Friday, May 7, 2010


Our first destination after thoroughly endulging ourselves in Thailand was Bali. Not because it is the sexiest of the islands but because logistically it made the most sense to us to start there first because of how vast this archipalego of islands is and work our way back to our next flight destination town which was Singapore. In retrospect, it may not have been the wisest choice after now becoming very familiar as to how to navigate these very remote islands. But I will never be sure until I try it again. :)

If and when you hear anyone back home speak of Indonesia what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Bali, of course right and why? Because it is the most commercialized of all the islands. Tourism is rampant here. Way overcrowed and way too many Australians here all year round. Bali is like Hawaii, Daytona Beach and Tijujuana all mixed together. The Aussie's come here to party and wreak havoch along the way. For them it is like going on spring break only it lasts all year round on Bali. It is just a short puddle jump to very cheap fun for them. This of course tends to tarnish the image of Bali and detract lots of backbackers and even some regular types of tourists looking for more meaningful places to bask in the sun and have fun at. Nonetheless, Bali it thriving. There are many other non-aussie family vacation areas. Lots of very expensive all-inclusive resorts line the beaches waiting for the next family to get sucked in to their fancy pools, massage parlors and anything else they want all at the push of a button. Hard to resist if you have lots of money to blow. If Sumatra and Kalimantan are the islands that are not for the Paris Hilton, Jessica Simpson types then Bali is surely without a doubt the island for these types. If you are into being pampered and waited on all day,and are ok with parting with lots of cash to do it then for sure Bali is for you. Personally, I would prefer just the opposite.

I have come to realize on this trip that I do not like the tourist trap vacation areas. The most obvious awakening I have made is to realize that I don't need to travel thousands of miles just to be a part of a concrete jungle. I can do this in the backyard of where I live back home. Why would I travel all the way over here and spend endless amounts of cash to do the same thing back home for a fraction of the cost? Doesn't make any sense to me. Just to say that I went to Bali? No thanks! You pay way too much for so little indulgence. And forget about becoming cultured in the process. The only way to really submerse yourself in any culture is to go down the unbeaten paths and mingle with the locals. For example, if you were Indonesian and you wanted to know what it was all about to live in and be American would you pay loads of $$$ just to go to Disneyland or hang out in Las Vegas? I would certainly hope not. I would like to think that you would want to see our country through the eye's of all it's majestic landscapes and the people that inhabit them. I would hope that if you were Indonesian you would want to go to places like the rockies, adirondack's, yosemite, blackfoot river, the sierra's, the grand canyon, taos indian pueblos, louisiana backwoods, the list goes on and on, you get the idea. See our country in all of it's grandure and meet all the people that make up the fabric and soul of our country. You won't get this at Disneyland that's for sure.

What is my point? In Bali, you are most likely going to mingle with your neighbor John Doe who just happens to be there at the same time. And the conversation will be mostly about who's got the biggest or fastest car, the fanciest phone or gadget, biggest house back home and who belongs to most country clubs. Snore! Not my idea of best use of my money and time. On a different note, we did have some good and memorable moments while in Bali. After all, Bali does have it's fair share of Indonesian history as we all already know from my last post. We saw a very beautiful waterfall, 2 or 3 nice temples and of course the very exquisite Balinese woodcarvings of which if I had the money I would have purchased a super large carving on the spot and sent it home. Too much dinero. We also met a couple of other Americans (first ones we had met on our trip after being in southeast asia for nearly 3 months!) that we hung out with the last couple of days during our stay on Bali.

Bali was also the place where I would have my first run in with what can only be described as police alterior motives. I had heard and read about these sorts of things happening in this part of the world but never did I think it would happen to me. It did at the least moment I expected it. Here's how: We had decided while in Bali that we wanted to rent a motorbike and do some sightseeing that way since Bali is very beautiful in some areas and because it is such a humongous island that takes hours upon hours to cross and see all the nice little havens spread out all over the island. This is nothing new as we had already rented motorbikes in Vietnam, Thailand and other countries as well. Bali would be different though. For whatever reason the rules were much more strict in Bali. First, you had to have an international license before you could rent a bike and second, if you got caught riding a motorbike without an international license the fine was a whopping $500 and possible jailtime. I'm not kidding at all. This was enough to scare me into enquiring about how to go about getting my international license. So we set off to what we thought was the police station/dmv to see if we could get one. My guess was that it would take at most a couple of hours to secure a temporary int'l drivers license since I already have a motorcycle license back home. Boy was I wrong. The process to get a motorcycle license in Bali takes 3 days from beginning to end no matter what your previous experience riding a motorbike may be. This of course was unacceptable as we could ill-afford to go through god only knows what sort of red tape and then wait that long just to ride around the island for a couple of hours or so. Uh, I don't think so. In addition, I soon learned that I was at the wrong police station to even apply for a motorbike license. I would have to take a taxi ride another hour or so further down to the place that they actually did issue these sort of documents. But wait, here comes the interesting part. As I kindly say thanks, but no thanks I am soon faced with the gross reality that I am now being coached into getting and told that I can get a motorbike license the roundabout way by none other that the very police officer that I was asking questions. So I say, the round about way? What does that mean? So he proceeds to tell me that if I want I can fill out a police report and create a file that states that I have a police report of some sort. At this time I am struggling just to understand the man. You have to remember, these people do not speak english well at all. Most of them don't even speak english at all. The ones that do are impossible to understand 90 percent of the time. So not knowing exactly what he is asking me to do I proceed to fill out a police report because as I understood him it was necessary in order to create a record stating that I have applied for and paid for a temporary motorbike license. So as I fill this document out I soon begin to realize that something smells very fishy and stinks really bad about this whole police report thing. So I ask him to please explain it again to me. This time he brings the captain in who proceeds to tell me the exact same thing that he did verbatum. Funny thing is I don't understand him either as his english is no better than the first guy's. Now a little frustrated because lots of time has passed and I still don't know what the hell it is I am filling out. So Katie, now realizing that something strange is going on comes over to the desk and asks what is going on. She looks at the doc and reads it the same way I do. Why the hell am I filling out a police report when all I want to do is get a motorbike license? It just doesn't make any sense. So I ask him one more time to please explain why I have to fill out the police report. I didn't do anything wrong so why do I have to fill this damn thing out? As Elmer Fudd would say "there's something vewy scwewy going on wound heur". And then he says something that made it all clear: "You help me and I help you, you help me and I help you". And then it suddenly dawns on us both. Holy crap, I'm being bribed. I now know why the police report is necessary. For a certain amount of cash, I would be given a document stating that I had gotten my international drivers license stolen as indicated in the police report and was assured that this would serve as an intermitent int'l drivers license should I get stopped. So there you have it, a real live story of how I crossed into territory I never thought I would ever be in on this trip. I will leave it to your imagination as to whether I gave the man money or not.

