Friday, 17 February 2017

One month (+ one day) in Indonesia



Our Itinerary:  

Plains, Trains and Automobiles(and Ferries, and.....)

We spent an adventure-filled month in Indonesia exploring parts of three main islands: Bali, Java and Sumatra. Flying from Perth to Bali, on a one way ticket and then booking accommodation as we went, gave us all the flexibility we were looking for. In Bali, we spent the first week in the Southern area of Kuta and Seminyak, then moved inland to spend time in the much more relaxing Ubud and then we took a ferry to one of the Gili islands (called Gili Air) near Lombok. Then we flew to Central Java and spent a week in Yogyakarta, then after a delightful 8 hour train ride, we arrived in Jakarta (West Java). From there we flew to Medan, Sumatra where we hired cars (and drivers) to get us to Bukit Lawang and, finally Lake Toba, our final destination in Indonesia.  
The ubiquitous SE Asian 'Ute'

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Indonesia , (and most of South East Asia for that matter), is definitely a place where it would be best to leave your ‘First-World Sensitivities’ at home….
It is common to see most children riding around without helmets


...For instance, if you feel that squat toilets and open sewers belong in the middle ages.. if you think that traffic should follow some sort of  laws. if you feel very strongly that all children should wear helmets while riding motorcycles, or... if the thought of exotic animals being kept in crowded cages and sold in dingy markets makes you angry.then perhaps you should think twice before boarding a plane headed this way..
The infamous squat toilet !


Stuffed Local Wildlife...


Barong Dance in Bali
..but you would be missing out on a fascinating culture! One that is founded on the resilience and self preservation of its people. Where dignity and grace are still modeled and valued by most of its citizens. A place overflowing with old-world traditional arts like hand made wood carvings, batik, stone carvings, hand woven cloths and ancient dances... to name only a few.  


You would miss the chance to meet some truly wonderful people too!  Indonesians are a fun bunch....they are quick to smile and laugh, they frequently sing out loud and call out hello to you at every corner and if you respond with even just a little bit of Bahasa Indonesia, they instantly light up, almost without exception, delighted as they encourage you in your efforts.
Woman in Rice Fields near Ubud, Bali
And so we spent a happy month, introducing our children to this culture we found so fascinating back when we lived here almost two decades ago. We were curious to see for ourselves if things were as we remembered them…turns out there were to be a few surprises in store for us...

Kuta !

BALI. 





was the perfect place to ease ourselves back into the culture, the humidity, the chaos and various smells of Indonesia...The kids took a few days adjusting to this new reality: the sounds of horns and motorcycles whizzing close behind us as we we walked precariously along the crumbling-almost non existent-sidewalks and open drainage ditches... people calling out to us and offering their wares and servicesOver the first few days Meg and Matthew were initiated to eating
nasi and mi goreng, satay,soto and kelapa muda (green coconuts) from street vendors tucked neatly along the busy streets and Meg quickly  learned to say ‘good morning’ and ‘thank you’ in Bahasa Indonesia.   



HIGHLIGHTS:

White Water Rafting: We took the advice of our friends from SV Miss Behaving, and went rafting!  The lush green central Balinese forests and towering cliffs were a beautiful setting for such a fun activity to do as a family ! 


 I can’t remember laughing (and screaming in terror) that much in a long long time, a really thrilling ride!  We have some video footage which is - in my opinion - truly hilarious!  I am certain this will make it into one of Meg's future video projects !



The Dances: The Barong dance with its colourful and elaborate costumes and elegant balinese dancers  and the Kecak dance; which is unique in that the only “music” accompanying the dancers are the voices of 30 or 40 men repeating the same sound over and over with hypnotic effect ...and the visually stimulating balls of fire being kicked off the stage by the beloved Hanoman (White Monkey) character. 


Meg and MC and the Red Monkey after a very wet (rainy) but fantastic Kecak dance performance ! 

















The funky town of Ubud: The cultural Centre of Bali, and its surrounding lush rice terraces, where we spent a relaxing 4 days in a lovely traditional home.










The Gili Islands: We visited Gili Air, with its very pretty (and clean!) beaches and low key vibe....eating out every night on the little restaurants' platforms overlooking the sunset….
Meg trying mangosteen (fruit) for the first time
Almost zero cars or motorcycles (only electric scooters) on Gili Air! 








