Intro to Indonesia

So we spent yet another night in an airport-this time in Jakarta. I dare say we are getting quite good at this. Even though contrary to prior online research, we were told that no waiting lounge existed, and therefore we would have to sleep in the baggage claim area, we settled in (or on) for the night across from a Dunkin’ Donuts kiosk. The wooden benches in addition to being flat and backless also had perpendicular armrest bars cutting each slab in thirds and making it impossible to lie down. The humidity set in and the mosquito slapping began, but we took it all in stride. A mere few months ago and this would have been bad. Now we just make ourselves as comfortable as possible and plan to sleep in shifts. However, it would seem that I have become relaxed enough in our travels that about eight minutes into my watch, I caught myself and my eyes flew open to see Jeff staring at me with a mixture of exasperation and irritation. Whoops. Even though I assured him that he could get some sleep and I was perfectly capable of staying awake, Jeff was the one who kept vigil until morning.
We took the public bus into Jalan Jaksa as planned, found lodging right away, and slept through the entire rest of the morning and afternoon. We ended up staying in Jakarta for what ended up to be about a week, taking care of some travel business matters, in the form of applying for more passport pages at the American Embassy, and subsequently obtaining tourist visas at the Chinese Embassy. During our free days, we mainly explored different parts of Jakarta. The electronics mall was a highlight (more so for Jeff) with eight floors of every possible model of camera, camcorder, video game, computer, TV, DVD, with phone and iPod accessories and more imaginable. Taman Mini Indonesia (what I can only liken to an Indonesian Disneyland in the 1950’s) was underwhelming, yet interesting. Our decision to go there had not been based on much research, and I had thought it was simply some large park. I don’t recall “theme park” being written anywhere in the description. Our nights in Jakarta were spent becoming regulars at a local restaurant and wifi hotspot across from our hostel.
A couple of overnight trains got us to Yogyakarta and back, although had time permitted, we both agreed that we could have spent more time there. The Lonely Planet has not gotten much right in regards to Indonesia; however they managed to in regards to Yogya, which is described as “an uneasy truce between the old ways of life and the trappings of modernity”. We took our first bekak ride (a covered seat powered by a guy on a bicycle), bargained at the craft stalls and strolled around the bird market, which had flying foxes, komodo dragons, monkeys, rabbits, and owls for sale, and declined an offer to watch the prize cock in his next cockfight in the morning.
“Yogya” as it’s commonly called, while a major tourist destination in its own right due to its proximity to Borobudur had a certain charm. We went to see why Borobudur is the number one tourist site in Indonesia, and it did not disappoint. The temple was built from two million stone blocks and wrapped around a hill to form a stupa. There are terraces and stairways leading to the top tier where Buddhas sit inside individual latticed stupas. The walls of the corridors are covered with intricate carvings depicting Javanese life and Buddhist scriptures. And despite all the tourists, there was a feeling of calm and peace.

We took a short flight out of Jakarta and into Bali earlier this week. It feels like an entirely different place and it is. We had a hard time choosing where to stay on the island, but chose Sanur as our home base. When we first arrived in the late afternoon, we dropped our bags off in our room and headed straight for the beach, less than five minutes away on foot. When we got there it appeared we had made the wrong decision. The “beach” was a long stretch of sand with boats haphazardly moored here and there. There was no crashing of waves. There were no waves at all. Instead, there was a grayish-white film covering kelp and debris a few inches deep resting on the shore that gradually became the dark gray-blue of the ocean. Down the length of the beach was resort after resort, each marked by their signature lounge chairs and pools which were deserted. The staff were getting ready for dinner, and despite the fact that it was sunset, we saw only a couple of tourists wandering around and all the dining areas were empty. This was supposed to be high season. We each made our guesses as to what was the matter. The economic crisis. The recent bombings in Jakarta. The less recent bombings on Bali. Whatever the case, we were bummed. This was not the Bali we had envisioned.
Yesterday we took a taxi to Kuta, the next beach town over. It was as touristy-beachy as anything we’ve seen. Surf shops and flip-flop stores fought for space with designer sunglass and clothing boutiques. The restaurants with outdoor seating had their misters on and the mist floated at regular intervals over their customers and towards the crowds at Starbucks. I was tempted to stop in at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf for my favorite drink, but had to remind myself that I am still supposed to be in “Travel Mari” mode, and something like an English Breakfast Tea Latte will have to wait until I’m home. We made our way to Kuta Beach and breathed a sigh of relief, wishing we had chosen to stay there. There were waves and surfers catching them, soft sand, couples snorkeling, sunbathers, and lots of people but not enough to call it “crowded”.
But on our way to catch a taxi back we had second thoughts, as the streets were just a little too packed with everything we had been trying to escape.

Today, we gave Sanur beach one more shot and were quite happy to discover that it was a perfectly pleasant little beach, now that it was high tide. It was transformed. Sanur was the calm version of Kuta. The waves were not as big, but the quiet was both relaxing and invigorating. There was enough of a breeze to pull the kite surfers and windsurfers trying out their skills, and the only noise was snippets of conversation of beach-goers and the occasional roar of a jet ski. This is more like it. And a yummy dinner at a little warung cost us a total of $1.70. I like this Bali.

Posted: August 22nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Indonesia | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »