water outside the boat we chilled out for 10 mins drinking it and watching the sun rise. After this it was time for a short trip over to Pulau Monyet.. Monkey Island.
After paying the 'tourist fee' of 25,000 IDR (US $2.5) we were given a few bags of peanuts and wandered into the small forest. The 'guides' started making a load of noises which summoned the monkeys down from their branches and heading straight for us..! Clearly in need of a good morning feed they were very happy to relieve us of our bags and had this general understanding that of course, there would be more where that came from! Clever buggers. It was a really good to get up close to them though as I've never done it before; well not without a zoo fence in the way. When you look into their eyes it's a very weird feeling that they might actually understand you. This inevitably leads you to start talking to them and then you suddenly realise that while one is staring you out, faking the interest you believe he had in you, that another one has snuck up behind you to see if there are anymore goodies on offer! Ha ha.
I was weary of getting bitten, but they seemed to fight quite calmly amongst themselves for the offerings and I actually had one come to me and gently hold my hand, even though I had nothing to give. Apart from the 'guides' asking for money constantly on the way back to our boat this was turning out to be a really good morning.
The trip back was along the same route we had come on but now the whole world seemed to be awake and Indonesian traffic is not just restricted to the roads it seems! The driver knew what he was doing and it was funny seeing 60+ year old women paddling on by us in their single person boats chatting like there was nothing unusual going on.. I guess for them it was the daily norm.. I just haven't got totally used to things here yet!
So the short drive back to the airport was not nearly half as good as the boat trip, but we offered to take our house-keepers (Maids, for want of a better word) on a flight to the next destination. It was an empty leg so they hesitantly said yes. Not being used to flying they were so apprehensive and I guess it didn't help when we subjected them to a few very tame manouvers in the sky.. The driver loved it though! For fear of having sick splattered all up my seat we elected to take it easy on them for the rest of the trip :) They were very grateful for the experience though, despite them still being in their Pyjamas!
So then. Back to Balikpapan for me a few days later. I was being re-assigned back to Medan in a weeks time and so asked if I could have a few days in Jakarta to actually see what it was really like. So far my impressions of Jakarta are quite bad, as I am sure you have gathered from my earlier posts, but I had to give it another chance.
Arriving there was a little bit like stepping into the unknown. My last arrival had been somewhat of a chore, but luckily, or by some careful arrival planning on my part there was a driver waiting for me with a big Indo smile.. He was called Ikin and spoke absolutely no English whatsoever. My Indo isn't that advanced yet so the small talk on the 2 hour ride back was very small indeed! Jakarta was just as I had left it last time, in the rain and full of the worlds worst drivers. I had a nights sleep and prepared for a day of adventures.
I woke up and had arranged to meet a friend who would help me navigate the chaos! A short taxi ride got me to her area and then I had to brave the scooter ride! Luckily the area was not as bad as central Jakarta but it was still a nightmare compared to the UK. We visited a Buddhist temple on Chinese New Year which was a little crazy. Lots of burning paper and incense, but the worst of it was the kids outside who saw a white guy and thought money, money, money. I am not rich! Anyway, back on the scooter and off to the Jakarta Busway. This was a great experience again as I don't think many white guys get on these. The only way I can describe a bus in Jakarta is like a mobile market with entertainment. People hop on, try to sell you anything they can or play a guitar until the next stop. They then disembark, are replaced by a whole new set of people and the circus starts all over again! People seem to make their own jobs in this country and this extends from directing traffic, helping you park, to singing, playing instruments (badly!) and basically selling everything they can. That's the 3rd world for ya. Well, 3rd world until you see the Lamboughini showroom.. Weird.
So the first port of call was the national monument. This is a huge spike with a pure gold flame on the top and is, if I remember rightly, to commemorate the independence from the Dutch. It was blisteringly hot and humid and after accidently walking the long way round to the entrance we finally got inside and into some relatively cooler surroundings. At the bottom is a 'museum' but is just a load of window displays depicting the history of Indonesia. To sum it up the Dutch turned up, made everyone a slave, made themselves rich and continued this for a while. Then the Muslim people came in, started a government and rebelled against it, many times. The Christians also turned up and helped out and then some guys got into power and the corruption has been rife ever since. Well that's the impression I got anyway. There's a long way to go here before it's even remotely normal.
The lift up to the top was not working, or was out of action due to no money exchanging hands and so with the thought of an earthquake in the back of my mind we went for some food! Back on the Bus and this time it was rush hour. I found this to be the best way to get around though - cheap as you can get and fast due to the dedicated bus lanes. Great! Almost lost in a mall we finally found a food court and I was encouraged to try some Indo food. No problem now, my body knows what's coming and has built a formidable defence against it :)
The way home consisted of a few stops off here and there until I took this picture with my camera.
I like it :)
The rest of my time in Jakarta was spent in the complex and was rather dull, but I got to swim in the pool and relax. Thank god I was leaving soon though. The next stop was KL before Medan.
Our apartment pool :)
I met Matt at the airport and 2 hours later we were in KL. The hotel was cheap and cheerful, but good enough for the 5 hours we actually spent there! We decided to make the most of the trip and headed out for a Steak which was such a welcome relief from the crap we are generally given here in Indo. Refill drinks just made it all that much better! We were running around like tourists on a mission and actually just made it to the top of the KL tower viewing platform (Not the twin towers). This was great as it was pitch black and KL looked amazing. The pictures again don't do it justice.
In the morning we were up early to get our free tickets fot the Petronas (Twin) towers. You queue up in the morning and tickets are handed out on a first come first serve basis. You get a choice from the time slots remaining and then arrive back 15 minutes before you are due to go up. There's a cheesy 3D movie you have to watch about how great the oil company are - so the nerdy 3D glasses were a nice distraction.
Not the highest point I have ever been to (As the tower in KL and the Empire State are higher anyway) but you only get to the sky bridge. You have all probably seen 'Entrapment' so you know where it is and what it's all about. The bridge is not actually fixed to the buildings though...!
And here is one of my favourite photos of all time!
I will wrap it up there as it's getting to be ages since I last posted and I'm sure you all miss my updates.. Yeah right! ha ha.
The next post will include my birthday madness. 10th of March is looming ever closer :0)
Speak to you all soon!