Olivier and Sven goofing around in Asia

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July 7 - August 7 - Exploring Indonesia (part I), Sven

Posted by goofingaroundinasia on September 25, 2009 at 8:38 AM

Initially I didn't plan to go to Indonesia. I thought about making my way up to the Southern Part of China, from there up towards Mongolia. But as rainy season kicked in and South-China not being the perfect destination at that time and we decided not to go to Mongolia, I decided to change plans. This time of year the climate is best in Malaysia and Indonesia... and people kept on telling me how beautiful Indonesia is... so I decided to give it a try!



Jakarta (West-Java)


When I arrived in Jakarta, Dina - a cs'er - was so kind to pick me up. We immediately connected and had some interesting conversations. When she had to go for a meeting she dropped off at City Walk (a business centre / shopping complex) where I met Wisnu, another cs'er. I contacted him in advance and would be staying at his place. We chatted a bit, then he took me to his place on his motorbike.


Driving around Jakarta in rush hour reminded me very much of Phnom Penh in Cambodia - people along the streets everywhere, motorbikes, dirt and pollution everywhere,...


Wisnu rented a "kost" (a room in a shared house) in Grogol, North-West Jakarta. Just a small room, but I didn't need much luxury anyway. The place was infested with mosquitos though, but I had insect spray... making up for some exercise every night before going to sleep: killing the mosquitos :)


Wisnu took me to a local cs-meeting. First we had a drink somewhere near Jalan Jaksa (the main tourist street), then we went to Kemang Food Fest. I was surprised to meet some other people I had e-mailed with already: Lia, Rahra and Hellen. I had a wonderful time hanging out with this bunch: they were a bunch of good friends, having lots of fun and were very welcoming towards new people - locals and foreigners. We ended up chatting and playing cards until the early morning.



Later on that week - on election day - we went to another cs-meeting. First we had food at FX, a big shopping mall. Then we tried the "Atmosfear", sliding down in a tube from the 7th floor all the way down to the ground floor in about 15 seconds. Quite a thrill !!! Then we went to Inul Vizta for karaoke... I met many more people and had great fun, everybody joined in and was singing and dancing... cs Jakarta rocks :)



Dina was so kind to take me along the city centre earlier that afternoon. First we checked out Jalan Jaksa, then we went to Monas (the national monument), which was closed due to election day unfortunately. Then we proceeded our walk along Mesjid Istiqlal and the Catholic Cathedral, a mosque and a church facing each other, symbolising different religions and cultures living together peacefully. Then we decided to check out some ice cream in Jalan Veteran - yummy! :)



Sandy, Andri and Said - three local cs'ers - organised a small city tour around Kota (the old town of Batavia, which was once the hub of Dutch colonial Indonesia) and Sunda Kelapa (the old port) for 2 French girls and I. We walked around, they took us to Museum Sejarah Jakarta (Jakarta History Museum, housed in the old town hall). In the evening Said took me to Glodok, the traditional enclave of the Chinese, a bustling, rundown part of town. Then we went to Pasar Baroe ("new market"). As I told Said that I want local experiences when I travel, we decided to take the train. Economy class during rush hour... which you can describe as "being transported like animals": as many people crammed in as possible, the train doors remain open and lots of people are even sitting on top (!!) of the train. Fun experience and everybody was having fun with "bule gila" (crazy foreigner) squeezed in the train, but I wouldn't want to do this every day... :)





I had gotten in touch with Efrata, a girl I had briefly met in Saigon in March. She invited me to the reception / dinner of a friend's wedding, a great opportunity which I gladly accepted. Really interesting to see what a wedding is like, what the customs are, what food is being served, how everyone's dressed... Efrata explained about the culture and introduced me to her friends. Afterwards we decided to sing karaoke. Once again we had great fun!




In the meanwhile during daytime I spent some time walking around the city centre, trying to get used to the busy city, the pollution, the complicated street patterns, the public transportation and the fact that it takes a long time to get somewhere, the fact that there's people everywhere constantly trying to talk to you ("ke mana!" ("where are you going?") , "di mana?" ("where are you from?")... people are genuinly friendly and they are in fact interested in having a conversation, but it gets annoying not to have "personal space", something we are so used to in Western society. After working hours Wisnu spent some time with me, chatting and introducing me to some local food.



Pulau Seribu (1000 Islands) (West-Java)


Dina really wanted to visit "1000 Islands" up north, a string of islands in the Bay of Jakarta. Despite their misleading name there are only 130 islands in the group. Efrata joined in and the three of us decided to spend a weekend there.


We had to get up really early. Dina picked me up with a taxi, from there we drove to the harbour. There Efrata was already waiting for us. The ferry was quite fun, we sat on the deck enjoying the view, listening to music (having a conversation was impossible because of the noisy engine) and taking a nap (Efrata demonstrating that in no time she can sleep everywhere :p).




We ferry dropped us off at Pulau Pramuka (Scout Island). There we walked around a bit, then arranged an island hopping & snorkeling tour. We boarded a boat, had lunch in a floating restaurant and then left on our trip. The islands we visited are Semak Daun (lit. "grass leaves"), Pulau Kotok, and Pulau Kerambah. The islands were beautiful, the temperature of the water was perfect and the coral and underwater life were beautiful. We really enjoyed it.



We had decided to spend the night on one of the islands... where no accomodation was available, if necessary we would sleep on the beach (something Dina wasn't sure about at first, haha :)). There was another group of - rather young and noisy - students there, but we decided not to join them and enjoy the peace and quiet instead. We were offered to sleep in a boat house for free, on the pier. It was basically just a wooden house with no furniture inside, but it had a toilet and shower and we didn't require any more luxury so we gladly accepted. Also, we offered some noodles for dinner, along with some coffee and peanuts.


We had a wonderful night sitting there, chatting, joking around, listening to music, drinking coffee, eating peanuts and playing cards... Dina had gone to sleep, Efrata and I decided to stay up all night and watch the sunrise in the morning.



The next day we did some more snorkeling, then went back to the main island, where we took the ferry back to the harbour. Dina wanted to go home and Efrata and I decided to spend some more time together in Jakarta, having lunch, chatting and walking around in a shopping centre. In the evening Efrata took me to Menteng Park, a relatively quiet getaway from the busy city centre.


To make a long story short: Efrata and I fell in love and are still together until this day :)



Bandung, Tangkuban Prahu, Ciater Hot Springs (West-Java)


As Efrata and I both wanted to get away from the busy city centre and wanted to do some hiking, we decided to spend the weekend around Bandung.


Well, I couldn't follow and I still don't understand how Efrata managed to get there... taking a mix of different kinds of transportation, having to jump on and off buses (sometimes while they were driving!), constantly asking around for directions... Anyway, we got there safely :)


We walked a bit around Bandung but found it quite boring, not much to see there. In the evening we met up with two friends of Efrata. We had dinner and some conversations. After that Efrata and I decided to go to Lembang, close to the park entrance, and spend the night there.



In the early morning we took an Angkot (kind of minivan) to the park entrance and started our walk to Tangkuban Prahu, a volcano crater. It wasn't easy to find though, there were trails and junctions everywhere. Eventually a friendly local showed us the way. The huge crater was an impressive sight; it still emits sulphur fumes but is not particular active - its last serious eruption was in 1969. We walked around the crater, took some pictures and then hiked down to Kawah Domas, a volcanic area of steaming and bubbling geysers.



Once back on the main road, we both felt like relaxing after our trek, so we decided to go to Ciater Hot Springs, 8 kilometers northeast of Tangkuban Prahu. We went to the Ater Hot Spring Resort and ended up swimming, relaxing and chilling in the pools - drinking a fresh and tasty strawberry shake - for almost 4 (!) hours :)



In the evening, we took the train back to Jakarta. Business class this time :)



Bogor and Kebun Raya (West-Java)


" romantic little village" is how Sir Stamford Raffles described Bogor when he made it his country home during the British interregnum. As an oasis of unpredictable European weather - it has about 322 thunderstorms a year - cool, quiet Bogor was long the chosen retreat of colonials escaping the crowded capital. Today, the town of Bogor isn't quiet anymore and the city is choked with the overspill of the capital's traffic problem.



The real oasis remains untouched though. Planted in the very centre of the city, with the traffic passing idly by, Bogo's botanical gardens ("Kebun Raya") are truly world class, covering an area of around 80 hectares.


The gardens contain streams and lotus ponds, and more than 15,000 species of trees and plants, including 400 types of magnificent palms.


Efrata and I went there together with Pretty, Mega, Ita, good friends of Efrata. It was a very nice and quiet day-trip away from the busy city centre. The gardens are beautiful. We walked around, had a nice lunch, chatted and played "truth or dare".


