Wednesday, 17 December 2008

the great escape from Padang and other stories from Indonesia

Indonesia has left us with very mixed impressions and the last town we visited we might refer to as Indonesias version of hell - but only if we're having an especially bad day. But let's not jump ahead but go back to the beginning...

We started our Indonesia travels on the picture perfect island of Bali. We we're surrounded by happy holidayers and the waves were truly splendid. The hotel had a pool and the restaurants were plentiful and served good food. Balis only downside was the rubbish that littered the beach (and the water) and the policemen who stopped us and made us pay the, what we refer to as "tourist charge" when we rented vespas. No, Bali was a little peace of paradise and we were excited to see what else Indonesia had in store for us.

The next stop was the volcano Bromo on Java. We stayed in a sleepy mountain village which was absolutely freezing and with our flip-flops we were ill prepared but still welcomed the freshness of the air which felt surprisingly good after all the humidity and warmth the last six weeks of our travels. We only stayed in Bromo for 12 hours but made the most out of it by getting up at 3.30 in the morning to go by Jeep to a viewpoint to see the sunrise. We got to the viewpoint when it was still dark and the place had a silent, magical feel to it. However, the silence was very fast shattered when the Indonesian tourists arrived in groups of ten to fifteen. Suddenly all the western tourists were seen as stars and were shouted over to be a part of group photos. We now felt more like being at a party with all the screaming, pointing and laughter that now surrounded us. It was a very good experience!

After a twelve hour bus journey we arrived in the town Yogjakarta or Yogja as they themselves call it. And after the long journey and the constant battle against the hordes of people surrounding you, trying to sell you something or offering the so called "free information" which always ends in them asking for money in one way or another we were beginning to feel very tired. Yogja didn't leave that much of an impression, it was quite a small city and nothing much to see unless you traveled to the villages around it to see temples now almost completely destroyed by earthquakes.

Since we were tired of traveling by bus we chose to go by train to Jakarta from where we had flights(!) going up to Padang. We had the choice of business or economy and we went for the more expensive business tickets. Jeffs expectations were high and there was the dreams of big leather seats, food service and ac. The reality was a little bit different. The journey took about nine hours and we sat opposite from a man smoking away most of it. The ac didn't exist and as the day grew hotter the small window wasn't quite enough to cool us down. The leather seats were replaced by worn out plastic ones. But this wasn't so bad, after all we both had good books to keep us occupied. No, the thing that threw us the most was the constant flow of people walking up and down the aisle selling everything you could ever imagine. In the beginning we thought it a rather nice experience - after all we got to see the real Indonesia, but after four, five, six hours the novelty wore of and you just wished they would stop throwing the products in you lap. Because that was how they tried to make you buy it. Place it in your lap and then you might be more tempted by the handbag/wallet/napkin/cigarettes/raincover/t-shirt/prayer or whatever it was they were selling.

We didn't go for any of the food options that passed us during the train so in Jakarta we reached the decision that we deserved a really good meal. And so we went across the city by a train with no doors (finally we got the feeling of an air-con!) to a very, very nice restaurant where we had a really nice dinner even though we had some regret when we received the bill, let's just say that it cost us more then the train tickets!

Jakarta was a concrete filled city and really didn't have a center so we didn't feel all to bad for only spending one night there. We still felt very tired of the constant traveling but looked forward to seeing Sumatra and our guidebook had some really good things to say about the coastal town of Padang so we stepped on the air asia airplane with good spirits.

As soon as we arrived in Padang the good spirits slowly left us. We've never been that much stared at, shouted at or simply just watched before. It was a nightmare in the making. Everything went wrong. The hotel we had our mind set on was full (even though the town seemed deserted), the map in the guidebook didn't make sense and it was impossible to find a restaurant. We wandered around the town that and got completely lost. Men on motorbikes came up and asked if where we wanted to go - we told them but then realised they didn't actually know any english so they just laughed and drove away. In the end we found our way to a pub where they showed football and we had a sad excuse for a curry. Ann went back to the hotel to finally get away from all the stares and Jeff went out to try and find Internet - he was back after only ten minutes.

The next morning didn't help our impression of Padang. We went down to see the "beautiful beach side promenade" but it felt more like walking through a dump so we decided to go straight to the bus and get out of there sooner rather then later. We had an address and a map for a bus station that had express buses to our next destination, Bukittingi, but after two hours of walking we gave up the search that was taking us nowhere and jumped in a taxi. He explained in broken english that the bus to Bukittingi was no more but he knew where to go. So in the end we managed to get out of Padang and go up into the mountains to the town of Bukittingi.

Exhausted after all the traveling we finally got a break and ended up in a very nice, clean hotel that had hot water and a promise of a continental breakfast (toast with egg or jam if you're lucky). Jeff went to the panorama point to view the sunset while Ann curled up in bed and watched pride and prejudice. We were both very happy with our choices!

Now we're waiting to take a 14-16 hour bus to Lake Toba. The bus ride is filling us with some dread but we've heard that Lake Toba is truly amazing so now we're only hoping the place will live up to our expectations!

1 comment:

Johannes Igelström said...

Sounds terrifying but I would say its also an experience as well as everything great you have visited..
Has the thougt of changing your haircolor came threw your head Ann?
Kram & Hugs