So, what did we think Sumatra would be? We feel like we are at the end of the world.
After getting our visas extended we spent two days on the Bukit peninsula to check out the ENORMOUS swell at the famed Bali surf breaks. Seeing a speck of a dude on a 20 to 25 foot wave was probably not the best way to start a surf trip in Indo! But we spent the day cruising around the Bukit on a motorbike (yes moms, we wear helmets), checking out the precarious clifftop Ulu Watu temple, dodging monkeys, and drinking Bintangs overlooking Ulu’s and Padang Padang surf breaks.
We are now far, far away from anything remotely touristy, as we have reached our first surfing destination in Sumatra. It took two short flights to get here…and over nine hours of buses. Our first night in Sumatra was spent in a large city as our flight did not arrive until late afternoon. Upon leaving the airport, we experienced the most harrowing taxi ride of the trip in crazy night time Indonesian traffic, complete with thumping techno-music, sunset prayer calls throughout the city and far too many close calls for an ex-insurance claims rep. We knew the next day would be very long, so we splurged on a “fancy” hotel, complete with air conditioning – deluxe! For dinner, we stayed within our budget, with the two of us spending $2 at a roadside cart – delicious! The next day we departed early on the local bus for an eight hour ride, bumping, swerving and honking through exotic villages, rice paddies, dense jungle of teak, coffee and cacao trees, in a land that suddenly seems so much further away from anything that we’ve ever experienced.
On that long, long bus ride, we met up with another bule (the Indonesian word for “white guy” or “tourist”), David, from Switzerland. He was heading to the same area, so we were all very happy to have fellow travelers. After getting off themain bus, we get in a very crowded, very hot, very sticky bemo (small minibus). No kidding, twelve people and one baby in this tiny bus, holding our backpacks, surfboards strapped to the top, we bumble down another small road for over an hour to get to our destination. After a bit of confusion (always), we find our village and the little place where we want to stay, which is the only lodging for miles.
It is common, for us anyway, to stay in what is called a homestay or losmen Indonesia. These are very simple rooms next to, or attached to a house and include three meals a day, cooked by the family. Our guy here is Cecep (pronounced Che-chep), and he is awesome. He speaks some English, which is definitely more than anyone within miles of here, so we are scrambling to learn Indonesian. Cecep brings us three delicious meals, typically banana pancakes for breakfast, and amazing Sumatran lunches and dinners, all of which includes piles of rice, as they literally eat it with every meal. We have yet to have a bad meal. All this, lodging and food for the two of us, for 260,000 Rupiah a day. That comes to a total of…$28 US a day. Daily entertainment entails surfing (if possible – see last paragraph) and watching goats, cows, ducks, chickens and geese tramp through our yard. Our evenings are spent with Cecep, learning everything we can about Indonesian language and culture, and we feel very fortunate to be able to learn so much from him. We were lucky enough to experience a traditional Muslim Indonesian wedding in the village, complete with exotic music, rich gold woven fabrics draped overhead, piles of food (yes, a few of those cute ducks, chickens, and a handful of goats are missing), and Indonesian men and women dressed to the nines. Something we knew we couldn’t get unless we plopped ourselves into the middle of a small rural village.
We cannot fully express how amazed the locals are to see the bules. The children, of course, are the most bold, running up to get a high five, yelling “Hello Mister”, as we putter past on the little motorbike. Even the older adults stop what they are doing and attempt conversation in a local language that we did not know existed just a few days ago. Rather than our typical Western conversation starters suchas “Hi. How are you?”, most talk here starts with “Where are you going?” followed by “Where did you come from?” The “Where are you going?” doesn’t mean that they want to show you the way or take you there, rather it is a way of determining everyone’s place in the world. We feel like celebrities, but it is exhausting, trying to always enthusiastically smile while using our limited Indonesian vocabulary. Besides, Indonesians would win a smiling contest any day, so we just can’t compete!
Well, we came more than half around the world for the surf, so how is it? BIG. The surf break in front of our first homestay was supposed to be “easy” by Indo standards, but it is anything but easy. We have two choices: 1)The peak of the point which has been breaking consistently in the 12 to 15 foot range, complete with spitting barrels. Awesome for those that earn a living surfing, but not us! 2) Further down the point to the other option where the surf is much smaller, but perhaps no less challenging as the wave is still very hollow and the rides are short as the wave speeds down the line like and Indonesian taxi driver. It’s what we came for, and in a few days hopefully we can more honestly describe it as fun, but right now, it’s just straight up scary. Simply put – we are freakin’ out, man!
So, wish us luck in finding some “easier” waves in Indo! Terima kasih!
