Yogyakarta, March 17th, 2003
-Flight ticket, mumbled the customs official discreetly.
-Excuse me?, I asked, a little puzzled.
-Your flight ticket out of Indonesia.
-Ah. Well, umm, I have a flight ticket out of Hong Kong in 5 months, but I don't have a ticket out of Indonesia as such.
I fumbled for the ticket in my money pouch.
-To enter Indonesia you need flight ticket out of Indonesia. If you do not have a ticket you cannot enter Indonesia.
He stared at me insistently.
-Um, well, I don't?EI don't have a ticket.
-You don't have a ticket? Well, I'm sorry, you have to buy one before you pass customs.
(He paused and looked around, then looked at me in a weird way) ?Eut if you have 20 dollars, it's ok.
Selamat datang di Indonesia, welcome to Indonesia, well that's a bloody good start.
Bad Hair Day
As we speak I am in Yogyakarta, the 4th largest city in Indonesia, which is the 4th most populous country in the world. Seems pretty busy alright, I am discovering it the hard way on the roads with an old motorbike I have bought for a section of my south east Asian trip to Hong Kong. A 1984 Vespa it is, I hope you appreciate how noble and handsome I look on her:
I have nicknamed her Henrietta, the name of a real woman, or at least how a real woman should be: a nice firm structure to hold on to, a small tank so you have to fill her up quite often, but don't forget to add a bit of lubricant if you are going a bit fast. Mount her, take her wherever you want and with a few movements of the wrist, make her scream. Please allow me to publicly apologize to our sensitive readers, this will not happen again. I have already done around 900km on Henrietta between Lovina in Bali and Yogyakarta on the island of Java. So here I am, still alive and kicking, heading west towards the island of Sumatra (Indonesia) and then Singapore.
Disneyland Part II, the Australian East Coast
28 January - 18 February
The first impressions I had when Jerome and I hit the east Coast of Australia were that we would not see the real Australia. Well, bugger me senseless, I was actually right. After Byron Bay we headed up north to Brisbane, Fraser Island, Airlie Beach, Townsville and Magnetic Island, and yes we did see pretty places. But we were surrounded by 20-year-old English tourists who had just discovered the joys of booze, in an environment that was totally prepared for tourism. Impersonal hostels, rules everywhere, cannot do this, cannot do that. Every little thing costs money. Most of the activities had to be booked through tours, most of them expensive. And because we discovered the hard way that hitch hiking did not work in Australia, we were dependent on the train, which took us from one tourist spot to another.
We managed to rough it a little under the constant rain on Fraser Island, when we filled our rucksacks with instant noodles and headed there on foot, when most people bought an expensive tour in a 4WD. We swam in turquoise lakes - and drank the water as we swam, camped high up in the dunes, watched the dingoes coming over for a nighttime nibble, visited a rusty shipwreck, and we beat our getting lost record of all times, walking 1h30 in the wrong direction without even suspecting it.
Airlie Beach was our chilling out moment after 5 days in the rain. We stayed in a resort, drank booze, played music and swam in the pool. It's important when one travels so far away from home to take an interest in the local culture - ahem. One evening we had two lovely little possums come and say hello, they must have appreciated our music. And for the naughty minded, they are not mating; this is a female and her baby.
Possums out for a midnight snack, Airlie Beach (Australia)
Townsville was our next stop, a funny place, full of soldiers because of a nearby base, and a stopover point to Magnetic Island, where we headed and enjoyed the sunshine, a few walks up in the hills and along the coast. We visited a fort that was used against a potential Japanese invasion during WWII, which offered fantastic views. We couldn't swim in the ocean because of the risk of getting stung by box jellyfish or the deadly stingers. In most places they have stinger nets that kind of ruin the landscape but at least you can swim.
Magnetic Island (Australia)
A taste of the real Australia - Cairns and Cape Tribulation
18 - 28 February
When we got to Cairns, my usual ritual of friend swapping took place, as Jerome flew back to France via Bangkok, and Sallie arrived in Cairns. Jerome and I said goodbye after 4 months together, sniff sniff. I will miss the hot nights spent with you in the tent, you know what I mean, hi hi hi hi hi.
