Travelling in Indonesia

Visited Irian Jaya, Komodo Island and Flores Island

travel route

OIndonesia comprises a group of islands in South East Asia. The population of Indonesia is more than 2 hundred million, the 4th largest in the world. Its land area is about 5 times bigger than that of Germany or Japan.

OI travelled in Indonesia for a year from May 1998 just after the Asian currency crisis started the Jakarta riot. This is where I spent my 20th birthday. At that time, there were just a few travellers in Indonesia excluding the island of Bali as its security was not safe for tourists. I then travelled to the island of Sumatra, crossed to the island of Java where I rounded Borneo (Kalimantan) Island; crossed Small Sunda Archipelago and went to New Guinea Island.

OSadly, I wasn't able to go to Sulawesi Island, Maluku Archipelago etc. and many other places. I wanted to go to Morotai Island in Maluku Archipelago because I heard some Japanese soldier has stayed in Indonesia after World War II and that they still live in a little village in Morotai Island. Unfortunately, there had been trouble between the Muslims and Christians, the Ambon riot had extended through all of Maluku Archipelago, so travellers weren't able to go to there. More than 4,000 people died in the Ambon riots. I decided against going there because I saw a newspaper article with a photo of some masked man shouting and holding the head of someone which had been beheaded.

OEven though I wanted to see more of Indonesia I was tired in strength and spirit: I boarded a plane just twice on my travels to Bali Island, Australia and inland travels through New Guinea Island. I used ships and buses, for example, I travelled via ship from Jakarta to Jaya Pra for 7 nights and 8 days and rode in a bus through Sumatra Island for 50 hours, with trips ranging between 10 and 20 hours. While travelling; I had to fight with a taxi driver, be aware of pickpockets, bargain with guesthouse owners and contend with beggars, etc.

OBelow is a diary I wrote when I travelled from Jakarta in Java to Medan in Sumatra
11 May, 1999 [Jakarta - Bukit Tinggi, Indonesia]
OToday was simply a travel day!! I feel very lazy....because I travelled for 32 hours, today. At 14h00 I went by pick-up to a bus company's office. The bus was full jast as I had imagined it would be. Why are Indonesian buses always full? At 20h00 the bus left Java Island for Sumatra Island via car ferry. This crossing was very boring so I enjoyed the time talking to an Indonesian girl sitting next to me.

12 May, 1999 [Bukit Tinggi, Indonesia]
OThe road was very bad!! I just couldn't sleep. I barely endured the 32 hours on my arrival at Bukit Tinggi at 23h30. The Indonesian girl continued on to Medan. I checked in at Bamboo Home Stay in Bukit Tinggi. I noticed in the mirror that I had developed dark rings under my eyes.

13 May, 1999 [Bukit Tinggi, Indonesia]
In Bukit Tinggi, travellers can feel like a star. I was surrounding by 6~7 Indonesian student girls as they pressed for my autograph and photo. It was great!!
OEspecially fair people are very popular because they look more like foreigners than Japanese. I saw an unattractive fair girl surrounded by about 20 students and her face was brimming over with happiness. I couldn't imagine her being so popular with men in her home country....I felt a mixture of happiness and pity for her.

14 May, 1999 [Bukit Tinggi, Indonesia]
I went to the bus terminal and bought a ticket on the night bus for 35,000 Rupees. My destination was Lake Toba which is a famous tourist attraction on Sumatra.
OBy the way, although Bukit Tinggi lies on the equator, it is also surrounded by mountains. I found it really challenging to have shower at night as I didn't know that the evenings become very cold.
OAt 20h00, I had to get off a bus before it left as there was no seat for me. The bus driver asked me "Are you sitting on the floor to Lake Toba?" I lost my temper because I had paid for my ticket. Maybe the old man who sold me a ticket didn't book my seat number. I was obliged to wait for the next bus. Again I experienced that in Indonesia all the buses always full. I waited another 8 hours.

15 May, 1999 [Bukit Tinggi - Medan, Indonesia]
OI had now been waiting for 12 hours already... If I had caught the first bus, I would be in Lake Toba by now. I asked for my money back and bought a bus ticket for Medan with a Bus Company called ANS. I never bought a ticket with ALS again!!
OWhile I was waiting some noisy guy spoke to me [AJINOMOTO!!](Japanese spice name) and [HIDETOSHI NAKATA!!](Japanese football player) for a long time. I was totally annoyed as I was dead tired!
OThe bus left Bukit Tinggi at 16h00 the next day. I crossed the equator into the Northern Hemisphere at 18h00.

16 May, 1999 [Medan, Indonesia]
I got to Medan at 22h00, it had taken 18 hours. After I checked into a guest house I just slept and slept.

