There isn’t much in Jakarta to be excited about. It’s a big, hectic capital city made of some skyscrapers (the haves) but mostly sprawling dirty village (the have nots). Tony Roma’s was our only joy. Everything is flown in from the States so it was all scrumptous to us. Of course it cost as much as our flights there. Then we headed inland to Yogyakarta where there are temples abound. We got back onto the back of a motorbike and explored the numerous Buddhist temples nearby including Prambanan and Borobudur. Here we saw the poverty of the people were evident. Men would lay on their becaks (rickshaw style bikes) waiting for any fare to come along. They’ll take you across town for half a buck. But there’s too many of them so if they don’t get anyone then they don’t eat. There are women carrying gallons of juice and pots of rice strapped to their back while rambling the streets hoping to make a few cents to live off of. A local told us that the government is hopelessly corrupt and leaves the people to fend for themselves. Those with a bit of land could atleast farm but those without were left to their own devices, thus the high crime in cities. The people are instantly suspicious of any local with money. They didn’t even care about the recent Indonesian killed in a university in the States because anyone overseas got there by corrupt means. We found ourselves opting to eat at the street carts just to spread the money around. For 50cents we got some pretty tasty dishes and lots of smiles.
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Most of this traveling stuff requires making the best guess you can with whatever limited information is available. Somehow things usually work out. And other times you wonder why you left the comfort of your home as you pick the roach out of your hair at 1am on a pitch dark lurching bus that’s already broken down 3 times in the first 6hrs and the engine is LITERALLY held together by a short piece of blue twine. And the only hope you have is that there’s only 13 more hours to go. But will we be able to survive the the chain smokers? We estimated that during the 19 hour, 340 mile journey (that’s 18mph) between Bukittinggi and Danau Toba in Sumatra the 20 smokers on board lit up 225 cigarrettes. Damn you, Marlboro. Of course none of the windows opened and the aircon wafted out of black holes like the breath of an old asthmatic man climbing up everest. We were in the very last seats with Steve hugging the wall of the toilet. Add that to the warm stench rising up between the seats from the engine below to make a foul olfactory soup. Even then we were better off than the dozen guys that were either passing the night on plastic stools in the aisles, spread across the floor that was dirtier than an Ethiopian refugee camp (or the back of your stove. come on, you know you’re afraid to look), or using our backpacks as cushions. Actually that last part didn’t look too bad. Somewhere in the dark pits of the mountainous Trans-Sumatran highway the bus stopped and the engine door was thrown open again. They made us give them both our headlamps to work on the engine by flashing their cigarette lighters incessantly at our sleepy eyes. Who goes on an overnight bus trip through the unlit windy roads of the Trans-Sumatran highway on a heap of third world reject parts without a flashlight? At 6am there was a mosque break. At 8am a breakfast break, where we had yet another break of a different sort. We were sleeping the pitstop while everyone had piled off when I woke up and saw smoke billowing down from an electrical fire in the already wheezing air conditioner.
Oh well, I guess that means we have time to grab a bite. Another 5 hours of seeing how long I can hold my breath through the mushrooming smoke clouds and we were rolled off the back of the bus onto an empty parking lot. We were two prisoners released from jail, but we had left in such a hurry that we left Steve’s flip-flops. Who knows, maybe that too will become part of the engine before their journeys’ end.
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Our first solo drive on Indonesia’s crazy motorways was to see Lake Maninjau, about 2 hours from home. Once off the main truck roads, driving really isn’t so bad. The biggest problem is that the countryside is so incredible that keeping my eyes on the road was really tough. The lake is down in a crater which makes for great views, and a windy windy road. There’s a sign at each of the 42 ‘acknowledged’ hairpins letting you know just how far you still have to go. Funny. From up the hill, we had noticed what looked like fisheries all along the lake’s edge, so we stopped to check one out. We got permission from some random kid to raft out and walk on one. It’s quite a setup, dozens of net tanks filled with thousands of fish.
Later, we saw the lucky fish being tossed into clear trashbags half filled with water, just like the goldfish you got from the store as a kid full sized. But these were heading back into town on a flatbed truck for our dinner.Our plan to circumnavigate the lake and be home in time for tea was derailed early on when a couple kids on a scooter pulled up and started chatting. Long story short, it was their turn to capture tourists to bring back to their English school. We really had nothing better to do, so we followed them to a nearby town and let their mates quiz us with stock questions on our age, favorite color and food, job, etc. Mary got the smart ones; I got the 2nd month students who could only read the questions in their notebooks.
We eventually escaped to face the harrowing drive UP the crater wall and back to town for dinner.
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