We spent 10 busy, awesome, sweltering, hectic days on the bustling island of Java. We summited two active volcanoes, saw two spectacular millennium old temples, spent 20 hours on trains and I managed to squeeze in a bout of food posioning. We are now on the tranquil island of Bali, so now is a good time to look back at the week and a half that was.
I have arranged these tidbits in little bullet points for the busy reader. Afterwards, you can get back to work.
1. Evidently, I am a jaded traveler. On our first minibus trip, I had the seat of honor next to the driver where I got to see/had to witness all the terrifying driving.
The driver weaved in and out of traffic, over-taking on blind curves and passing into the teeth of oncoming traffic in a high stakes game of chicken. Barefoot, pot-bellied, and just barely tall enough to see over the dash, which had my wife’s backpack stacked in his view, he chain smoked cigarettes down to the filter the entire journey, all the while shifting gears and honking to either alert someone not to move into his space or alerting others that he would be moving into their space. He even managed to send a few text messages while careening down the road. I was not totally mortified; indeed, I was impressed with his ability to multi-task.
Yep, I am a jaded traveler.
2. Indonesian people are extremely nice, kind and helpful. The smiling and friendly locals have been a highlight of the journey. There are a few scams and touts here, but they are not too pushy and the scams are avoidable using some common sense although we sort of fell for one once.
3. Fried rice, stir fried veggies, omelettes, fish and assorted juices for breakfast. This is my kind of country.
4. Although it is the largest Muslim country in the world, I’d estimate that half the girls have on head scarves. Although they all dress rather conservatively, it is not the same as the Middle East in the degree of covering the women wear.
5. Speaking of clothes, it is hot here, I mean really flippin hot. Think 93 degrees with smothering humidity. Also keep in mind that I spent the last eight months in Alaska and wore a coat all summer. Yet, we see locals wearing hoodies, jackets and bundling their babies up in stocking caps like we are in a sub-arctic climate.
6. We are learning some Indonesian (Kristi is really good at it).. It is a simple and interesting language. No one really speaks it as a first language – it is a lingua franca that binds the islands. Kids use it at school and businessmen use it at work, but when they go home they use their native language. This is a land of 13,000 islands and 400+ languages and Bahasa Indonesia developed to allow traders a way to communicate. As a result, it is a basic language and everything is said the way it is written, with no plurals and no tenses.
7. The people are very friendly here. Did I say that already?
8. It only took about one hour into our first real day of sightseeing to attract a group of kids wanting to practice their English. Kristi is a magnet for school girls.
9. One great thing about this county is that many local men wear shorts, which is something I have rarely seen outside the USA. As a result, I have been wearing my shorts and it feels great.
However, my legs are gleaming white. I could blind a person with these stems that haven’t seen the sun since Greece last year. Worse, the reflection could start a small fire if the sun rays were directed to some kindling. I best be careful.
10. Did I mention that is F$#%^& HOT HERE!
11. They guy in the below photos is probably the most ubiquitous man in Indonesia.
12. Visiting uber-chaotic cities like Delhi, Hanoi and Cairo has prepared us as travelers. We think nothing of wading out into a river of motorbikes, buses and cars to cross the road. The traffic here is borderline anarchic but we’ve dealt with worse.
13. Java is a massive island at 50,000 square miles. It is roughly the same size as Greece or New York State. Good thing it is a large island, because it is home to 141 million people. That is not a typo, this is one crowded island.
Russia by comparison, has 142 million people. New York State: 18 million. Greece: 11 million.
And you can feel the crowds here. Try to go anywhere on the highways and it is packed with traffic jams. My advice: take the trains, which are excellent. Just hope you don’t sit across from a guy with long legs and tiny cut off jean shorts that can barely contain his “boys” and you have to ride nine awkward hours hoping they don’t escape. (Yes, this will be the subject of a future post.)
14. Borobudur is billed as one of the great ancient temples of the world and it lives up to the hype. We even saw Mark Zuckerberg there. We know it was him for the following reasons:
1. He had a body gaurd
2. The guy in question looked an awful lot like Jesse Eisenberg
3. We saw ole Zucks in the newspaper the next day after he met with the President
15. Sometimes in life, it is worth waking up at 1am, hiking three hours in the dark to see a sunrise atop an active volcano.
Have you been to Java or Indonesia? What was your impression of it?