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Hello Mister, Special Indo Weight Loss Program!

As is often the case, we have a rough plan of what we want to do, then at the last minute, we divert to something else. This is the beauty of long term travel, and this is teaching us self described “master planners” how to better go with the flow. After flying into Jakarta, we were going to head straight to the beach, but decided instead to take the longer route through the high country. Of course, the “longer route” was partially due to some transit shenanigans (see last post), but we truly did want to see some different countryside, so we spent two nights in the Puncak Pass area, home to Gede Pangrango National Park and the volcanically active Gunung Gede.

After eating breakfast at our hotel, we grab a bemo to take us up to the park so we can go for a jungle hike. Stop. If you know Chris Kratsch, you probably thought I meant to write “bike”, not “hike”. But, clearly the tropical air must be getting to him because we head out on foot with a few goals: a waterfall, wildlife (a leopard would be cool, but monkeys will suffice), and no leeches. I am not real terrified of most critters, but I am deathly afraid of leeches, and the leeches here are sneaky leeches. They stand on end on the ground, and as you walk by, they sneak on to you, into your socks and attach on to you and suck your blood. This is something I am just not cool with.

Although we were at over 5,000 feet of elevation, it was still a jungle hike, so it was hot and sticky. But quiet, eerily quiet for Indonesia. Even the school groups of 30 students that pass us were quiet. The trail leads us straight up and soon enough, we hear a bunch of rustling above. Our dreams have come true and we are in the middle of a bunch of monkeys. What do you call a bunch of monkeys anyway? A herd? Flock? Troupe sounds best. As we stand and try to get fleeting pictures, the Indonesians walk by us and laugh. Clearly, the monkeys are entertainment for us, we are entertainment for the Indonesians. When an older woman walked by us, whispering a cryptic “careful mister, careful mister”, we decided to heed her warnings and move along. The rest of the hike was lovely, ending at a waterfall on the flanks of a large volcano. I guess we have both volcanoes and waterfalls in our backyard in Oregon… But we certainly don’t have monkeys.

Our next surf destination was the Cimaja area in West Java, so we took yet another series of busses (we are getting very good at this) for a few hours and found ourselves at the beach again. Cimaja was a fun, mellow wave (by Indo standards, meaning it only barrels occasionally, breaks on a cobble rock point instead of razor sharp reef, and is less than double overhead in size), so we enjoyed surfing at the local point in town as well as a nearby beach break. The “local” surf scene was strong there, but these Indonesians are so damn nice and when they snake a wave from you, it’s always with a big smile! Sometimes if I was in the right position, they would yell, “go missus, go!”, then cheer me on as I was surfing. Since surfboards are a luxury here, there aren’t that many of them and the ones that they do have are completely beat up. So, they share. A bunch of guys sit at the beach and heckle their buddies while they are surfing. Then a guy comes in, gives the board to another guy, and off he goes and proceeds to shred out there. The peanut gallery continues to laugh and heckle while watching their friends. Oh, to be a 17 year old Indonesian boy! This is how they appear to spend the majority of their time. Surfing and laughing.

We found a great place to stay with air conditioning (deluxe!) which turned out to be very critical maneuver since we both, after eight months of international travel, had our first real bout with stomach illness. We knew this day would come, but you are never truly prepared to be sick in a foreign country. I (Katy) had the worst of it. Sparing the details, it was long, arduous and ugly and definitely had that “I wish I was dead, rather than be this sick” element. I call it the “Hello Mister, Special Indo Weight Loss Program”. It only cost us several thousand dollars, but at least it’s in a tropical locale!

I could write a book about ground transportation in Indo. I swear we’ve had our most challenging, yet amusing times moving around these relatively small islands. We are learning new things. Such as, when you ask an Indonesian, “Is there room in that ________(insert car/bemo/bus) for us and our stuff?” they will always answer, with a smile, “Yes, yes, of course”. DO NOT believe these very nice people. We have been crammed into the most ridiculous positions in vehicles, and it’s one thing for me, at five feet tall, to sit in a car with my knees wedged up to my chin for 10 hours. It’s another thing for six foot tall Chris. Add in the completely chaotic driving, and it makes for a wild ride. Nonetheless, it’s all good and we always manage to get where we want to be.

We hustled a 10 hour car ride with three Austrian women and are now in Batu Karas, which is thus far, very lovely. It is a small cove with a rocky headland, literally at “the end of the road”. It’s the most mellow place we’ve been so far, with a few nice accommodations, some tiny restaurants, two tiny surf shops, a little store, and a low motorbike count. We love our homestay here, a little room above a restaurant on the beach with a small balcony, including breakfast and coffee, for a mere $15 a night. However, this is a big weekend spot for city people, so we will likely see bus loads of locals over the weekend. We are hoping to score some surf here in our last two weeks in Indonesia!

Some surf shots from Cimaja:

We love monkeys!
Our homestay in Batu Karas:
Things to check off our bucket list – dinner with a monkey named Roxy. Check.
The jungle is full of delights.
A typical bemo, probably with 25 people in it:

 

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The Glamour of “Budget Travel”

So whats it really like, traveling around Asia on a budget? We are not planning to much of this trip and doing much of it on the fly and this takes an incredible amount of time, flexibility and patience. Along with a very strong sense of humor. We are definitley on a budget so we are always trying to find a balance between being cheap and being stupid, and this is quite difficult at times. So, we thought we might give you a humorous, yet realistic run down of a typical “travel day”.

 

Note to readers: Somewhere in this past 26 hours of this post, we picked up some souvenirs, of the stomach bug variety… Never a dull moment!

5pm, Sunday. Although we really loved southern Sumatra, we knew it was time to see some new scenery, so we do our research and decide to go to Java, specifically West Java, for the next portion of our stay in Indonesia. We need to get to Bandarlampung (very southern Sumatra) so we can get a flight to Jakarta. We arrange to share a car and driver with two French guys that we have been staying with. Since we took the bus to the area, we are ready to splurge on a car for the way back and splitting it with two other guys saves us some money. We load up, three large board bags strapped to the top and head out for a six hour drive to Bandarlampung.

6:20pm, Sunday. Our driver neglected to fill up on petrol for the drive, so we stop at a gas station. We wait in line for 20 minutes to get gas.

9pm, Sunday. Our driver is hungry, so we stop at a warung that serves Padang style food. We (me, Chris and the two Frenchies) order four orders of chicken and rice. When we pay, they try to totally take us and charge us three times the amount posted on the menu. Thankfully, we have French men with us and they argue to the end while we sit on the sidelines and watch. Somehow we end up paying nothing. For some reason the driver ends up paying our bill, despite the fact we repeatedly offered to pay the correct amount. The true cost of our dinner was an hour of continuous road-rage inflicted on us by our driver. Seriously scary stuff as his already marginal driving skills quickly deteriorated. We hang on and repeatedly ask him to slow down.

11pm, Sunday. We arrive at one of two hotels near the Bandarlampung airport to crash for the night. FULL. Next hotel. FULL. We learn that it is a big Indonesian holiday weekend and we will have a hard time finding a hotel. Okay, so it looks we are sleeping in the airport tonight. We start figuring out how that will pan out. Who gets to lay on the surfboard bag? Do we need to sleep in shifts? This is looking to be a long night. We go to the airport. CLOSED. Plan C. We convince our now very cranky driver that for an additional $20, he needs to drive us another half hour into the city to find a hotel.

Mindnight, Sunday. We get into the heart of Bandarlampung and check with four different hotels before we find one with available rooms. Completely wired from our stressful evening, we try to get some shut eye in our $20 hotel room, complete with deluxe air conditioning, which struggles to beat the heat as we do.

5:30am, Monday. We need to get to the airport early so the Frenchies can make their 8am flight and so we’ll have a prayer of purchasing tickets for that day as well. We strap everything to the top of the cab. The taxi ride to the airport is fairly uneventful, but it starts raining cats and dogs.

6am, Monday. We buy plane tickets to Jakarta for a 9:30am flight for $120 bucks. Imagine doing this in the US. First, it would be at least $1000. Second, they would be sure that your are a terrorist. We arrange with Germain (French dude) to share a car when we leave the Jakarta airport for West Java. This means he will have to hang out in the Jakarta airport for two hours, but he is game, so we plan on meeting him then.