More Photos of what we saw and did in Bali : 



The daily offerings found all around Bali


Visiting temples...



















Mark trying Kopi Luak (Coffee beens predigested by a  cat-like animal)
The Bali Bombing Memorial Wall (Oct 2002), Kuta

















Meg surfing in Kuta

































Gamelon Orchestra
Mark buying a snack (BBQ corn)










































Gas pump for the scooters











Monkey Forrest, Ubud
Another waterfall ! 



Mark and Meg on their way to a temple







Meg learning to make batik 

Meg and Mom "Conquer Batik Making" ….with the help of patient teachers
Batik in the making


Dried Rice
Rice field worker…..


Tanah Lot Temple, Bali

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JAVA:
Boarding the plane to Yogya
















Our first stop in Java was the cultural centre of Yogyakarta where we wanted to show the kids  the subtle but definite difference between the Balinese and Javanese cultures.  The kids had thought they'd experienced chaos in Bali but they hadn't seen nothing yet, as chaos, I believe, was originally invented here in the good city of “Jogja”!  Our arrival coinciding with the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year added to the general hullabaloo of  Malioboro street (the main, most famous street) where we walked down only a few hours after our flight had landed.The streets were simply overflowing with people and food vendors, “becaks”  (bicycle powered taxis) , horse and carriages. Most of the tourists were Indonesians and I’ve never seen so many “Selfie Sticks”....and we had to get used to being openly stared at, again, after so many months of  “blending in” in Australia.

It all came rushing back to Mark and I:  The calls for prayer from nearby mosques, the endless beckoning: “Hello Misterrrrr, where are you going?”. It was just over the top!  It felt like  Canada Day in Ottawa, except more exotic and alien.we could only bear a couple of hours of this mayhem before taking shelter from it all, back in our room. 

HIGHLIGHTS:
The impressive Borobodur and Prambanan temples















Taman Sari (Water Palace) and nearby "Cyber Kampung"










 










The Village/Home Industry Tour, 

Tofu making process: from the bean to the final product

Meg sampling the tofu at the tofu "factory"
Matthew walking in a traditional  potter's village

















Matthew learning the fine art of pottery, at the wheel….


Shopping for Batik






Seeing the evening Wayang Kulit (Shaddow Puppets) performances and seeing Wayang Golek (Wooden Puppets) at the Kraton 
Meg enjoying the Wayang Golek






Catching rides in Becaks (pronounced betchak)  













More Photos of Yogyakarta :
                    Lady selling Salak fruit, near Prambanan temple, central Java
Visiting the Kraton (Sultan's Palace) Yogya

The most colourful hermit crabs you will ever see, Bird Market Yogya 
Live grubs at the bird market, Yogya 
Sweet treats on Maliobora Street Markets


                               Making the shadow puppets by hand out of buffalo hide and horns


                                                 Mark and Matthew enjoying Soto and Kelapa Muda from a street vendor
                                                     Coloured (Live) Chiks ! (Yogya Bird Market)

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JAKARTA :

Before and during our 8 hour train trip from Yogyakarta to the Capital of Jakarta, I had warned the kids: "Okay, so be ready! It is a big, noisy, polluted, chaotic city! The buses are over crowded, rusty contraptions that exhale blue smoke, the smells of burning garbage is all around, and during the endless traffic jams, children will come to your car window begging for money…."  I wanted to help them get ready for the realities of the city that Mark and I had lived in for 5 years, and where they themselves, had their first home (Although neither would remember it as Matthew was 3 and Meg barely 1 year old when we left.).


Boarding the Train at Yogya Train Station


Cafe Batavia

New, cleaner Bajais


It turns out that Mark and I were the ones who would be surprised !  The city had a very different feel, which we noticed almost immediately after arriving and having driven for less than 1/2 hour…"Where are the street kids ?" "Look at all the new buses and bajais !"  No blue smoke, no burning garbage,   (Mark noticed that the bajais and many of the new buses now used the cleaner CNG- which he proudly stated came from the Sumatran gas fields where he used to work).  Sure the traffic was the same (some say worse, but I didn't think so), but there was a definitely positive vibe about the place….signs promoting the protection of the environment everywhere, new green policies were in place, recycling bins, dedicated washrooms for the disabled, and we could see blue skies!  Someone in government had pushed for improvements and it had worked …  beautifully!  It was so encouraging to see how much better the city had become!  








