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Intrepid Journeys


Indonesia: Andrew Fagan

Day One

I arrive Jakarta, it is 29C, the humidity is high and fluid is dripping off my face. I assume this is called "sweat". With more than twice the population of New Zealand crammed into this city, the seething heaving mass of humanity is a great eye-opener. Perhaps NZ is over-regulated and under-populated.

Day Two

I travel for 13 hours on train and bus through mountainous, lush and especially spectacular terrain, constantly dotted with agrarian subsistence-existence lifestyle blocks.  Terraced rice fields featured highly and a tropical downpour completes the definition of "exotic". I arrive in Pangandaran.
Day Three

Pangandaran, a seaside fishing village, provides exotic stimulus. A wonderful opportunity to get my one-watt amplifier (that attaches to my guitar) fixed by charming locals. A walking voyage through a rainforest results in me being assaulted by a monkey after I intrepidly try to give it a cracker held in my teeth. The monkey proceeds to steal the rest of the packet from me, and now I'm waiting for symptoms of dreaded monkey fever, or whatever, to manifest. I'll keep you posted.

Day Four

I hire a motorbike and get about in brilliant way. No potholes or traffic to retard my progress. Many interesting encounters are logged. I drink my first fresh coconut and eat Barracuda cooked in coconut oil.

Day Five

I have a four-hour riverboat ride downstream to an oil refinery town. The boat is dodgy - it is strip planked and caulked with obvious signs of wear, tear and decay. The engine leaks diesel and oil onto old blankets beneath. There is no exhaust pipe and plenty of volume. Two thirds of the way down we come across another boat nosed into the mangroves and packed with distressed women and children, all immaculately and colourfully dressed. Our ferryman drives us to them and 25 women and children pile desperately onto our bow (front) almost rolling the boat. It turns out their craft had been ridiculously overloaded and had started taking in more water than they could bail. No lifejackets. As a qualified commercial skipper myself, I find our situation somewhat precarious with 41 people onboard and not much freeboard.

Day Six

I visit several places on the tourist trail, not that any touristos are to be seen - closed embassies and warnings against "non-essential travel" have put paid to that. The threat of terrorism has almost crippled the local economy. Sure Westerners are frightened to come, but without their precious, self-indulgent dollars, many locals absolutely dependant on that exotic cash are living without livelihoods. Better to bomb overseas than in your neighbourhood. How shortsighted can a "terrorist" be? