As the last stop of our rather disjointed Asiatic trip, I kept forgetting we even had almost a month in the dark horse of indonesia. Many times I had fantasized about lying on one of the 17,000 island’s paradise beaches whilst serving fish and chips in England but it had seemed so far away at the beginning. There is much more to Indonesia than the famous beaches and the reason why I’ve only just got round to writing this is because I’ve been so busy and immersed in this fascinating place. Equally, I have to admit that incessant partying on the notorious Gili islands has also consumed a lot of my time and brain.
After being repeatedly warned to get out of Java’s hectic capital, Jakarta, we strategically only stayed one night there. Although I didn’t particularly warm to this grey and oppressive city which seemed to have ugly high rises stretching for miles, we actually had one of our most funn interesting nights out with the locals. Due to a lack of alcohol in india, we didn’t hesitate to sit down with a bin tang (indonesian beer) for our meal and soon got chatting to one of the restaurant owners and his friends. I sometimes am surprised at what a positive reception we have received all over Asia when we tell people we’re english, they look at us excitedly and say ‘so you’re English English?’ ‘Great country’ and then usually talk about football teams and strangely in Indonesia they sometimes say ‘lovely jubbly’ or ‘water’ in a London accent whilst missing the t (I have no idea how they all know this). Soon beer drinking and eating nuts escalated into lots of very enthusiastic dancing and face book adding (they now comment on all my photos). Interestingly, I think we picked up many homosexual and transsexual Indonesians as apparently backpackers street is the main place they go out; as the most Muslim city in the world Jakarta can’t be the most liberal place. Bizarrely, one of the Indonesian women, covered in diamonds, has a husband from Sevenoaks in kent, near to where my nana lives (it is extremely posh). Although she seemed very proud of her English connections and her son who was being educated in England, she said she hated her husband and missed her son dreadfully. I am shocked at how many Asian women I have seen and met who have rich husbands in England, clearly just wanting a better life for their children. It has made me realise how deeply the western world and its privileges are desired.
Thankfully one day later we were out of the extremely hectic Jakarta, although we did have spend the whole day booking a bus ticket (due to language barriers, being told 3 different bus times and the sheer size of Jakarta). After enduring an extremely bumpy 10 hour bus ride we arrived at 4am in Pangandaram, a place by the sea which is known for the surf and is delicately laced by a beautiful national park- a taste of paradise compared to Jakarta. We arrived in a dusty car park, expecting to find a tuk tuk or taxi and when we asked for a tuk tuk they said yes but only one per person. We argued away at the expense of one per person until we realised these tuk tuks were more like giant wheelchairs with someone peddling behind. So, at 4am delirious from tiredness we were peddled to our hostel in giant wheelchairs whilst I ate a giant bag of Cheeto crisps- surreal to say the least.
From sweeping volcanic beaches to a canyon nestled in the rain forest; Pangandaram is rich in exotic and intensely beautiful landscapes. With a bit of surfing experience in Cornwall behind me, I remembered how much I loved surfing and was enthralled by our surfing lesson; being a pro surfer is my new goal. However, the most unique and interesting day by far was our visit to ‘green canyon’ and ‘green valley’; a river with waterfalls surrounded by the jungle and a canyon literally in the rainforest- hands down the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to. Everything about that day was incredible; riding on mopeds through plains of rice fields, trekking through the jungle, leaping off endless waterfalls, swimming deep into the caves. Yet green canyon was like somewhere out of a David Attenborough documentary; our guide carefully helped us swim through the river and jump and scramble through the canyon on rocks and which were full of millions of tiny scuttling crabs (I picked them up and threw them at my friend- she wasn’t very happy). Limestone cliffs towered either side of us and the noisy rainforest hung above our heads; I remember floating on my back in the water and seeing the drops of water from the rainforest falling directly on my face- a moment I will never be able to fully capture on words. Of course, we would never have discovered any of this or been able to do it safely without our guide who also helped me do a 10m jump and climb a dangerous looking cliff; he is getting an incredible review on tripadvisor. Amazingly the whole day only cost £15; it is a must for anybody who ever visits pangandarm.
