Category Archives: Indonesia

Final Thoughts

So now I’m on my way home, flying over the Pacific as I type. I honestly can’t believe how quickly these past few months have passed, but on the other hand, I feel so fortunate to have experienced so much in such a short period of time. I just finished watching a movie on the plane – a nice, no-brainer chick-flick and there was one line it that really resonated with me. It basically said that life is half what you do with yourself and half about who you spend your time with. I can’t iterate enough how much my personal experiences were shaped (mostly for the good) by the people I was with. Had I done this trip completely alone, it’d have been awful. But as I’ve said before, and I’ll say again – that’s the best part of traveling – meeting people.

In the past 109 days, I’ve taken 2 overnight plane flights, camped on a beach for 2 nights, spent 5 nights on bus, took 2 overnight train rides and slept in 59 different beds (yes, I counted). I’ve taken 18 separate flights (well, by the time I get back to Chicago). I can’t even count the number of buses, tuk-tuk rides, rickshaws, motorbike rides, etc that I’ve taken. I walked 150 miles in 14 days, trekked to 5416 meters, rock climbed in Thailand, surfed in Bali, climbed south east Asia’s tallest mountain, white-water rafted in Bali, saw orangutans in the jungle, climbed a sulfur-spewing volcano in Sumatra, experienced new cultures, met amazing new friends, saw beautiful sunrises and sunsets, relaxed on the beach in “paradise,” did yoga in India, discovered new food, and through it all, had such an amazing time.

My time over the past 3.5 months was divided between Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Nepal, India and Thailand. I think it’s interesting to note that the 3 wealthiest countries (that I visited on this trip) are Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore. I noticed a few differences between the wealthier countries and the poorer ones. For one, the wealthier countries tend to have more cars, whilst the poorer ones either rely more on motorbikes or foot for transportation. The other difference, which I find quite notable, is that in the wealthier countries, women play a very visible role. They have jobs and interact with the public. They are seen out at night – sometimes even alone. In Indonesia, Nepal and India, local women are seen from a bus window, or seen in groups, or seen with families, but they don’t run shops, they rarely interact with tourists and they’re hardly ever seen after the sun goes down. In most places, it’s ok being a western woman (sometimes alone) at night, but India, it just doesn’t feel safe. That’s probably due in part to the “staring” culture that’s more noticeable than anywhere else I’ve been. It’s just interesting, because I believe that women play a vital role to a country’s development and to me, I’d say that the developing countries should work on making a women’s role in everyday life a more visible and vital one.

As I’ve mentioned, the people that I met made my trip what it was. From meeting an aspiring dominatrix from Montreal to a chain-smoking Jordanian man in Singapore who had his passport confiscated and was contemplating escaping from the country to a British man nearly in tears because his Muslim Indonesian wife ran off with their two children to a tattooed British man who constantly reeked of alcohol and cigarettes, but knew great magic tricks and was a former member of the Iranian mafia who spent time in a Malaysian prison for human trafficking, I’ve met a few characters to say the least. Best of all are the friendships formed and the memories that I share with those people.

My top moments of my trip were:

Tubing down the river in Bukit Lwang with (Indonesia)

Reaching the Throng-La pass at 17,769 ft (Nepal)

Catching waves in Bali (Indonesia)

Motorbiking to deserted beach after deserted beach in Lombok (Indonesia)

Watching the sunrise from the summit of Mt. Kinabulu (Malaysian Borneo)

Rock climbing in Railay (Thailand)

Relaxing on the paradise island, Gili Trawangan (Indonesia)

Other cool moments include:

White water rafting for my first time in Bali (Indonesia)

Doing yoga (India)

Seeing orangutans in the jungle (Indonesia)

Climbing an active volcano (Indonesia)

And the only two low-lights that come to mind were:

Sleeping on the filthy floor of an over-crowded Indian train

Getting sick with stomach issues

But, I wouldn’t trade those “bad” experiences for the world, because it’s all part of the experience. Plus, I love that so much of what I experienced can’t just be seen on the Discovery Channel or from the view of a car window. I had to work to get to these places (especially on the Annapurna Circuit!), but that made the satisfaction all the more worthwhile.

And now that I’m nearly home, there are definitely some things that I’m looking forward to, and others that I’ll miss dearly. I can’t wait for consistently hot showers. I’m glad that I won’t have to carry my own toilet paper everywhere I go, but crazily enough will miss public squatters (though not the spraying on toes part of it – yeah, I think it happened every time). I’m looking forward to drinking tap water once again and not buying another bottle of water for a really long time. I’m happy that I’ll get a fair price when I walk into any store (and not the “white price”), but will miss the overall cheaper prices. I’ll be glad that when someone yells “hello” at me, it’s because they want to actually say hi to me and not because they want to lure me into their store… or in their taxi… or to their bedroom. I’m happy to have a diverse selection of ethnic cuisines available to me again, but will miss the amazing street food (especially Indian food). I’ll be sad that rent for my future apartment will cost more than an entire day’s activities. And I’ll most certainly miss the under $10 massages.

