Indonesia. A culture and temperature shock was likely, and yes, it was quite an experience to be amidst the crowds, heat, smells, motorbikes, colours and things of busy Denpasar on Bali, coming from Australia and New Zealand. I got a full dose in Kuta and quickly escaped to quiet Padang Bai, crossed to Lombok with the public ferry and spent some very relaxing days on the Gili Islands, working for some clients back home. I was visiting Indonesia after 3 weeks of intense work for CRN in New Zealand and making my way to the next trade project in Thailand beginning of May. The islands were perfect to settle down and get some work done. Gili Meno was my favourite and I was lucky enough meet a great crew to spend a few days with. When my job was done I left for Java, hiked up to see the Bromo crater, spent a few days in Yogyakarta and visited the mighty Borobodur Temple. I took a train to Jakarta, but there was no time to discover much of the mega-city, I left by plane and was headed to Thailand.
My time in Indonesia was also a time thinking about prejudice. As a foreigner or tourist in southeast Asia or south America, you sometimes wish not to look like one, just so hawkers and those trying to sell you tours and souvenirs wouldn’t notice you. Some places are very touristic and get busier every year. Many live from the foreigners that come and you can see construction sites everywhere. Like everywhere in the world, growth is the concept. Among the many other travellers you meet, the interesting bit is to get to know locals and find out about what makes a country move. I travel and trade my work partly because of that, because I get to hang out with locals. To experience local life like it really is, probably won’t happen until you live there for some time and speak the native language. They’ll “need” to sell you something, sometimes to survive so the least you can do is to give everyone a smile. You might also get into something I call a “defensive condition”. Locals you meet sometimes just want to hang out and you can easily mistake it for something else. It sounds obvious but the thing is… the Indonesians I met really surprised me for their genuine kindness, openness, willingness to help and to become friends. I left Indonesia saying that they’re probably some of the nicest people on the planet. So if there’s a feeling or a learning I carried on from Indonesia – Don’t be naive but don’t be too mistrustful, be kind and open, you’ll get it tenfold in return. Some experiences stand out…
When I arrived on Lombok I made my way to Senggigi. I found a cheap “homestay” and was happy to be at quieter place. In the room next to me was Swan, a crazy (in a good way) french chef and restaurant entrepeneur. He was hanging out with some locals and we went out for drinks. The group grew when we met Finny, a young Indonesian girl sitting in a bar with her friends. We decided to head to the Gili Islands the next day and spent a great afternoon together. I still carry a bracelet Finny gave me, she insisted in paying for lunch and helped me with my Indonesian. Such unexpected generosity. That same night my new french friend and his buddies, a Canadian (from the english part) and Japanese Brazilian, decided that their time travelling together should be celebrated with a prison-style tattoo on Swan’s arm. The operation was executed in the middle of the night in front of my room, with the help of the ink of my german ball-point pen, my head torch and the Thai bamboo tattoo needle Swan had. I was happy to contribute to their ingenious plan and they did really well considering the amount of Bintang’s involved!
A few days later, on the ferry from to Gilimanuk on Bali to Banyuwangi on Java, I met Margono. A good looking gentleman in his late 60s with gentle eyes, travelling in the same direction. We sat together in the same bus almost until Probolinggo, while he helped improve my poor Bahasa Indonesia and to get a fair deal for the bus ticket, he shared his food and showed me photos from his family. We discussed religion, he was a muslim converted to Jehovah’s witnesses. While I’m not following any religious direction it was interesting to hear my new friend talk about this ‘brothers’ around the world. No matter what we both believed in, we shared the belief that the good things we do, shall return in some way (and if they don’t it’s at least a good principle to live by). “Call me when you come to Java again, I’ll show you my home” he said before he left the bus and I continued my journey.
Later in Jogja (Yogyakarta) I went on a little quest to get my new business cards printed. I walked out of the tourist area, looking up some printers I had found online. During my long walk, I don’t remember ever getting so many smiles, head nods, greetings, curious and friendly looks in the couple of km’s I walked in those streets, where travellers were a rare sighting. It was heartwarming. I found the right shop but it was pure luck (and persistence) since I couldn’t find any of the printers I had addresses from and no one spoke english. I succeeded in having all employees of a print shop gathered around my computer and after an hour I had a hundred business cards for 20000 rupiah (2 USD). That’s the price of a beer on Bali…
There are more tales to tell but I’ll keep it short as usual. Thank you beautiful Indonesia, I miss Bakso, Nasi Campur and the sound of Bahasa. I hope to be back as there is so much more to see! Thanks for the great company, Swan, Nathan and Márcio, Genevieve & Josué, Paulo & Florence, Wiebke, Simon & Angela and Silvia, you rock.
Indonesia in lots of pictures below.