13 Things You’ll Learn Travelling Indonesia

15 Sep

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1: There is a Nadir for In-Vehicle Entertainment
Audio-visual torture of various kinds is an intrinsic part of the South-East Asian travel experience. From bootleg DVDs with subtitles straight out of Finnegans Wake
to Chinese KTV videos pumped up to max, from pixellated Hong Kong ultraviolence drowned out with Khmer pop to Chuckyesque infant balladeers on Vietnam’s answer to the X Factor

Four or five repeats of this moustachioed trouper competing with the roar of the engine and the jangle of suspension to perform Indo karaoke favourites, however, took Asian in-bus entertainment to a whole new level.

2: Indonesians Can Eat and Sleep in Extremely Confined Spaces
Compared, for example, to ferries in the Philippines, Indonesian boats are a model of comfort and safety. However, once you have seen a large family curl up to sleep underneath a single row of seats, with nary a foot protruding, or grandma dishing out a meal from seven or eight pans without blocking the aisle, you will never complain about airline legroom again.

ferry pulls into wakai, togian islands, sulawesi, indonesia.
3: There is Always a Chap on a Scooter Willing to Make a Quick Buck
Need to make it from the only ferry port on the island to the only pharmacist on the island and back before the weekly boat arrives or your eye infection reaches 28 Days Later calibre? There will always be some nice chap on a scooter to chauffeur you about. Generally (outside Bali) for around a dollar a pop.

4: There is Always a Chap with a 4WD Willing to Make a Quick Buck
Known in most parts of Indonesia as kijang, 4WDs span the gamut from spanking new Toyotas with in-car entertainment systems out of MTV Cribs to ancient fake Fords with doors held shut with string and tires you could surface skis with. Whatevs. These chaps will drive for 5, 10, 15 hours throughout the night.

5: There is Generally a Chap in a Minibus Willing to Make a Quick Buck
Lost in a city? Just wave down the nearest minibus. The chap will either take you to where you’re going or to a place where another driver will. Generally for less than 20p. Unless, of course, there’s no one else in the minibus. Then, you understand, you, qua foreigner, have chartered the minibus. Which runs (relatively) expensive.

horse and cart waiting at Ampana port, Sulawesi, Indonesia.

6: There is Occasionally a Chap in a Horse and Cart Willing to Make a Quick Buck
Scenic, true. But rarely cost-effective.

7: Small Boats Have Two Engines Because One is Broken
Well. Either that, or both are very temperamental. In most small boats the second engine (broken or not) functions as a sort of alternative to a two-way radio, a functional mobile phone or, y’know, life jackets. As if, in high seas, one could somehow cannibalise the parts in case of disaster.

Torajans waving from cattle truck en route to funeral. Tana Toraja, Sulawesi, Indonesia.

8: Everyone Wants to Be Your Friend
Indonesians, particularly in the less-touristed parts, are some of the loveliest, most friendly people on the planet. Which means that, when you scrabble, bleary-eyed, from your 24-hour bus ride in search of your cheap hotel, a million and one curious, charming folk will want to learn your name, your age, where you come from, how long you have been in Indonesia and whether you speak Indonesian. Which is, in a way, really, really sweet and lovely. And, in another…

9: Do Not Put Anything on Your Lap When There is a Market in Town
When there is a market in a small town you will be sharing what passes for legroom in any vehicle with everything from sacks of rice to small children to defecating, panicking pigs. Put anything on your lap — particularly a child — and you will be unable to move your feet. When your circulation returns, this will hurt like snow tingles.

10: The Prices in Your Guidebook are Hardly Gospel
A guidebook, however recent, is only as good as the writer who updated the section (which may have been a couple of years before publication). I’d like to believe the average travel guidebook author’s conscientious passion for their oh-so-lucrative career extends to physically visiting every single bus station and checking current ticket prices against the ones the last writer put through. But the phrase “can’t be arsed” springs irresistibly to mind.