The old port of Sunda Kelapa with spectacular wooden Pinisi (aka Bugis) trading boats


Teaching Meg the fine art of bargaining on Jl Surabaya, Jakarta



Visiting our old neighbourhood




Pak Rudi made our visit to the big Durian all the better

We had fun walking down memory lane with the kids, visiting our old neighbourhood, the house, the playground and the grocery store where we used to go. We also took the time to drive up to the North end, and visit Sunda Kelapa: the old port, where traditional Pinisi wooden boats (built in the Bugis Islands…..sadly the last ones with sails have disappeared in the last 15 years and they are now all solely diesel powered) still get loaded up every week with lumber, ciment, and other building materials to transport to the other islands. We stopped in for lunch at the cafe Batavia to capture its old colonial feeling and visited the National Museum and the Puppet Museum too.  Overall, we had an enjoyable stay in Jakarta and appreciated the company of Pak Rudi, the driver we hired for the 5 days while we were there. 



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SUMATRA:






Danau (Lake) Toba as seen from Samosir Island
Traditional Batak Houses, Lake Toba
Batak Dance, Lake Toba


HIGHLIGHTS:

Other than the wonderful thrill of seeing Sumatran Orangutans in the wild at Bukit Lawang (as described in detail in my last post), we all loved spending a relaxing 4 days in Lake Toba (Danau Toba). Samosir Island in the middle of the enormous crater lake is home to the Batak people. They have a very distinct culture and traditions which we enjoyed learning about. We got to see their dances, and saw many striking batak houses all around the island. 

Notice MC put her hands over the pointy end of the horn….Those things looked sharp when up close !






Water Buffalo,






Lake Toba rice fields



The durian seller, Lake Toba













Meg and Matt enjoying the serenity of Lake Toba, Sumatra

On getting older ….and loosing one's cool: (or Mark is finally rubbing off on me!)

I am going to blame hormones and basic travellers exhaustion for this one, as I lost my cool-something I try to never do, especially while travelling- not once but three times  in the last month: Twice with immigration officers (not adviseable), and once with a pickpocket (this one felt good)   

1- Perth Airport upon our departure from Australia “ She needs sensitivity training !”,  I called out over my shoulder, pointing to the agent in question as I was ushered into a new line up. The agent had been blatantly unsympathetic about Matthew not being able to operate their new scanning system on his own and refusing my insistence on helping him through. I was still fuming by the time I boarded the plane. 

2- Medan Airport upon our departure from IndonesiaHow do you expect us to get to Singapore from here ?  You want us to SWIM ?" (while making exagerated swim motions with my arms), to an agent after he informed us that our morning flight (there were no evening flights out) was “one day” too late (ie that we were one day over our 30 day visa and that we would have to pay a fee (which, after a short attempt on our part to avoid, we paid finally) ...by the time  I boarded the plane, this time, I was laughing at myself and tried to appease an embarrassed teenager (poor Meghan).


3- Yogyakarta with the becak driver/pick pocket: As I mentioned earlier, we rode the becaks as often as we could around Yogya. Every time we got in, I pulled my backpack off my shoulders and placed it at my feet, with one leg through the straps. Every time, .....except this one day....when we had gotten quite comfortable around town....I let my guard down and I lived to regret it: Here is what happened: There was a very keen becak driver, who was very quick to bargain and who was very persistent in driving us, this should of been our first hint. We agreed and, as he drove Meg and I to our first destination, I kept my backpack on my back...because we didn’t have far to go....when we got there , we paid him and then I put my wallet away in the top zipper of my backpack and said goodbye...but he insisted that he would wait for us and give us a ride back...I didn’t think much of it, as this is quite common in low season when there are very few tourists and business is down for the drivers.  A few hours later, after we emerged from the water palace we were visiting, there was the same driver....keen to have us hop back on board to our next destination...since he was so cheap, we accepted...we went to the museum, and again I kept my back pack on my back, and after paying him, put my wallet back in the top zipper section again....never dreaming that he was watching my every move and I was stepping into his trap.... Oh yes,  he was watching, and he was loving what he was seeing!  I had a pattern he liked!  So when we came out of the museum, there he was, as persistent as ever to drive us back to our hotel (we were going to walk, but took pity on him, as he looked so desperate (Ha, I can’t believe how naive I was!)....