I decided to give Australia another chance at being nice to hitchhikers, so Sallie and I went off north towards Cape Tribulation. With the blonde-bimbo-in-a-bikini-and-the-tall-cretin-hiding-in-a-bush strategy, we were picked up a few times, but only for short trips and we ended up stranded at the side of the road in the unbearable heat for an hour, so we decided to leave it and not attempt it again. We rented a car instead and headed north, crossed the Daintree River and ended up in Cape Tribulation. We spent our time swimming in awesome swimming holes in fresh water streams (including one that was unknown to tourists and kept secret by the locals), walking through the rainforest and on Cape Tribulation's beautiful beaches. After a small detour through the Atherton Tablelands, we drove back to Cairns.
Cape Tribulation (Australia)
Daintree River crossing (Australia)
Sallie in one of her most attractive moments, Cape Tribulation (Australia)
Swimming holes, Cape Tribulation (Australia)
Fig Tree, Atherton Tablelands (Australia).
For the last few days in Cairns we met up with Sallie's parents and brother and went for an amazing boat trip (with an outrageous hangover) to the Great Barrier Reef for a bit of snorkeling. The water is so turquoise and clear out there, and the corals are so close to the surface, we had great visibility. We saw starfish, sea cucumber and many unknown shellfish, as well as fish and corals of all sizes and shapes, with colours I had no idea even existed. Just when we thought we had more or less seen everything, a new shape or creature appeared before our eyes and surprised us once more. One of the top five moments of this trip I think.
Western Decadence - the Cairns Nightlife
We had a few good nights in the Woolshed Bar in Cairns too, of a different kind. The wet T-shirt competition, the winner of which was a Canadian lady blessed with a matching set of substantial mammary glands, was great entertainment for us lads. Other dodgy games included a boy and a girl exchanging their clothes in public as fast as possible, jelly eating contests and many more. Very entertaining also to walk around the Cairns Esplanade at 2 am, you can see a few white bottoms popping up and down in the dark just beside the path.
It would be rather ungentlemanly of me not to publicly congratulate a lovely French chap we met in Airlie Beach and then again in Cairns who - you will understand why - will remain unnamed, for his exploits during his Aussie nightlife sessions, which included spending 2 nights in prison, vomiting on the dance floor, stealing about 10 jugs of beer, twisting his ankle during a fight with a woman in the street, shifting a one-legged woman and waking up in the morning next to a woman who could very easily be mistaken for a dog. Carpe Noctem.
A refreshing change - Bali and Java, Indonesia
28 February - 16 March
South East Asia here we come at last! At this stage I was longing for something different, the part of Australia we saw was too much like England in the sun, I needed a new start in my travels. So off we flew to Bali, Indonesia. We meaning Sallie and myself, as well as Kat, a lovely lady from Bath we met on the plane and ended up spending a week with.
Our first night was in Kuta, the popular beach resort where the bomb exploded some months ago now. Not much to see out there, apart from a dirty beach, a few markets and empty restaurants. It is unfortunately visible all over Bali how dependent the island is on tourism, and how low tourism is at the moment. Walking through a normally bustling street, you often pass shopkeepers and waiters sleeping, waiting with little hope for a rare customer. Yet people are so friendly and welcoming, it's incredible. And also, I am used to being stared at because of my height in Europe, but here in Indonesia I think not a single person I have walked past has failed to stare at me with the interrupting-your-wife-with-her-lover expression on their face.
Denpasar, Bali's capital, had a busier feel to it, where attempting to cross the road was a challenge as frustrating as trying to put toothpaste back into its tube. I strolled through the streets, saw a 14th century temple and visited the market, which filled the air with smells of spices, dried fish, and gone off meat.
Vogue models, Denpasar's Kumbasari market, Bali (Indonesia)
Pemecutan Temple, Denpasar, Bali (Indonesia)
The next stop was Ubud, a busier place and the centre for Balinese culture. In Ubud we treated ourselves to a full body massage, walked through the rice fields overlooking plunging green valleys, and went to see a Balinese dance supported by live Balinese traditional music. Also worth noting, we were invited to a human cremation; a monkey attacked me because I was sitting on his bridge; and mostly I was strongly criticized on the choice of my underpants, from which I haven't quite recovered yet.
Moped taxi ride. Sallie and Kat, Ubud (Indonesia)
Getting up is hard enough, but getting up in the dark at 3am to go to see the sunrise from the top of a volcano is even harder. That was in Gunung Batur, about 60km northwest of Ubud. Sallie and I had said goodbye at that point, she is heading to China next for 2 months of an acupuncture internship in Nanjing.