11: When Everyone Piles Off the Bus it is Meal Time
Join them, or you will go hungry. Because your next chance for food will be dinner, or the next tyre change (whichever comes first). Your driver will hoot when it is time to pile back on. If he’s pulling out half-empty, he’s making space for a new bus. If he’s pulling out full, start running and waving. If nothing else, it will give your fellow passengers a laugh.

12: Factor in Recovery Time to Your Journey Time
Most of Indonesia takes a long, long time to get around. And, if you’ve just spent 30 hours getting somewhere — the length of a trip from Australia to Europe, complete with stopover but often in far less appealing conditions — don’t bank on doing much but recovering for a day (or two) thereafter.

Ferry at sunrise in Ampana Port, Sulawesi, Indonesia.

13: Appreciate the Beauty
Many parts of Indonesia take time to get around because the beautiful landscapes are unspoiled. When winding for hours through dramatic highlands, plodding through forested islets on a ferry, or simply seeing the sun rise over a port or paddyfields, stay focused on the beauty.

If you haven’t been here before, please do subscribe to my RSS for regular updates.

*: If you have, and you’ve been wondering where we were, the spawn and I have just returned from a sojourn on Pulau Kadidiri in the Togian Islands, where, contrary to assurances, there is not any form of internet. It was absolutely lovely, and Z made a great new friend. Worth all 30 hours travel there and out. Pictures coming soon…

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8 Responses to “13 Things You’ll Learn Travelling Indonesia”

  1. Tracy Burns September 15, 2010 at 1:48 pm #

    I think most of the above applies to Laos and Cambodia too…. Indonesia probably just does it better… or more frustratingly worse depending on your mood at the time. I’m so so missing the bad Khmer pop group videos playing on loop on bus trips. And the 6 hours vomit express from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang just wouldn’t have been the same without the load blaring thai singers accompanied by a single synthesiser imitating every known musical instrument. I wish our boat trip in Cambodia had of had a second engine. Maybe then it would have taken the promised 6 hours rather than 14. Of course you win with the 30 hour trip to a place with no internet… Colin would have gone into withdrawal!

    • MummyT September 15, 2010 at 1:54 pm #

      I think it’s the 30 hours that marks out Indonesia from Laos and Cambodia, which are, though it doesn’t feel it (!), relatively small. y’know. 16 hours on a boat, to a smallish port. 10 hours on a bus, to another place you don’t especially want to be…

  2. Nicole September 15, 2010 at 11:00 pm #

    This post makes me long to head off to some developing country. Maybe that makes me twisted? What I love is there’s no way to just observe from the periphery.

    • MummyT September 16, 2010 at 8:10 am #

      I don’t think it’s twisted at all. I think you can learn a lot more about a nation, and meet many more people, over the course of a long bus or boat journey than you would on an organised tour. And learn more of the language, too.

  3. Keith September 16, 2010 at 2:04 pm #

    what you write is very true, isnt it nice to see friendly people even if they are trying to make a buck. The problem in the west is everyone seems to ignore everyone else, like they dont exist. If something happens in asia sure you will get a crowd of onlookers, but in this crowd will be people that will try to help you.

    • MummyT September 16, 2010 at 3:01 pm #

      I could not agree with you more! Z got a splinter in Cambodia. Fifteen onlookers. Four of them trying to help. I think in the West we create our own little bubbles. And, to be honest, many of the people we meet here in Sulawesi are, quite simply, just being friendly. Which takes a while to get your head around!

  4. Matt October 8, 2010 at 10:45 am #

    I absolutely love Indonesia which is why we are moving there in June 2011. I’ve experienced many of the points above. I just love how people there are so friendly and helpful. So glad I found your blog. Enjoying reading about your adventures.

    • MummyT October 14, 2010 at 12:33 am #

      Why thank you, sir… You must go to Morotai. I’ll be blogging about it soon. Where in Indonesia are you moving?

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