...Off we went.  Mark and Matthew’s driver told our driver that he didn’t know the way and asked our becak driver to go in front.but he insisted that he would NOT lead the way and told the other driver to go ahead of him (another hint I  SHOULD of picked up on...he wanted Mark in front of us so he wouldn’t be seen)....then the final piece....now that he knew that I kept my backpack on my back, very close to his reach as he pedaled behind us, and since he now knew  that my wallet was in easy reach, just a zipper away, he had to find a distraction to get my zipper opened without us noticing.and he found it...half way to our hostel ....I was surprised when all of a sudden, our driver veered to the left and went over a street grate....making the whole becak rattle and shake for a good 10 seconds....Meg and I laughed as we were really shaken around.....that’s when he opened the zipper on my bag..I never even felt or heard it !  But he made one mistake....just as we were arriving, he realized that he needed to close my zipper.....he had no time to find a distraction...so he just went for it.very quickly  "ZZZIP"  ..and this time I heard and felt it !  I turned around and asked Meg : "Did you just open the zipper on my bag ?"  (no)...and so I  quickly grabbed it and looked inside !  My wallet was gone....at first I was in shock and didn’t want to confront him directly, but a few seconds later, the shock subsided and I realized that HE had done it for sure and as he professed his innocence and pulled up his shirt to show that he didn’t have the wallet....I just lost it on him....long lost indonesian words came rushing back to me....I was yelling at him to go and get my wallet, to go find his friend (no doubt on a passing motorcycle) and RETURN MY WALLET NOW !!!  I know that Javanese men do not like confrontation and I usually respect this but I was so darn angry at the man....he had taken my money, my new wallet, my credit cards, our 4 railway tickets for the next days trip to Jakarta and my canadian drivers license! 

I was LIVID, and he was quite calm and denied everything....my angry rant attracted a few bystanders...one concerned citizen even offered to take me to the police station....I looked over at the becak driver (and Mark’s poor becak driver-who had been dragged into this situation without his knowledge and against his will)  The thief looked so calm and confident....we had searched his becak, he knew that the evidence was gone, he knew that we had nothing on him....and that’s when I knew that I had lost, we knew that the police could never help us...there would be hours of paperwork, confusion and anger....Besides,  Mark and I were much more concerned in getting back to the hostel  as fast as possible to get on the phone to Canada and cancel our credit cards...so we walked away, no police, no wallet.I was still furious, but with acceptance slowly seeping in..



The pick pocket "pencuri" (Thief)-  Karma is going to catch up with him some day
A few hours later, once all of our cards were safely canceled and once we realized that no one else would be able to use our train tickets, I was much more calm....the thief had gained about 30 dollars, a purple wallet  some useless plastic cards and I thought : “He can bloody well keep my drivers license as a souvenir, of the once naive Canadian woman who had gained wisdom through his actions”. I hope that he remembers the one that had nevertheless had a chance to look  him in the eye and confront him, telling him exactly what she thought of him, in his own language ! 


Happy Chinese New Year .... to all you Roosters: 

I found out from my good friend Lynne that, according to the Chinese when it is ‘your year’, you have a greater chance of encountering bad luck...and to help counter this bad luck you are supposed to wear something “red” that someone has given you.....

Since I happen to BE a proud rooster, and since I am always one to promote and go along with superstitious thoughts, I suggested to Mark that he might want to buy me something red....

Since Chinese New Year has begun, I had: been robbed, chased by an angry orangutan and I had fallen off a bike (I am okay)!  Since then, Mark has gone out and bought me a red scarf...which I have worn and will continue to wear everyday on this trip and after my return as well...God knows I need all the luck I can get !  







Mark says…… "Overall, notwithstanding the challenges, we had a great time in Indonesia and very much enjoyed introducing more interesting cultures to the kids! " 

Now we are off, first to Singapore where Meg was born 15 years ago and then…. Thailand…

Thanks for reading and stay tuned !

4M's Overland in SE Asia….
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