OAll Indonesian long-distance buses are always full. In Java and Sumatra buses have 4 seats in one row. The worst buses are on Flores Island, they have 7 seats in one row. The buses on Flores Island are like a full Japanese train. I travelled on these buses for 14 hours. Moreover, the roads on Flores Island are inclined, very narrow and winding, but they step on it. What's more, you see a sticker that [Full Music] in English on the side of bus. I only understood the meaning and effect of this after listening to thunderous Indonesian blues music for 14 hours. Yes, it was "Full Music". Of course, I couldn't sleep and travelling through Indonesia sapped my strength and spirit.

OWhat prompted me to travel Indonesia? I browsed through the guidebook of Indonesia in a book shop in Bangkok, Thailand. I saw a [Irian Jaya] section on the last and only page. I read that Irian Jaya was the last trackless region in the world where males wear only a penis case and females only a straw skirt, and if you go to there you can see the primitive human being. I had to meet them!! I decided to go to Irian Jaya with a Japanese guy "Ikkyu-san" who I just met in Bangkok. He was skin head, so Thai people gave him a Japanese cartoon character's name. I travelled with "Ikkyu-san" for a month and half and I never saw him again after we parted at Yogyakarta.

OWe had to get to Indonesia quickly because "Ikkyu-san" could travel for only two to three months.
1. We took a 22 hours trip on a third-class train from Bangkok to Sungai Kolok and it cost us 220 Baht (about US$6.5).
2. We walked to Malaysia, and took a 40 minute bus ride from the border between Thailand and Malaysia to Kota Bharu.
3. We took a bus from Kota Bharu to Johor Bharu lasting another 13 hours and which cost 26 Ringgit (about US$8).
4. From Johor Bharu, we took a bus to Singapore and without visiting we took a 40 minute ferry ride for Batam Island, Indonesia. This cost another 16 Singapore dollars (about US$10).
OWe travelled from Bangkok, Thailand to Indonesia for about US$30. By the way, I fought against homosexual harassment in a night express bus which we took from Kota Bharu to Johor Bharu. I shall not elaborate as it has not bearing on my travel through Indonesia.

OWe experienced difficulty with travelling through Indonesia in the biginning as we didn't have any guide book.
OOur first night in Indonesia, we laid cardboard on the floor and slept at a guard house in Bintan Port. This experience left us itching with many red spots from flea bites on our arms and legs and to add to our misery we were evicted from the guard house by the police early the next morning.

OWe needed go to Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. We got economy tickets of a PELNI ship which is a governmental shipping company.
OWhen passengers started boarding the ship a battle started. Everyone rushed onto the ship shouting and pushing. When we had finally got aboard, we struggled to get a sleeping mat.
OI thought that this journey was going to be very hard, but consoled myself that we'll be in Jakarta in 40 hours, but 40 hours were very long and taxing on my spirit.
OA baby was crying out like Axel Rose early morning, and we were heard loud prayers to Allar for a long time.
OThe ship suddenly stopped at 20h00 and Indonesian people hurriedly went up on deck after hearing some announcement. We sensed something unusual and also went up on deck. The crew were wearing life jackets and looking out to sea. We thought the ship was stranded and asked a crew member who told us that someone had fallen overboard.
OAfter an hour and a half, the ship started to move. We heard a deep voice making an announcement. We talked about this happening and its outcome. While talking about this serious happening, a naughty boy standing in front of me, peed on my sandal and went to somewhere with my sandal........I hate rude children.

OIn Jakarta, I opened an account with BNI (Bank Negara Indonesia). The bank allows 55% on 1 month's fixed deposit!! I also had previously opened a bank account in Thailand but it was 11.5% for 3 month's fixed saving. Indonesia had a very high rate of interest.
OBut the exchange rate was very fluid. It changed 20% for just one day, for example 1 Yen=72 Rupiah the day before and the following day it would be 1 Yen=58 Rupiah. Prices fluctuate very fast so one has to be extremely watchful. Also BNI hold competitions to give away 3 BMW cars, 15 TOYOTA cars, 300 motor scooters and 1500 washing machines each month for the depositor who saves more than US$1000 with BNI.

OWe met two Indonesian girls at a restraunt who guided us to MONAS (National Monument). MONAS is a monument of independence and is situated in the centre of Jakarta. There are many booths in the park around the monument that are crowded with people. When we walked in the park, we were looked at by Indonesian people. We asked the girls that, and they answered that we were mistaken for Chinese. In Indonesia, few people are wealthy and the majority are poor. Indonesian people believed that the rich were mostly Chinese and the Indonesian people were envious of the Chinese. The Indonesian girls also made their dislike clear and said that we should great care because we look like Chinese. They especially mentioned that I don't look Japanese. By the way, until recently the Indonesia law prohibited the use of Chinese language.
OWe were advised to not go out at night and were also informed of their demonstration which was going to held in Jakarta 2 days later. We didn't venture from our guest house on that day.
OWe said good-bye to them at 21h00 because they had to go to mosque for prayers.
OOn our way back to the guest house, we were chased by a muscular homosexual.... Indonesia is a very dangerous country!!