In sum, I can’t reiterate just how fantastic of a time I had on my trip. But, I think I’m also leaving at just the right time. I’m not jaded by traveling yet and really, really excited to see my friends and family that I haven’t seen in months! I’m looking forward to being in a home again, and not changing a bed every few days. And if you know anything about me, you know I’m looking forward to the food… and to cooking and baking – good thing it’s Christmas! I’m also excited about the winter ski season – I’m moving to Colorado this winter at the very least to ski for the season while I focus on my job search, but will also be looking for work permanently there, so I’m looking forward to exploring a new region of the country and establishing a new life for myself there.

Thanks for reading y’all! Your comments and happiness for me definitely meant a significant amount and kept me going during those harder moments that I might have glossed over. Have a great holiday season! J

Surfing in Bali and Farewells

Pictures are of me happy to have caught a wave on my 1st day of surfing and of us girls on a night out in Bali – (l to r) Niki, me, Anna, and Monique. And of me, Niki, and Anna with all of our bags on as we head from Lombok to Bali on the ferry.

After an incredibly beautiful, calm and relaxing week in Gili Trawangan, Niki, Anna and I headed back to Bali on the slow ferry. Anna is a Danish girl who is a naval officer that patrols the waters around Greenland and reminds me immensely of my friend Nathalie from college – both in terms of looks and personality. Anna, Niki and I hit it off really well and so Niki and I were more than happy to have Anna join us for the remainder of our trip in Bali. To get from Gili T to Bali was a 14 hour experience and involved a boat, a bus, a long, slow ferry, and another bus ride. Our last bus ride, it felt like we were traveling in a hearst – our minibus was dark on the outside and inside. First they packed all the bags in and then the vehicle appeared full, but no, somehow, they managed to squeeze in 13 westerners. My hip bones were squashed and I had to go to the bathroom for the whole 3 hours, but all was well in the end.

We made it to Bali and found a room for $5 for the three of us in a really great location, so we were happy. The next four days we passed at the beach, learning to surf. The first day we all took lessons together and Niki and Anna were really awesome – both able to stand quite a bit. Me… not so much, but then again, my instructors only advice was “stand up” Not the best instructor. But, it was still fun and the moments when all 3 of us caught the same wave, it was a really nice feeling.

We met up with our friends Rick and Monique, who Niki and I had traveled with in Sumatra. It was SO good to see them again – seriously, just like seeing old friends. And being back in Kuta Beach was like a homecoming of sorts. I think I have a love-hate relationship with the place. On the one hand, it’s a backpacker ghetto, which is very comforting and necessary at points – as it has everything a backpacker would want – massages, western food, cheap accommodation, clothing, sunglasses and art stalls. And the setting is absolutely stunning. The beach is expansive and gorgeous and watching the enormous waves roll in is absolutely mesmerizing.

On the other hand, Kuta Beach has a very bad reputation due to the large number of Australians that are there. Now, nothing against Australians, but I do have something against what we started terming the “Bintang Bali Aussie Boys”. Bintang is the beer of choice in Indonesia, and wife beaters with the Bintang logo are aplenty, especially in Kuta Beach. Going out at night, the streets and clubs are just littered with Australian guys wearing these awful shirts and getting absolutely hammered. I met a good number of Australians who are embarrassed by the Bintang-wearing crowd…and rightfully so. But, it makes sense – Bali is what Cancun is to the American college kid, except way cheaper, and flights cost next to nothing, so of course there are lots of Australians. So, after days of seeing guys in board shorts and Bintang wife beaters, it gets old pretty quickly.

But, the fun that I had with my friends here and the thrill of catching a wave totally outweighs any negative impression I have of the place. By my 4th day of surfing, I was catching more waves than I wasn’t and finally mastered how to correctly paddle and actually stand up. There was a bit of a learning curve, no doubt – I learned that while I snowboard “normal,” I surf “goofy” – and that took about 2 days to figure out.

After a day of surfing, our evenings and nights were filled with massages, or should I say “yes, massage”, because every single massage place you pass by the women say “yes, massage.” We’d get on the internet, shower, get ready for dinner and sometimes went out. Honestly, being in the sun all day and surfing is a fairly exhausting routine and we quickly tired of the Bintang Bali crowd, longed for the quieter nights on Gili T, so we had a more low-key night life this time around.