Upon getting out of bed this morning, I discovered I had stepped in some very strange, quite nasty substance. As I half asleep made my way to the sink to wash it off, my friend Sarah called out, “Looks like you stepped in gecko poop already.” It finally dawned on me today that we were actually in Bali.
Leaving the US, we were wavering on whether to bring our surfboards, or buy some here, as Cathay Pacific just changed their surfboard charge to $600. Yes, you read it right – $600 US! However, we have learned time and time again that it all depends on who actually checks you in and, lucky for us, the woman at the Alaska Airlines desk in Portland only charged us $100 for the board bag. Relief! All things come with a hitch and as we enjoyed our meal and movie filled transpacific flight, our boards remained in baggage purgatory, and didn’t arrive in Bali until a day later, when they were actually delivered to the tiny losmen (losmen are cheap, basic little hotel rooms in indonesia) where we were staying in Kuta.
We spent a day in crazy Kuta, getting our bearings, shopping, and doing mundane, painful chores like extending our tourist visas. Tourist visas are issued for 30 days, but we had heard reports of extensions of up to 60 days. We are quickly learning that Indonesia prefers a very orderly and often beauracratic way of doing business. After spending a few hours getting to the correct immigration office, we find that we need to spend a full week in Indonesia before even applying for the extension, then ANOTHER seven working days to process the extension, while they hold your passport for that period of time. That means a total of 16 days before we can go anywhere, and of course we have big plans.
Feeling a bit frustrated, we bag this whole scene, and head up into the hills to visit friends Sarah and Chad from Bend, who live in Bamboo Village (remember the Ewok village from Return of the Jedi?) and work at Green School. Sarah is an absolute godsend, and understands the needs of weary jetlagged travelers. Not only did she put us up for a few nights in her incredible bamboo house, she helped us find someone to expedite our visa extension (beauracracy works great especially when you are willing to pay a little more money), gave us a car AND driver, and helped us navigate Ubud for a day. Have we mentioned the traffic? It is so amazing, and the only way to describe it is like watching a flowing river of 80% motorbikes and 20% cars. The river never stops, but continues flowing with the current, around obstacles, a continuous, fairly peaceful movement of Balinese on the go. It can be literally hypnotizing, if you can stand the sounds of motorbikes whizzing by.
Hinduism permeates every aspect of Balinese life as we are constantly stepping over daily offerings of woven grass, flowers and rice, to ward the spirits away. Villages are constructed around temples, and every dawn and dusk the call to prayer is heard throughout the jungle, rice paddies and cities. Balinese are intensely friendly, gentle and happy people and will often break out in a giggle while talking. They even ceremoniously file down their canine teeth to become more spiritually and physically beautiful as teeth are the symbol of lust, greed, anger, insobriety, confusion and jealousy.
We spent a day Ubud, wandering about the trails, visiting the temples, and shopping in the market. It is a quaint and beautiful town….and saturated with tourists and groovy enlightenment seeking expats – a bit like our hometown – so a day is plenty for us! We are anxious (and nervous) to get to the beach and get in the water, but we still have to deal with some logistics such as waiting for our “expedited” visa extensions and purchasing plane tickets to Sumatra. But the jungle of Bali isn’t such a terrible place to pass time so we are relaxing and enjoying life in the tropics, albeit a sweaty life!
1 hr. flight from Portland to Vancouver
4 hr.layover in Vancouver
13 hr. flight Vancouver to Hong Kong
15 hr. layover in Hong Kong
4 hr. flight to Bali
Equals 37 hours of traveling to the other side of the world and one hell of a hangover or jet lag or whatever you want to call it.
Hong Kong was easy. We hopped on the airport train into town and found our hostel/hotel room which was actually a “triple”, yet my arms almost span the entire width of the room. Food was a bust for us we only had one meal, and we definitely ordered wrong as it was almost too spicy and too sour to eat. Hopefully we will get better at that. We walked around the busy Kowloon district taking in as many sights as we could before turning in for the night to get some real sleep. In the morning we caught a modern double decker bus to the airport which provided a bit of a tour of the sights as well. On the freeway toward the airport we were passed by a Sunday morning car club that contained every imaginable high-end sports car including: Porches, Lamborghinis, Mazaratis, Bentleys. Otherwise, there are no cars as most people use public transportation.
Cathay Pacific Airline gets a thumbs up for comfort, best food ever on a plane, entertainment and friendly flight attendants. They really know how to make long flights bearable. Major thumbs down for their handling of the surfboard, as their policy is to charge $600. The good news is that we were only charged $100 (Alaska Airlines was our check in desk). Bad news: we haven’t seen the boards since Portland as they never showed up in Hong Kong and have not caught up to us yet in Bali. However, the lost baggage guy says they’re just going to be one day late.