OThe buses in Jakarta are very noisy. Passengers are either addressing someone, singing loudly, playing guitar or drum or selling detergent with a demonstration. They do business and make money on the bus, which I don't think other South East Asian countries practise.

OMy favourite place in Jakarta was Jalan Surabaya (Surabaya Street). There one finds many antique shops, selling old watches and lamps, old European furniture and helm, and old Indonesian folk craft etc. I particularly liked an antique camera and typewriter I had seen and fought off my irresistible impulse to buy.

OWe bought two corrugated boxes each with 40 packs of precooked Chinese noodles, 100 packs of instant coffee, toilet papers and mineral water for the trip to Jayapura, Irian Jaya.
OBelow is a diary I wrote when we travelled from Jakarta to Jayapura via ship.
The first day: Guest house's staff said a full blown demonstration was scheduled for this day and that we could expect to take 3 hours to get to the port. However, we didn't meet with any demonstration and arrived at the port after an hour. At 18h00, the DOBONSOLO left Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta. A 7 nights and 8 days voyage got underway.

The second day: We went to get the issue breakfast on issue, but much later than other Indoneisan passengers, so we had to settle for rice and only a miserable three pieces of fish. There was total disregard for poor people who were randomly on the open decks, first class to third class passengers were eating in exclusive room with live performance. I was peeved, so I looked into that room.
OThe noon TV news reported a demonstration in Jakarta, and tanks were sent to suppress it. It looked very serious. If this was yesterday...
OThat evening, an awful lot of people boarded the ship at Surabaya. There was ample space before but now the ship was jammed with people. Eventually, people spilt out over stairs and deck railings.

The third day: We couldn't get issue breakfast yet again. At 9h00, the ship docked at Denpasar, Bali Island and again there was a flood of people... I think this was an absolute over capacity. People crammed stairs, deck and floor. At lunch time, war broke out for get issued lunch. The result was disastrous, again we lost out (we're loosers)... We didn't get lunch yet again.
OWe had nothing to do night, so we played cards with Indonesian people.

The fourth day: In DOBONSOLO, there were no locks on the doors of the toilet and shower rooms. Locks were intact on the first day but now all the locks were broken and some people were not aware of the swaying effect of the ship on the broken locks when they used the toilet; they literally shot out of the toilet with lifting their trousers to hold the door which opened by the sway of the ship. The cruise was now into its fourth day. I was already going nuts with boredom.
OAt noon, the ship docked at Kupang, Timor Island. Here many people boarded again. It was very interesting to see with what they were boarding. Many with too much luggage offered bribes of money or sunglasses to the crew. If you don't do that, you are simply kicked from boarding stair; very strange country!!

The fifth day: The ship docked by midnight at Deli, East Timor. Dad and Mum and Rini who were sleeping next to us got off here. They were very kind to us. We helped to carry their luggage and took a picture together. It was a touching goodbye. A cute Chinese girl, who was also sleeping with her family near us, got off too. Ah! A real voyage filled with mixed emotions... By the way, I felt for that Chinese family because they were of Chinese descent and they got cold looks from surrounding Indonesians and the cute Chinese girl was insulted with obscene words although they defended themselves against all the surrounding Indonesians.
OAt 21h00, the ship docked at Ambon, Seram Island. A group who was sleeping opposite us got off. Their space was filled with unknown people from the deck. The new company made us sad.

The sixth day: We slept the whole day. We woke up for "food" and ate but disappointingly we had to eat the same food every day.
OAt 16h00, the ship arrived in Sorong, the end of Irian Jaya. From here, human beings are completely different than in other areas. They have frizzy hair and black skin.
OBy the way, floors remained dirty with rubbish and when one looked up to the ceilings, you saw many cockroaches.

The seventh day: One week passed since we left Jakarta. I nearly became insane... Some Indonesian guy behind us called to us [Are you Japanese?] in Japanese. He studied agriculture in Kagawa Prefecture, Japan for 1 year. He was quite a kind person as he always offered us food.
OAt 16h00, the ship docked at Biak Island. We got off for a short while and we saw many dark skinned people. They were New Guineans and unlike people from Java they had no prejudices against Chinese so we weren't glared at and measured. On the contrary they smiled and were friendly. I heard that Indonesia comprises more than 13,600 islands and more than 350 races. It was expected that every place and every race would be different.

The eighth day: At 11h00, we finally arrived at Jayapura!! We said goodbye to all the surrounding people and got off the ship. When we walked towards the city, we were thrown with stones as big as clenched fists so I threw back shouting "Ikkyu-san". Yesterday, I thought people were kind and friendly in Biak, but now I must ask: "Is Jayapura safe?"

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