And now I’m at the airport and absolutely sad to be leaving this place. Never before have I been so sad to leave a place I’ve traveled – ever. It’s probably the combination of the country, the people I’ve been with, the food I’ve eaten, etc, but I’m really, really sad. Niki has been such a godsend – I know we’re both really grateful and happy that we met and traveled together. We’ve had such a blast together, have been through a lot together and definitely will be friends for a long time to come. Of the 7 weeks I’ve now been traveling, we’ve been together for 5 and a half weeks. I’m in the midst of trying to convince her to join me in Nepal, so this might not be the last you hear of her yet. I had such a good rapport with Rick and Monique and Anna and Niki that it’s really sad to leave them all – feels like I’m leaving some really good friends and now I’m a little sad to be traveling on my own again. I know that I’ll meet more people along the way – it always happens, but at the moment, I’m not quite ready to say goodbye – to Indonesia or the people I’ve met along the way.

Ubud, Bali

We initially were only going to spend one full day in Ubud, but ended up staying 2 full days – I’m glad we did. This city is still touristy (it seems the entire island of Bali is touristy), but a much calmer kind of touristy than Kuta Beach. I also came down with a cold, so it was a nice place to just relax for a bit. This is the type of city that you’d find back home – there are nice boutiques, great restaurants and everything is for the most part, pretty well manicured. I think it’s the kind of place my parents would like to visit. That being said, I really like it here. It’s fun to peruse the art shops – I got all inspired and ready to buy art, but then ended up empty-handed. Shipping stuff home is costly and I’m already at the peak of my baggage weight limit for my Air Asia flights. The first day we did a walk that went on a ridge between two rivers. It is stunningly beautiful – bright green terraced rice fields rising up to meet a sea of palm trees. We meandered through villages, stopped in at a sports bar that promised Bali’s best pizza. The menu had one type of pizza – Chicago style pizza and when I asked the bartender how thick it was, she said it was thin. As I was scoffing about how that wasn’t Chicago-style pizza, the owner came up to me (from Arlington Heights, a suburb of Chicago) and tried telling me there were many different styles of Chicago pizza and what made it Chicago-style was the ingredients (sausage, pepperoni, onion and green pepper), not the thickness. I dunno.

Anyway, we weren’t in the mood for pizza, but were lured into a barbeque restaurant as the smells of barbeque ribs filled our nostrils as we were passing by. We sat at a large table with three Indonesians and they ended up ordering some food for us and then paying for our entire meal. It was really, really sweet. It’s moments like that that make you realize just how many good people there are in the world and moments like that that make me really grateful for the generosity of others. Later that night, we met two other American girls who are traveling alone as well, so the four of us had a nice evening together. One of them also went to boarding school near where I did, so we bonded over that.

The next day, I went white water rafting. Niki stayed behind as she has rafted before in Zimbabwe and nothing can compare to that experience for her. The river was Class 4 and 5 rapids, which was pretty underwhelming. That might be because the fattest man I’ve seen since I left America was in my raft and we got stuck on every single rock. He was, for the record, American. Ask me sometime about my favorite travel game: “Spot the American.” But I’m glad that I tried rafting! I would do it again. I think tubing down the river in Bukit Lwang was honestly more fun though.

After a really good and cheap dinner with a large ever-changing group of people, Niki and I said our good-byes to Ubud and headed on the slow ferry to Lombok, the island to the east of Bali.

I need to upload some pictures from my camera – I’ve got a lot on my camera, but have been lazy/busy. I promise some pictures next time I update my blog!

Bali, baby!

So, after a couple of weeks in Sumatra, Niki and I parted ways with Rick and Monique and headed to Bali together. We enjoyed our day at the KL airport – I know it sounds silly, but after awhile of being looked at like a celebrity while out and about and using filthy toilets and staying in beds that sometimes smell like the BO of an old Indian man, it’s so nice to walk into a bathroom (in the airport) and see seat sanitizer, toilet paper [gasp!], and soap at the sink. We reveled in our day, each spending copious amounts of time on the internet, browsing the duty free shop and gorging on western food (a tunafish sandwich!!). I guess our gorging on western comforts was a little unnecessary, as Bali is entirely different from Sumatra.

In Sumatra, people would come up to us, push their child towards us, in hopes that we would acknowledge them and say hello. When we passed a car on the road, or children in town, they’d point to their friends, or parents and get all excited that they saw a foreigner. Once, we were in a “taxi” and our driver kept honking to everyone saying that he had 4 foreigners – he had to show this off to everyone he knew. Compare that to Bali, where our plane was full of foreigners, mostly white 20-somethings heading for some fun in the sun in Bali. Upon arriving in Bali, the locals were absolutely shell-shocked at the Indonesia that we can now speak. Bear in mind my conversational ability is limited to “Nama saya Erin. Saya dari America. Apa kapar?” (My name is Erin. I’m from America. How are you?).

