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.