After Bali we decided to go to Java. This was a very critical and hard decision to make because of only one reason, time. We were to either go east to the archipelago of Lombok, the Gili Islands, Flores and Komodo or go west to Java. Unfortunately, we could not do both. So we decided to go west for one big reason: to learn how to surf! Java has a beach that is known as the best beginner's swells in the world! Little did we know at the time how true this would turn out to be. But before we could get to surftown we had to do one important thing that was on the way: climb a volcano and watch the sun rise. To do this would prove to be an almost impossible task. No, I don't mean climbing the volcano itself, I mean just to get to the volcano in time to watch the sun in all of it's majesty peak out above this majestic landscape. How's that you say? Ok, I'll tell you. We had to board a bus on the island of Bali at about 6:00pm. We rode piggyback on a ferry boat while still in the bus for about 20 min to cross the channel that divided the two islands. After saying thanks for the ride the bus driver chartered a route for us strait to the volcano called Bromo. This was a long,long very daunting bus ride that had to be done in two stages. We would be dropped off at around 3:00am at a very small town that was supposedly the launching point for backpackers looking to hitch a ride to Bromo.So the bus driver just dumped us off and said good luck in finding a ride. Geez, thanks alot! So after dusting off our bums and scratching our head we took a quick look around to soon realize that nothing was open at 3:00am. Not even a mouse was stirring. Big surprise right. As luck would have it there was one guy who happened to be working at 3:00am in the morning. He came to greet us right away and simply said "Bromo?". That was our queue. At this point we only had minutes to act, literally, if we wanted to see the sun rise. So after giving him a quick glance and asking him a few questions to determine his legitimacy and negotiating a price (we really had no real room for negotiation as there was only one option: either let him take us or risk not seeing the sun rise over this grand landscape) he whisked us away to the volcano. At this stage we had already been on a bumpy, smelly bus for 9 hrs that was impossible to sleep on. So needless to say we were both already zombified at this point.We now had about a 1 1/2 hour ride to get to the drop off point and still had a mountain to CLIMB! Katie decided to pass out immediately on the way over while I took on the role of guardian keeping one eye open and one eye closed all the while watching our new friends drive us to wherever on earth we were headed. Must be nice to be a girl. ;) We arrived around 4:30am and had to immediately get on the trail that leads to the top of the volcano as we had about an hour of hiking to do. Relieved that we actually made it this far we soon had another dilemma to deal with. Imagine this: It is pitch black because it is dark-thirty, there are no lights within 10 miles of this place and to make things even more interesting our flashlight decided to bug out and die on us. You can't even see 2 feet in front of you. Again, we were saved. Because there were others who wanted to witness this wonderful event we were able to meet up with a very friendly Belgian couple who did have a workable flashlight who let us follow them. Of course even with the flashlight we still managed to get lost as there are no signs and no guides to tell you which way to go to get to the stairsteps that eventually lead to the top. So after soon realizing we were on the wrong route we had to make an executive decision. Which way do we go? Remember that even with the flashlight you can still only see about 5 to 6 feet in front of you. It is pitch black all over! Then we had an epiphany. Looking into the far distant we saw some tiny little lights that were bobbing up and down all in a row as if little ant's had headlamps and were marching somewhere. So we headed toward these tiny lights not knowing if we would fall in an abyss along the way. Lucky for us the lights got bigger and bigger until we soon saw images of real people straight ahead of us and a trail as well. Yippee! So we were saved. Alas, after climbing 253 steps we finally reached the top of the volcano only to realize that it wreaked of sulfur. What's that you say, why didn't we take a mask with us? Because no one told us that we would need a mask, duh! We coughed incessantly as our lungs and body adjusted to this strange environment. After about 30 minutes of sitting in a pack of around 100 people our lungs finally adjusted.

And now the climax of our journey to Bromo. After making this enormous effort to trek across islands, mountains, and valleys and sitting and waiting for the ultimate event to occur and the sun to show it's face we would be dissapointed. The skies would be cloudy that morning and we would be denied a magnificent sunrise. Yes, after all that effort.But there was a happy ending after all. We did get a chance to see and sit atop a majestic (still active) volcano and watch it smoke up the air which was enough for me. There was another highlight on Bromo as well. As we decended in the late morning we were surrounded by about 30 Javanese children that just happened to be there on a school field trip that morning that were so entrigued with us that they all took pictures with us "one by one" and then followed us down the mountain just so they could practice their english. They treated us as if we were celebrities and that is exactly how we felt. It was a very nice moment for us. We would soon learn that this would be a sign that these Javanese people would be the kindest people that we have met so far on our trip.

After descending the mountain and saying our goodbyes to our new friends we were taxied back to our origination point,the place where we were dumped off the bus that brought us here. From there we rallied and got on yet another taxi that took us straightway to the train station where we would board a train bound for a place called Yogyakarta where we would finally get a chance to rest and get some much overdue sleep. Of course this would only be after an additional 6 hour train ride. I am sure you can only imagine just how tired we were by the time we eventually did get a chance to rest and sleep. But is was well worth it. A trip I would do over and over again if I had the chance.