8am, Monday. Winner breakfast at the airport cafe. Two candy bars and a cup of coffee.

10:30am, Monday. Our flight is delayed 1 hour. It also begins to rain buckets. Torrential rain like we’ve never seen before. We wonder, can planes even get off the ground in this?

11:30am Monday. We touch down in Jakarta. As we leave the airport, we are jumped on by taxi drivers, like white on rice. Germain is nowhere to be found and we suspect he ditched us after our flight was delayed for so long. Plan B. Chris’s luggage is completely soaked and is already starting to grow mildew from being left out in the rain.

12:30pm, Monday. We hang out, get money, eat some very delicious A&W chicken sandwiches (yeah, we are hungry) and assess our options for getting to West Java. A taxi is too expensive ($75), so bus it is. Here we go again.

1:30pm, Monday. We sit and sweat outside of the airport. The bus is an hour late, but it is nice, air conditioned and devoid of thumping Indo techno music.

3:00pm, Monday. A cacophony of “Hello mister, hello mister, where you going? Taxi, taxi, taxi!” assaults us as we get off the bus in Bogor. Complete feeding frenzy of people wanting to take us somewhere. We opt for a break and tour the nearby botanical gardens. But… We need to stash our stuff.

3:30pm Monday. We find a police station to leave our luggage and board bag for an hour while we tour the botanical garden. Of course, the Indonesian police are ecstatic about taking care of our belongings, so we leave our things and walk to the garden.

4:30pm Monday. We walk a portion of the very lovely gardens and, minus a few “hello misters”, we find some peace and quiet for a few minutes. We take a horse buggy ride back to the police station to retrieve our stuff for $5. We try to negotiate the price, but the kid driving the buggy doesn’t budge. It’s a total rip off, but indeed a novelty, weaving through crazy traffic in a rickety buggy.

5:00pm Monday. We procur yet another taxi to take us to Cibodas, which sits on the flanks of an active volcano and national park. We negotiate the ride for $22, but we start to feel guilty after 2 hours of driving. The traffic is horrendous. Should we pay more? We are exhausted and hungry. We are at 24 hours of travel time.

6:30pm, Monday. Our taxi gets lost trying to find the guesthouse that we requested. It is dark, we are up in the hills, and we have no idea where we are. We check out one place to stay, and it’s no good, so we convince the taxi to take us to another hotel. Taxi driver, not happy. We will clearly pay the price.

7:30pm, Monday. Starving and delirious, we find another hotel for $27. Definitely over our budget, but at this point we are broken. We fork out extra for the taxi driver since he is not too happy that we made him go so far.

8:00pm, Monday. 26 hours later. Bintangs and $5 dinner. Things are looking up.

9:00pm Monday. We think to ourselves… Aren’t we lucky to be doing what we are doing. Wow, another great day in Indonesia!

 

 

 

Welcome To The Big Leagues

We came all this way, chasing our dreams of surfing the world class waves of Indonesia. Its like shooting hoops with Michael Jordan. Sounds pretty fun until until you really think about what that means.

But, what we find does not disappoint. The ocean here is so beautiful, it’s like surfing in an aquarium with tropical fish swimming under our boards. The 88 degree water temperature is so warm, it’s barely a reprieve from the hot tropical sun, and even wearing a thin, short sleeved rash guard is too warm. The surf here is no surprise either, as it’s consistently large and powerful. The Indian Ocean is clearly a different beast compared to our lovely Pacific. The surfers here vary from professionals to the just really darn good. Seems there aren’t a lot of intermediate surfers and, within the last month, we’ve seen four women in the water, including Katy.

We’re still trying to mentally adjust to surfing over coral. That beautiful clear water has a way of making the reef appear to be only inches under water as well as amplifying the high speed flying sensation that you get while surfing. The fun of surfing these waves defies explanation. Trying to out run six feet of churning white water while flying down a steep wave and knowing there’s only a foot or – hopefully at least three – of water between you and the coral, probably doesn’t sound fun, but it CAN be.

Having a motorbike everyday allows us to explore and search for waves to our liking. We search for the spots where we will have prayer of catching fun waves, avoiding the crowds, and avoiding the scariest (for us) conditions. Today for instance, the usually moderate waves in front of our lodging were giant, thundering beasts, chasing out all but the most brave out of the water. By the end of the day our fellow surfers, in addition to stories of glory, will likely also be bleeding from reef cuts and/or have a broken surfboard. Today we found a challenging wave for us that rewarded with steep drop, a fast wall and an inevitable wipeout as the wave would out run us. Thankfully our encounters with the reef have been glancing blows and we’ve avoided major cuts. Even the small scrapes take forever to heal in this tropical climate.

As is the nature of surfing, some days you win (have fun and catch lots of waves), and some days you lose (don’t catch many waves for whatever reason – too many people, crappy waves, too much wind, bad attitude – you name it). Regardless of how a surf session ends, upon exiting the water, without fail, we are greeted by a herd of local kids on the beach. Once again, we are instant celebrities.

So we are happy we’re catching waves and pinching ourselves that we truly are surfing at least on the shoulder of the big leagues. Surely it must be the fact we don’t have a cell phone that the sponsors have not yet called us up.

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A Day In The Life Of Banana Island

First, apologies on the meager array of photos. We have so many photos two share, but uploading takes much more significant broadband power, and as we say “it just ain’t happenin” in these parts.

 

Why pass up an opportunity to get on a boat and go to Palau Pisang? It literally translates to “Banana Island”. Our first day in sumatra, as we were on the bus, we spotted a beautiful island not too far away, and set our sights on getting there at some point in our journey.

 

So, one evening at dinner, some fellow South African surfers were talking about hiring a boat to spend the day on the island. Yippee! We jumped on the chance. The four of us arranged to get up at 5:30am, and hit the road on our motorbikes as soon as we could get moving and head to the nearest harbor, about 30 minutes away, to see about hiring a boat for the day. We arrive at the tiny harbor, completely clueless on where to begin and quickly have a swarm of people around us, trying to figure out what we are doing there. After some inquiring, a guy leaves on his motorbike, and comes back with a woman who is very helpful in arranging a boat. After settling on a price, we head out into the ocean on a very small, but quite impressive craft. Its is only wide enough for two people to sit side by side, with bamboo outriggers, and a small outboard motor, but somehow actually seems seaworthy.

After about an hour, we are dropped off on a white sandy beach backed by a small village. It was unusually quiet, mostly due to the fact that there were, what appeared to be, only a couple of motorbikes on the island, and most people were walking or riding bicycles. Ah, moments of silence in Indonesia! But, you’re never alone, and we quickly had a pack of kids following us. This being the fourth most populated nation on earth, solitude is a rarity.
Case and Justin, the South Africans, were keen to check out the surf, but it was racetrack fast, big and looked like a sure pounding for us intermediate surfers. While they took a beating, we cruised the island and found some excellent snorkeling spots with plenty of fish and beautful live coral. And we are always up for some underwater glamour shots:
Not knowing really what to expect, we hoped that there would be at least one warung (basic restaurant) on the island. After walking around and following rudimentary directions involving lots of pointing and smiling, we find a small store, but no warung. The store is fairly well stocked with instant noodle packets, so we ask the woman if she can boil up some water for noodles. She agrees, and we sit at the long table on the porch, very hungry by this time. The woman comes back out and starts talking and pointing to me. She clearly wants my help in the kitchen, so I follow her through her house, past a couple of sleeping children, back to the dark kitchen. She either wants me to cook it all, or she is giving me a cooking lesson on how to make instant noodles. I really can’t determine, but I smile, laugh, and try to follow her orders. She laughs at me the whole time. Shy travelers beware, Indonesia forces you to interact with people, regardless of your comfort level!
We have settled in to a very lovely losmen (see photo above) owned by a local family who takes very good care of us. Every morning, they pull our motorbike out for use. The meals are amazing, usually consisting of fresh fish or chicken, rice and vegetables and local specialties. We did have spaghetti bolognese one night, which was delicious, and made Chris, the ultimate pasta eater, very happy. Our daily room and meals for $18 a person includes up to four cups of (strong Sumatran) coffee or tea a day, which keeps this coffee drinking Oregonian pretty content!
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