When the gardens closed down (around 6pm... a pity because we would have loved to stay longer!), we returned to Jakarta.



Jakarta (2)


I ended up staying quite some time in Jakarta and doing some side trips from there. Wisnu was so kind to let me stay 2 weeks at his place, then I felt it was time to move - it's great to stay at local people's places, but I don't want to be too much of a burden and stay too long.


We ended up booking a hostel in Jalan Jaksa, the main tourist area in Jakarta.

Some trips/activities/sights:


  • Efrata took me to University of Jakarta and introduced me to her friends and her community. I had a great time and everybody wanted to know about my travels. They were really nice and even ended up teaching me some basic Bahasa Indonesia (the Indonesian language). Had some great conversations, played some cards... then had dinner together with Alek and Nico. They took me to a nice warung (that's what the eateries along the street are called) close to university where they go a lot. The food was very tasty and inexpensive.

    After that Efrata, I and Alek decided to go to Menteng Park and meet up there with Oni, another friend of theirs. We bought some beers and sat in the park, chatting for quite a few hours. Then we decided to go to Oni's place, where we would all spend the night.

    In the morning Oni was so kind to drop me off at the place where I was staying. He also offered to show me around and he invited me over to his class (he teaches computer science) to talk in front of his students. I promised him I'd love to meet his students and would contact him again in August or September.

  • Efrata is a facilitator for home schooled students, and she invited me over to her class to talk and discuss about travelling. It was a wonderful experience - I talked for over an hour and they were really interested and asked me all kinds of questions, some related to cultural differences.

  • I went to another cs meeting at Kemang Food Fest, had some nice conversations and played cards;

  • We took Wisnu and Dina out for dinner because I wanted to thank them for what they'd done for me -- I stayed at Wisnu's place for about 2 weeks and he had gone out of his way to make my stay enjoyable and show me around, and Dina had picked me up from the airport and spent quite some time together with me;

  • Went shopping, checked out various shopping malls. When Efrata had to work, I took some time to venture around the city myself;

  • Having dinner around Jaksa, we bumped into Nizza (a friend of Efrata) and Sam, a guy from South Africa who lived in Kuala Lumpur but was visiting Jakarta. We had a drink together with them and the next day Sam joined me to a book shop. I bought 3 books: Lonely Planet of Indonesia, Paulo Coelho's "The Zahir" (Efrata's favourite book, she wanted me to read it) and Lonely Planet's "Indonesian Phrasebook" as I wanted to start learning Bahasa Indonesia;

  • Checked out some local food. Quite nice, but I skipped the "chicken feet" though :)

In the meanwhile Efrata and I were making plans for the next few weeks. She co-organised an international week for foreign students and she would travel to Yogyakarta and Bali. I would join her, and she would take off the rest of August to travel around Bali, Flores, Sumba and East-Java together.


I must say that - although things were going great between Efrata and I and we were doing a lot of fun things - I had a hard time in Jakarta. The busy and polluted city, people on the streets everywhere asking all kinds of annoying and somewhat private questions, people staring at us all the time, the fact that some traditional hotel owners do not allow a man and a woman to stay together in the same room if they're not married (so it wasn't easy to find a room sometimes), the inefficiency (that especially... they're good at talking for hours and gossiping, but getting things done seemed quite hard...), the heat, the mosquitos... I was happy when we could leave Jakarta and move on to Yogyakarta.



Yogyakarta, Borobodur, Prambanan (Central Java)


We decided to take the night train to Yogyakarta. Didn't sleep much though... we didn't have sleeping berths (just normal seats), the lights remained on, there was a lot of noise, at every stop people came in trying to sell all kinds of food/drinks,...


We arrived early in the morning. The largest part of the next few days Efrata would be busy with the international week she co-organised. She was staying in the same hotel as the participants; I decided to book into a room in the Prawirotaman area (the backpacker area).


That afternoon Efrata and I (she had a free day) decided to visit the Borobodur temple complex. This colossal Buddhist relic is one of Southeast Asia's marvels, surviging Gunung Merapi's ash flows, terrorist bombs, and the wear and tear of a million pairs of touris flip-flops to remain as enigmatic and beautiful as it must have been 1200 years ago.



We arrived there about an hour before closing time so we rushed in, but an hour was more than enough to walk around, see the temple, take some pictures, enjoy the area.

and the upcoming sunset.


While Angkor Wat is bigger and more impressive, Borobodur sure is worth a visit too.



The next day I decided to rent a motorbike... only 3 US$, the cheapest motorbike rental so far :p


I drove around Yogyakarta first - trying to get used to the labirynth of one way streets -, and decided to drive to the Prambanan temple complex in the afternoon. It's on the road to Solo 17km northeast of Yogyakarta and the best remaining example of Java's period of Hindu cultural development. Not only do these temples form the largest Hindu temple complex in Java, but the wealth of cultural detail on the great Shiva temple makes it easily the most outstanding example of Hindu art.



I took the whole afternoon to visit the temples, wandering around, taking pictures, enjoying the green area surrounding the temples. I sat down in the grass for a few hours to do some reading. In the late afternoon I headed back to Yogyakarta.


In the evening I met up with Wilton, a cs'er from Yogya, in Malioboro Shopping Mall.


Arriving there and parking my motorbike somewhere in between the hundreds of other motorbikes, I wondered how I would find it back... but I didn't have time to worry about it because I had to rush in to meet Wilton :) We had a nice time talking about various subjects, then walked around a bit in the city centre.


Fortunately most of the parked motorbikes were gone by the time we got back, so I easily found my motorbike :)


The next morning I packed my bags (Efrata and I were leaving in the evening), checked out of my hostel and met up with Andrew, a cs'er from the US. Another local cs'er joined whose name i can't remember. We had lunch first, then drove to Kasongan, Yogyakarta's pottery centre. The pottery and art-work we saw there was amazing.


Back in Yogyakarta, I flagged down an "ojek" (motorbike driver) who took me to the airport. There I met up again with Efrata, who introduced me to her fellow organizers and participants of the international week.


That night we took the plane to Denpasar (Bali).



Sanur, Kuta, Legian and around (Bali)


When we arrived at Denpasar airport, we noticed immediately that this is a touristy destination. Hords of taxi drivers were waiting for us, trying to overcharge us. We ignored them and walked out of the airport. There we flagged down a taxi who dropped us off in Sanur. We had booked into a hostel there for one night because all accomodation in Kuta and Legian was either full or ridiculously expensive.


We woke up early the next day and went for a nice walk along the beach. After that, I couldn't keep Efrata from going to Dunkin' Donuts for breakfast :)



Then, we took the taxi to Kuta and started our long quest of trying to find accomodation. Kuta is really touristy and all accomodation was either fully booked or too expensive (they charge up to and over IDR 200.000 / night (+/- US$ 20, which is a lot to Indonesian standards). We didn't give up and eventually found a nice place for IDR 70,000 / night (US$ 7), Beneyasa Beach Inn II off Poppies Lane.


The first days Efrata was busy organising the international week. I basically just lazed around, I didn't like the place very much as it's only beaches and full of tourists.


When Efrata had a day off, we decided to rent a motorbike and cruise around. First, we drove to Ulu Watu, one of several important temples to the spirits of the sea along the south coast of Bali. The temple is perched precipitously on the southwestern tip of the peninsula, atop sheer cliffs that drop straight into the pounding surf.



The temple wasn't that special, but the views along the cliffs was breathtaking. We had a great walk along the cliffs, where no tourists go.


Then, we drove back up north, along Kuta and Legian's busy shopping streets. It was rush hour and the traffic was terrible. I tried to get us up there safely, while Efrata laughed at me when I tried asking directions to "Kerobokan" and didn't manage (I said "Keroboboan" and the locals looked at me in a funny way, not knowing which place I meant :p) :)


After an hour we arrived in Tanah Lot, possibly the best-known and most photographed temple in Bali. There were tourists everywhere coming there for sunset. There was a guy asking for money to see the "holy snake". It just looked like a normal snake though and when we asked him what's so special about the snake, he kept on mumbling "it's a holy snake", haha :)



Although the place was touristy, the sunset was stunning. We really enjoyed walking around and seeing the sun go down and took many pictures.



Then we drove back to Kuta and handed in our motorbike.


I arrived Indonesia on a one month "VISA on arrival". As it was about too expire and I couldn't simply extend it, I had to leave the country, come back and apply for a new VISA on arrival if I wanted to stay longer. So the next day I would fly to Kuala Lumpur (the cheapest flight), stay there for 2 days and then come back, getting a new VISA on arrival which would entitle me to stay in Indonesia for another 30 days. Quite a hassle, but the only way...



- Sven


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