Bali is… well we’re only one day in so far, but being in Kuta is really exciting. Being a pedestrian here is like the most insane game of Frogger ever. The traffic is intense, about 80% of it is motorbikes, and you can never tell from which way the next threat to your well being will come from next. Our first meal, dinner, was excellent, with a noodle something or other and a veggie tray with peanut sauce. Local beer Bintang meets or exceeds our requirements for transparency as long as it is ultra-cold. No surprise, but it is really warm here. Mainly it’s the humidity which is just off the charts. In one day we each soaked through two changes of clothes each and took two showers each; (remember we didn’t even land till 3 o’clock in the afternoon!)
Today we’ve got a big day ahead of us, we need to go across town to the immigration office to extend our visa from the 30 days everyone is given at the airport to 60 days so we can have enough time here in Indonesia to see Sumatra. We also are anxiously awaiting our surfboards and we have some shopping to do. Oh and we need to make it to the beach at some point, as we never really got there yesterday. Yeah we know- rough gig.
Unfortunately we are not able to load photos onto the blog yet (still working on doing everything on the iPad) but we hope to get them up soon!
People often ask us, “Did you feel safe?” There are some scary things that happen in Mexico. There are some scary things that happen in the US. The US is not scary. Mexico is not scary. Having traveled (and mostly camped) in this country many, many times, the worst thing that has happened to us thus far is that someone snuck off with Chris’ entire shoe supply and one beach towel one beautiful moonlit night in Michoacan. We knew better than to carelessly leave those things outside.
We are not making light of this, and yes, Mexico is undergoing some serious problems and this is reinforced when talking to the locals, especially when words like “la familia” and “narcos” come up. However, for the most part, tourists are not targeted. With a lot of planning and preparation, and probably a bit of luck, we felt safe. Contrary to popular predictions, after over 7,000 miles on the road, we did not experience any of the following:
1. Beheading. Thankfully, we came home with our heads (and new hair color to boot.)
2. Drug Trafficking. We were not held hostage and forced to shove heroin balloons up our butts.
3. Kidnapping. Dozer was so admired by Mexicans and Gringos alike; we did think he might get kidnapped.
4. Carjacking. We were much more afraid of sideswiping a burro in the road.
5. Police Bribery. Thanks to Chris’ stellar driving skills, we did not get pulled over once.
What we fear in our lives is so often revolved around what the media tells us, and we get stuck in the revolving door of what to fear next. What are you afraid of?
Okay, okay, we are afraid of a few things, particularly pertaining to the next leg of our journey:
Getting Sick. Dengue fever, malaria, creepy strange parasites. We’ve skirted Dengue Fever outbreaks both in Mexico and the South Pacific and we’ve decided it’s not something we really want to experience. One fellow traveler and friend described his experience as passing out in his room naked, while he was attempting to crawl to the bathroom, only to wake up spending a delirious week in the hospital hooked up to IVs. I’ll pass on that. But we know that there are plenty of creepy parasites, viruses and bacteria just waiting for our little white asses. Oh, and leeches. Katy is really, really, really afraid of leeches.
Scary Waves and Reef Cuts. Ouch! We’ll likely be putting on our big boy/girl panties, facing heavier waves, sharper reefs, and more remote locations. Falling on a coral reef is a lot like getting scraped on a giant cheese grater. See above post on bacteria.
Not Having Our Own Food Supply – FOR 5 MONTHS. Chris eats a lot, I eat a lot, we eat a lot. Fortunately, we are pretty adventurous when it comes to street food, but not having a healthy food supply on our bodies or in our packs; well, we shall see. Low blood sugar meltdowns might be the new norm.
Not Having ANY Language Experience in the Upcoming Countries. Spanish is easy, Spanish is fun! And if we were thrown into another country with a romance language, we’d probably survive okay. We understand that Indonesian is a fairly “easy” language for the following reasons: 1) It is very phonetic 2) There are no tenses (thank god), and 3) There are no genders. Easy in theory, not so easy in practice.
Missing Our Dog. Spending every day with the pooch in Mexico was a blast and often provided hours of entertainment during those windy, no surf days in Baja. We’ll miss Dozer Dog, but we know he will have a great summer at Chris’ parents house in Albany, OR (that’s where he discovered he has a taste for lamb.)
We are currently in beautiful Central Oregon and the weather has been typical “spring” like with temps in the 30s and a delightful sun/rain/snow mix. All of this is forcing us to wear shoes, and at times, socks, but not for long!
Sampai waktu berikutnya!