The other big shock was driving along the road to get to Kuta Beach, where all the backpackers and surfers frequent. It felt like everything I didn’t like about Cancun – western restaurants and shops. There was a Chi-Chi’s for crying out loud! I mean, why would anyone go to that restaurant in the states, let alone Bali? Well, we finally made it to the backpacker alleys where our “trusty” Lonely Planet promised us $4 rooms. As you can imagine, we were shocked to find out that after over 30 minutes of walking and numerous full places, that we had to pay $12. It’s ridiculously expensive, especially compared to what we were paying. The next day, we got up and found a place for $7.50 per night. At least our new place is just a stone’s throw from the beach, although our bathroom leaves much to be desired. It’s still expensive, but it is Bali.

We’ve been taking it easy while in Bali. Niki had an insect bite (we think) that got infected, so she’s had to endure going to the doctor everyday and having him squeeze pus out of it – basically it’s really painful, but she can’t go in the water. It’s ok, b/c it’s really easy here to lose track of time and have a lazy start to the day and then the next thing you know, its dinner time. Yesterday, we did rent motorbikes and went to Uluwatu, a beach south of here where the waves are just enormous! It was really fun watching the surfers catch great waves and do barrel rolls (see, I’m learning the lingo!). We incidentally had a proper introduction to the Bali nightlife, by staying out ‘til 7am on our first real night out.

Bali has been a welcomed, if more expensive, change of pace from Sumatra (which I absolutely loved). We did, however, eat one of the best meals of my trip in Bali the other night – for $4, we had mahi mahi with a creamy pesto sauce, sautéed pumpkin, pasta and a mixed drink. Such a great deal and honestly, such a great dinner.

After a few days in Kuta Beach, we decided to head for the hills (literally) and are now in Ubud. Ubud is the epicenter of Balinese culture and art. If you’ve read the book “Eat, Pray, Love” it’s where the author ends up staying here permanently, I do believe. I’ll update more in a bit.

Melaka into Sumatra

I spent one night in Melaka, which is a really cute UNESCO World Heritage site with a charming Chinatown and plenty of Singaporean tourists. The highlight was walking through the night market, trying some local snacks and watching a world record holder put his finger through a coconut (both shell AND husk). I wanted to included a video of this feat, but unfortunately it’s taking WAY too long.

Then, I hopped on a ferry to the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Waiting to board the ferry, I met my first American, Niki and a Dutch couple, Elric and Monique. The four of us immediately hit it off and we’ve been together ever since. Niki is not only the first American I’ve met, but also happens to be unemployed. She’s quite well-traveled and we definitely have a lot in common. We stayed for a few hours in the town of Dumai and were picked up by the local English teacher who brought us to his school so we could speak English with his students – we were impromptu English teachers! We also helped package some food for poor people in the region. It was a very fulfilling way to spend an afternoon that otherwise would’ve been passed at yet another non-descript bus station. We took the rickety local bus to the town of Bukittingi. The best part was the kids – there were tons of them on a long, overnight bus ride and they were all so obedient and just broke into enormous grins whenever any of us looked at them. The bus ride was advertised as only 10 hours, but ended up being 15 hours, probably due in part to the frequent stops.

It’s Ramadan (it ends on Sept. 20th!) and Indonesia is the world’s most populous Islamic nation. Our bus ride included stops at 4 in the morning for everyone to eat before sunrise… and a stop at 5 something in the morning for the first of their required 5 daily prayers. It’s quite loud – in the mornings, at my hotel, I’ve been woken by the 5am prayer session that is broadcast throughout the entire town.

Mom and Dad – skip this paragraph. Once we got settled in Bukittingi, we rented motorbikes. I’ve been on them before, but have never driven one. We rented two, and I got to drive. It was manual, so it took some getting used to, but in the end, I was fine. We rode out through a nearby canyon and out into the countryside. We stopped at a little roadside shack for a drink and the drink was only $0.20! Gotta love Indonesia! The next day we did the same thing, but rode to see some waterfalls and go swimming. After getting a flat tire (from running over a nail), I managed to give myself a nice large Indonesian tattoo as Niki and I were trying to back our motorbike off the road. I treated it for a bit on my own and finally went to the “hospital.” My trip to the ER cost me a whopping $12 dollars (including antibiotics). At least with wounds of this nature, they’re quite accoustomed to dealing with them.