One of the things I loved most Java overall was a lovely balance between having backpackers about but not being overrun by western tourists; it meant the people we met were generally more interested in java as a place over getting drunk and lying on the beach. Thus, although Yogyakarta, one of the biggest cities in Java known for its artistic and creative charm, had tourists everywhere, still managed to sustain it’s unique Javanese culture. With graffiti and street art on every street, Yogyakarta is clearly a centre for political and creative thought; a strange paradox in such a traditionally Muslim country. Although I loved Yogyakarta I unfortunately arrived on a bad note. I had been suspicious of many tiny bites climbing up my legs to be the dreaded bed bugs and although my friends said they were sure I was fine, as soon as I arrived in Yogyakarta a man (there always seems to be a man hanging around the hostels who helps you with everything, we call them ‘myman’) pointed at me and said bed bugs and knew I had come from Pangandaram. So, I had to wash every single little thing I own and wear my friends clothes and bags for the whole of Yogyakarta. I would love to say the bed bug trauma ended there but it didn’t; the terribly itchy bites continued to crawl up my legs when I arrived in Gili T (the notorious party island). In fact, I didn’t just have bed bugs but according to the clinic I also had infected bites and scabies. After almost bursting into tears I paid 50 pounds for an injection in my bum, antibiotics and antibiotic cream. Of course another tenner on top of that to wash everything I own. Who knew bed bugs could be such an ordeal?
Yet before the bed bug problem continued and I must have still been ridden with them, I managed to climb the most active volcano in Indonesia which lies just by Yogyakarta- Merapi. As I’m travelling with a geography student who loves volcanoes, we both happily agreed to climb the volcano at night to reach the top for sunrise. However, what we did not realise was that this volcano had a 50% incline all the way up or more and 80% at the summit- we are not experienced walkers. At the start of the climb everyone in the group started marching up the slope; my friend and I fell instantly behind. Unfortunately, my volcano loving friend felt ill and although I wasn’t as fit as the rest of the group I managed to keep up with them. I have to say, scrambling up a 50% slope in the pitch black when your legs are crunching with pain for 5 hours is definitely a way to bond with people. It was undeniably one of the most physically demanding things I have ever done, but for some reason doing it stumbling along in the dark with loads of lovely people made it much easier; you couldn’t see how much further you had to go. It was at the summit I really struggled; just before we climbed it the guide said ‘now be careful, this bit is really dangerous’. As the sun was beginning to come up, I could see the 2900 metres below me as I slipped and scrambled sideways up the 80% drop. Luckily, 3 of the others struggled too and we slowly but surely made our way to the top whilst trying not to look down. As the sun came up, igniting the sky with deep orange and purple, I stood at the top of Merapi feeling like I was queen of the world and walking on the moon. Just behind me, lay the volcano itself, smoking away- somehow I conquered Merapi and it was the most rewarding experience of the whole trip.
From then on, i have to admit Indonesia hasn’t been particularly cultural but I have had some of the funniest and crazy nights of my life and met the most amazing people (incredibly cliche I know but don’t know how else to put it). However, we did take advantage of the Gili islands cheap snorkelling and diving; on one solo snorkelling trip I was lucky enough to swim with just me and a turtle and I saw 2 eels. Although I didn’t see as much on my dive, we went to a shipwreck overflowing with different species of fish and I forgot how amazing the feeling is to breath underwater. It is true that Gili T is perhaps overbearing in its constant party vibe and vast westernisation but I cannot deny I absolutely loved it- who wouldn’t want to party on a tiny island with only horse and carriage and push bikes? I’ve never felt so disconnected and free in my life.
To dive, we stayed at the most secluded and sparse island Gili Meno and although beautiful we didn’t warm to our hostel like we had loved our hostel in Gili T (it had a climbing wall and pool). Instead, our hostel in Gili Meno was an ‘eco hostel’ but we didn’t realise the extent of how ‘eco’ it was; we found ourselves putting sawdust on our wee and poo and sleeping in hammocks. This wouldn’t be too bad but it was more than fact that the owner seemed like a massive control freak and clearly disliked us straight away because we’d been to the ‘mainstream’ gill t. She reminded us a lot of Sal from the beach (which I conveniently finished just before arriving) and in fact the whole hostel did. After an uncomfortable sleep in hammocks we rushed off on the speed boat to uluwatu in Bali to meet some friends.
Bali has so far consisted of chilled beach days, a beautiful sunset at a temple overlooking the ocean and having a night out at one of the best clubs in Indonesia. Although extremely fun, Evie and I have broken away from our group and decided to tackle some culture in Ubud- perhaps we’ll get a chance to see the real Bali. With 6 days left and a flight booked home from Bali we plan to appreciate every second; the thought of that flight home depresses me. So from getting drunk on a crazy island to climbing a huge volcano, Indonesia has certainly been the dark horse of the trip and a great note to finish on.