Thursday, June 12, 2014

Indonesia: mixed feelings

Now that I am at home from work cause I am sick, I finally have some time to finish my blog post about Indonesia... Here is the story about our month over there!

As explained in our previous posts, we had some difficulty planning our trip in Asia. We were not as prepared as we were in South America and Mexico. Sick of doubting about what our next destination was going to be, we decided to stay 5 weeks in Indonesia: we arrived the 21st and would leave the 24th and head back to Singapore. We booked our plane tickets and that was that. I always dreamed of going to Indonesia, to see the beautiful landscapes, nature, sea, and beaches. We had great moments in this month, but also faced some difficulties, which eventually led us to book an early plane ticket out of Bali heading to the Philippines instead. But let me start with the beginning: our 1,5 weeks in Java.

We took a flight from Bali to Jakarta the 21st of March arriving at Soekarno-Hatta airport. We had a connecting flight to Jogjakarta 4 hours later. It was not really fun to stay there for 4 hours, cause for sure this was one of the worst airports we have ever been in! No shops to buy food or drinks - just some vending machines -, dirty, smelly, horrible seats... We were happy to get on the next plane. When we landed, we were picked up from the airport by the owner of the b&b we were staying in. When we arrived at the b&b, we were impressed with the house: it was an old colonial house with open aired bathroom, and modern interior. But for some reason, the first night, we were unable to fall asleep. I told you that I was sleeping everywhere during this trip: on chairs, at the airport, in buses, small beds, etc. I know it sounds weird, but I felt this horrible negative energy in the room. This continued for several nights... I even tried to clear the energy from the room with some weird rituals. Even though Indonesia a Muslim country, is has a profound belief in magic and spirituality. So I thought, "why not try some magic?". I felt like it worked a little bit, but then again we were woken up at 4.30 am every morning from the speakers from the mosques calling out for prayer... Not cool.

Besides the negative energy, the owner of the b&b was very pushy and an in-your-face type of guy. He constantly forced a guide upon us, even though we explicitly told him several times we didn't want it. We would leave from the house with our rented motorcycle, and a guide was just coming with us, following orders from the owner. We were obviously not happy about it, as we were used to exploring cities and places on our own. It's way more fun and challenging and you have more freedom. Secondly, a guide costs money  - money which we didn't want to spend!So yeah, that was pretty annoying...

Besides all this negativity, we also managed to see some beautiful things and have some fun moments. In Jogjakarta, we visited Craton, the palace of the Sultan. We saw a traditional dance which was very mystical and entertaining. The dancers were dressed in traditional clothing, very beautiful. We also bought a handmade batik cloth. We talked to the ladies who made it, and they explained us that it takes them 1 month to finish 1 cloth. Unbelievable! We were happy to pay 15 EUR for it.

We also took a day trip to visit the temple of Borobudur. We just went with our rented scooter and drove there ourselves: cheap and easy :). The temple was very impressive. When we were at the top of the temple, it started raining lightly and everybody left. We were basically alone up there, and were able to take some cool pics! Another day we took a day trip to the Prambanan temples (again with the scooter). A large part of the temple was under construction, so it ruined it the sightseeing a bit. But the temple itself is very beautiful.  


Borobudur - buddha

After 6 days in Yogyakarta, we left for Malang. We had the idea to go to Mount Bromo from there. Several people had told us that Malang was amazing, so we were looking forward to it. We took a train to Surabaya, and from there a 3 hour taxi ride to Malang. This was probably the worst taxi ride ever as there were cockroaches in the car brrrrr and obviously I couldn't relax! We were constantly looking for them, trying to kill them haha. When we finally arrived, the taxi driver even tried to scam us by asking more money then agreed but we just laughed at his face and left. Not gonna happen! Luckily our hotel was amazing. Such a luxurious and clean room... It was awesome. We just wanted to stay in the room and do nothing. But we had a mission: book our trip to Mount Bromo. So we went out, explored the city a bit and checked some travel agencies. We were in shock when we heard the prices to get to Bromo! Almost EUR 100 per person just for transportation to Bromo and back to Malang. We would have to leave at midnight and return around 9 am. This meant we also had to book a hotel for that night because if you are awake the whole night you want to sleep when you return. In addition, there was another problem. We had booked our hotel for two nights. The night after that (the night was wanted to go to Bromo) was actually the night before a holiday. As a result, all the hotels were booked! Malang is a just a small town but popular among Indonesian people, so every hotel was sold out. I had a feeling the universe was trying to tell me something ;). So after a long discussion, we decided not to go to Mount Bromo and book a flight to Bali :).

So the night before we wanted to leave for Bali, we decided to book the flight online. However, we couldn't book it online with our credit cards because it was less then 24 hours before the flight. Another problem... *sigh*. We asked to hotel receptionist to help us out. She was very willing to help us - people in Java are the best! - and noted down our names from our passport and made some calls. We went out to eat and when we came back she had our tickets. I looked at the tickets and saw that she had only put our first names on the ticket. So my ticket was named "Marjorie Marjorie" and Claudio's even had a spelling mistake: "Claydio Claydio"!! I started freaking out! What if we couldn't get on the plane tomorrow? The receptionist called the airline help desk and ensured us it would be OK. Still, I was worried... My worries and stress resulted in me hanging above the toilet at 4 am, throwing up my dinner, lunch and breakfast of the day before. I felt so ill! The worst I have been during this trip! I couldn't even stand up or get dressed to catch our plane. Claudio took care of me, packed my bag, and carried me to the taxi. When we arrived at the airport, I drank a coke and started feeling a little bit better. In the meantime, we were also able to check in - no problem whatsoever! What a relief. So Marjorie Marjorie and Claydio Claydio boarded the plane and 1 hour later we were in Bali. 

The first three days in Bali were more or less lost days. The 31st of March was Nyepi or Day of Silence. Bali is mainly Hindu (in contrast with the rest of Muslim Indonesia), and Nyepi is the Hindu's New Year. Nobody can come out on the streets, and everybody has to be silent for the whole day. TV doesn't work, and in our hotel also wifi was turned off as well. Our windows were taped so that you cannot disturb neighbors when you turn on your light. The weird thing is that not only locals do this, but tourists are obliged to do this as well. The day before, all shops and restaurants were already closed. Luckily in our hostel, the lady cooked food for us and we had fun with the other guests, sitting in the garden and talking (silently :)) the whole day.

Empty streets on Nyepi - Claudio quickly taking an illegal pic :)
After these three days, we left for Kuta. This is the most touristic place in Bali. We decided to stay there because we found a great apartment with kitchen for 21 EUR a night. We rented a scooter as well, so we could visit different places and beaches. So, we were ready to explore Bali. Since we left, I pictured celebrating my birthday in Bali, with palm trees, a cocktail in my hands, and a beautiful sunset on a tropical beach. Well, to be honest, the sunset was truly beautiful, but all the other elements were missing unfortunately! I probably sounds very ungrateful and pessimistic, but Bali is not the tropical paradise that many of us imagine it to be. Maybe we were unlucky with the places we have seen, but my overall impression of the island was not good.

Dirt on the beach

The thing that bothered me the most was the dirt. The first day, we made the mistake to go to Kuta beach. The sea and beach is filled with plastic waste: bags, slippers, bottles, ... anything you can imagine. In the evening, lots of dogs would enter the beaches, shit and pee close to the water. So disgusting! The next day we decided to go and drive to the southern peninsula, where the beaches are supposed to be amazing. We drove for an hour, and found a really cool beach. We had to climb down 500 stairs to get there. When we arrived, there was nobody there, it was deserted. Still, the whole beach was filled with clutter and plastic again. How is this possible?? Even though the beach was really nice, the garbage everywhere really ruined it for me. We visited two other beaches, which were all amazing, but again too dirty. So we gave up. We decided to enjoy Bali for other things, like the beautiful sunsets and the delicious food. Finally, after one month of chicken and rice we could enjoy some western food: pizza, burgers, pancakes, bacon, and good coffee! Njammmm.

Beautiful beach on the Southern peninsula
Balangan beach

One day, we also took an excursion and saw the rice fields of Tegalalang. Absolutely breathtaking! We also drove by the lake Danau Batur, where we had a great view over mountain Gunung Agung. We also visited a coffee plantation. I stirred some coffee beans, we learned about the process of making coffee, and had a coffee and tea tasting. I even drank Civet coffee, made from coffee beans that are eaten and shit out again by an animal called civet. Pretty disgusting process, but delicious coffee... ;)

Lunch with a view over Gunung Agung

After 1 week in Kuta, we decided to leave and headed for Ubud. This little town is not at the coast but inland, and has a hippie vibe. People go there to visit nearby temples, get massages and spiritual healing, and eat some delicious food in the numerous cute cafes you have around. So this is exactly what we did! We both had two massages in a really nice spa, so relaxing. We visited several Hindu temples close by. We also went to the monkey forest, which was pretty scary cause monkey are so violent. People were feeding the monkeys, so they all get aggressive if you don't give them food anymore. The forest itself though was nice. The last day, we rented a second scooter with the plan to drive to the rice terrace of Jatiluwih. The drive to Jatiluwih was horrible. People were burning garbage everywhere and it was impossible to breath. When after one hour of driving a storm broke out on top of that, so we were frustrated and just headed back to Ubud.



The next morning, I woke up and it was my birthday! Claudio did everything to give me an amazing birthday! He and the owner of the guesthouse decorated the patio in front of our room. They also brought me a cake and a little gift. It was great!! We returned to Kuta that day and had a super nice dinner and some drinks. It was impossible to get drunk though. We had cocktails and shots, but nothing... Indonesia has a Muslim government and there are very high taxes on alcohol. As a result, when you order a drink in Indonesia, it's almost without alcohol. Not the best place to get drunk. Still, my day was legendaryyyy. Thanks sweetie. 

My  birthday cake!

In the last days we were in Bali, we decided to leave Bali a bit earlier then planned, and we booked a flight to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, and from there we would fly to the Philippines. Claudio enjoyed surfing every day, and I was just hanging at the beach, reading and relaxing.

sunset in Bali

Claudio becoming pretty good in surfing!

In the end, Indonesia was a bit of a disappointment for me. For Claudio it was probably better cause he enjoyed the food and surfing. I was just too upset about the dirt and the garbage and the lack of respect for nature. I bet that some decades ago, Bali must have been paradise, without all the motorcycles, the garbage and pollution on the beaches and the streets. Maybe we shouldn't have stayed in Kuta so long, or we visited the wrong place. I don't know. But for sure, Bali was my least favorite place of our trip.

Luckily we had some amazing last days in Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore. But I'll leave that for next time, this post is getting too long :).

Selamat Jalan!

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