So we rested for a couple of days in Yogyakarta before heading for a one-lane tiny fishing village called Batu Karas or more affectionately known to Katie and I as "surf heaven". We spent 5 glorious days learning how to surf and surf we did. :P

Time went by so fast because we were having so much fun. The waves were 10 feet tall and went forever! That was the best part. If you were lucky enough to catch your own wave you could ride it all the way from the point break to the very end of the shore which was a very long ride! So awesome. I must say that we both felt like we had experienced something really special. Katie even more so than I. It was really special to see her embrace something so wholeheartedly. The local people there fell in love with her because she embraced them and their way of life and absorbed it like a sponge. We could not get her out of the water. All she wanted to do was get on her board and swim out on it to wait for a nice wave to ride. She would only come in to get something to eat or take a quick rest and even then it was hard to keep her on the shore for very long. She found a new passion in life and it is called surfing and I am so glad I was there to witness it and watch it all unfold. After all, how many times have you seen anyone find something in life that they are so passionate about? It just doesn't happen that often and it is very special when it does happen. Good for you Katie. Surf's up babe so let's go catch a wave. :P

So as you might imagine we were both reluctant to leave this wonderful place. We had so much fun and made so many new friends that we seriously contemplated changing our whole travel schedule completely just so we could spend another 2 or 3 weeks there in paradise. But in the end we realized that there was still so much more to see and be a part of so we packed our bags and readied ourselves for a very sad departure. So with tears in our eyes we said goodbye to this special place and to the friends that we made ,hugged it out two or three times and set off to our next destination, the orangutan jungles of Kalimantan.

Before we could set off to the island of Kalimantan(Borneo) we ran into a slight or I should say very big roadblock. Katie had developed a very severe ear infection while surfing in Batu Karas. It had become so bad because she refused to get off of her surfboard even after she found out that she had an ear infection. I didn't have the heart to tell her to stop surfing so she could get better. After all, how many times have you found something that you are utterly passionate about? If you were lucky enough to find it, would you want somebody taking it away from you? I think not. So I let her surf until her heart was content. It would just be wrong to take that away from her. The dimples kept coming morning, day, and night. We took a train back to Yogyakarta from Batu Karas where we were scheduled to get on a plane in two days time to head to the island of Borneo. We decided to take her to the hospital while in Yogyakarta because her ear was just getting worse and worse and it needed attending to. So we asked our guesthouse where we could find a good hospital and took a taxi there. After waiting about 30 minutes they called her name. To make a long story short, the ER in Indonesia in not the ER in the USA. We would find out the hard way that there was no ear specialist to speak of therefore a general practitioner which basically knew no more than webmd(and therefore myself) about ear problems would end up giving her an exam. So it was basically a waste of time because the on call doctor didn't even look inside her ear and basically gave her the same exam and the same drugs that I did. Boy what a crock that doctor was!

So we stocked up on antibiotics and boarded the plane for Borneo the next day. This turned out to be an extension of bad luck. We had already purchased the plane tickets weeks before we were to depart to Borneo so we couldn't just give them up. We boarded the plane and headed for a town called Benjarmasin. We decided that we would stay there a couple of days and just rest in hopes that antibiotics would eventually take their course and that she would begin to get better before heading to the orangutan jungle but she did not. So again we searched out a hospital for her only this time there was none to be found because we were on a remote jungle island. Instead we were directed to a doctor's office that can only be described as something out of "Harry Potter" or "Dr. Strangelove" as I nicknamed him. I'll let Katie give you all the details about Dr. Stranglove and this surreal dr.s office visit in her writeup. It was a setting straight out a science fiction novel. This also turned out to be a big waste of time.

So against her will I decided to cancel the orangutan trip and head back to the town of Yogyakarta on the island of Java so she could get some proper rest and find her some proper treatment. It would have been a mistake to take her deep into the jungle with a full on ear infection like the one she had. So we took the earliest available flight back to Yogya and found a decent place for her to rest and take her medicine and get better. After a couple days of stuffing antibiotics in her she still was not making any progress. So again we went in search of a suitable doctor to examine her an hopefully give some finality to her prolonged misery. This was the third time we would visit a doctor. This time we did a little more research and found an international hospital where they actually had an ear specialist on the staff. Alas, we found someone who could properly examine her and give her a suitable diagnosis and subscribed treatment. Let me just say that if you have ever gotten sick abroad in a third world country that does not speak english then you probably know how extremely difficult it is to find a doctor that actually understands you let alone that actually knows more than you about your illness. This was something we found out the hard way. It was definitely a learning experience that I hope I will never have to go through again. In the end we did not get to see the orangutans swinging around in the jungle as we had planned but that was only a small sacrifice to pay for our wellbeing.

In summary for me, Indonesia can best be described as a case of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

learned how to surf, ate delicious indonesian food along the way, saw some of the most majestic landscapes, monuments, waterfalls, temples, beaches and rice patties I have ever seen in my life, and most importantly met the most interesting fascinating people along the way, both locals and fellow backpackers, that shared these special moments with us. They are the only reason these memories will last with us for a lifetime. So I believe a shout out to our new friends is in order if they are reading this blog:

Tammi, Mike: Thx for letting us crash at your place in Ubud. We had so much fun hanging out with you guys. Hope to see you both back home very soon.

Rob Winning: I can't believe we followed eachother and randomly ran into each other all the way from Vietnam down all the way to Indonesia. My favorite run in was the one in Yogya at the restaurant where you just stood up and appeared out of nowhere as if right out of a magicians hat. That was so funny! Had a great time hangin with you mate. Come see us in the US before you go your trip next year or better yet just make the US one of your destinations. :)

Andry: thx for the great surf lessons. You are a fabulous surfer and teacher as well! So cool to watch you master the waves. One day I hope to be as great a surfer as you are. :) I am sure that Katie and I will both be back someday so you can teach us some more cool moves. Take care my friend and stay in touch with us.

Dorus: Thx for the drinks and the many great conversations we had at the bar.

June/Eda: Thx for letting us steal all the internet time on the only computer in the whole of Batu Karas! wow! Most of all, thx for surfing with us and sharing those special times with us. We had so much fun surfing with you. Keep up the good work and your surf record as well. Impressive!

Sandy/Cindy: You guys are the greatest. We had so much fun hangin with you guys in Batu Karas. Sorry you didn't get to surf Cindy. Next time we meet up in BK you can show us all your crazy surf skills. Sandy, we need to hook up in San Fran for some more good times when we get back. :)

Nik: Thank you so much for taking the time to get to know us while we stayed at Java Cove. We both loved hearing your success stories and about all the steps it took to get to where you are. So inspiring! I'll be sure to let you know how my ventures go.

Oliver/Lou: I'm so glad we ran into you guys at the airport. That was so cool! It made our trip to Borneo worth it for sure. I only wish we could have spent more time with you guys. :( We will just have to make up for it next time. Please stay in touch and all the best on the rest of your journey as well. I'm certain you guys will have loads of fun.

There are so many other people I am sure I should note here that I have accidentally left out because I simply don't remember everything I did while traveling in Indonesia. To you all, my sincere apologies if I failed to mention what a great time we had together. You know who you all are. Thank you all for sharing a little bit of your lives with us and making our travels so meaningful and worthwhile.

Not being able to see all of the islands, spend more time surfing, spend more time with our new friends, see the orangutans, see more volcanoes on Sumatra, go diving in the Gili islands and on Sulawesi, see the komodo dragons, party on lombok, see flores, buy any fancy balinese woodcarvings... I'm sure there is more.

Too many illgotten doctors visits at nonsuitable medical centers, losing our bearings in Bali and staying at the wrong places on more than one occasion, Katie taking a fall while temple-hopping in Bali and cutting up her knee a bit on some dead coral only to get splashed with holy water by a couple of guys posing as priests or something down the way a bit, the monkeys climbing all over the monkey temple in Bali, the huge vampire bat I held in my hands in Bali,and last but not least my run in with the police.

So there you have it. Indonesia all rolled into one. It was such a rush to experience. Another great chapter in our epic journey. There are still so many stories that I have left out because as I stated earlier, I just don't have the time or energy to write about everything that we have experienced. I can only try and touch on most of the highlights as I see fit. I am so glad we were able to go to Indonesia. I would not change this part of the trip for anything. So many memories to take home with me.

Lastly, I will try to post some pictures on this same blog on a later date if I get time to. I don't know when I will be able to make another posting as we are off to Africa on a camping safari trip in the middle of nowhere for about 3 to 4 weeks with no access to computers, phones or anything that requires electricity. Just a sleeping bag and a flashlight. Hopefully I will be able to get in one more post before then.


Katie May 21, 2010 at 8:48 AM  

I like your pictures, Barela!

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