We were more or less forced to take a guide because of the vicious mountain guides mafia operating in the region who tells you horrible stories about 2 Germans dying a few years ago during an eruption, and if that doesn't work they threaten you. We climbed for one and a half hours to get to the top, and it was well worth the climb, even though it was a little cloudy.
Gunung Batur at sunrise, with our friendly cook, East Java (Indonesia)
Because my body clock had gone bottoms up, I got up at the crack of dawn again the next morning in Lovina, my next stop, on the North coast of Bali, to see dolphins swimming and jumping with the sunrise. Another reason to get up that early is that because of the rain season here, if it rains it is more likely to do so in the afternoon. By then I was traveling alone, Kat went back south after Gunung Batur.
Dolphin spotting at sunrise, Lovina, Bali (Indonesia)
The first names system here in Bali, which is mainly Hindu, has a strange characteristic. For each gender there are only about 8 first names, and each baby is given a name allocated exclusively to the order of his birth. So basically if you are the first child you can only be called Gede, Wayan or Putu. I was wondering why I kept hearing the same names when people introduced themselves to me.
My few days in Lovina were spent trying to find a second hand motorbike, which is when I finally found Henrietta. After a little hesitation, I bought her and off I whizzed through northern Bali, to the island's most western point, Gilimanuk, and crossed the Bali Straight on a ferry. After a few cardiac arrests, I had to review my existing understanding of the Highway Code. Rule number one: when a bus going in the opposite direction hoots and flashes its lights signaling that he is about to overtake at full speed, normal procedure is to violently jump off the road and hope for the best. Somehow, the Indonesian friendliness is not reflected in their road habits.
After quite a few hours my bottom got a little sore and I stopped in Situbondo and stayed in possibly the worst hotel room I have ever seen. I enjoyed my first ride in a "becak", a bicycle rickshaw, with a passenger seat mounted on the front. I felt a little like a pedantic colonial being pedaled through town by a frail old man for 20c, but everybody seems to use them so I got over that quite quickly.
A few miles west of Situbondo, East Java (Indonesia)
The food, mmmmmmmh!, absolutely yummy. Still not used to eating delicious restaurant meals for 2 euros on average. I think I never ate as much rice in my life, no risk of the squirts with that type of diet. The food is even gorgeous from these little people cooking from their bicycle kitchen on the side of the road. I haven't eaten any insects yet.
Cigarettes here are interesting too, they fill them with pieces of cloves, and they have a sweet taste on your lips when you take a drag. I don't think you get that in many places.
I learnt today a few things about the Indonesian Bahasa language. There are no declinations of the verbs. There is no past tense. For the conditional or the future, just add a static auxiliary. To be does not exist. Gender is not distinguished. My, his, their, etc. are the same as I, you, he, etc. For plural, just duplicate the noun. At that rate, me communicate with people people very soon, that good news!
My second Indonesian volcano, Gunung Bromo (2329m), was my next stop in the Island of Java. I had a bit of trouble getting Henrietta right up to the peak but with a lot of patience and pushing when it got hard got her there all right. Gunung Bromo was a beautiful sight. The volcano that erupted god knows when formed a 10km crater nicknamed the sea of sand for obvious reasons. Another sunrise climb got me to see this beautiful view, but the photo here does not really do it justice.
View over Mount Bromo from Mount Pananjakan, East Java (Indonesia)
Henrietta was glad when I finally came down on her, all the way down back to the coast, although I had to slow down a few times because she was getting out of control sometimes. My next stop was a random hotel on the side of the main road by Nganjuk, where I had to put the tent up in my room because of the cockroaches climbing over me while I was trying to sleep. And after another 7 hours riding Henrietta I got to Yogyakarta, home of the renowned Borubudur Buddhist temple, and checked into a nice hotel with a big swimming pool.
This is where I am now. I am heading west again tomorrow, towards a beautiful coastal town called Pangandaran on the South Coast of Java. I should then get to Jakarta and take the boat to Sumatra, the next big Indonesian Island. Well, I hope life is treating you as you deserve. I have already received a few happy mails with the spring coming up in Europe, people suddenly popping out of their black winter cloud. I hope the trend spreads. By the way, if you write to me to let me know that France has lost against England and Ireland in the Six Nations cup, I hope your bottom swallows your head. I will be back to Paris, but also Dublin and London in August, so I will see you all in a few months. I hope to keep hearing from you!!
Bye bye and see you soon!!!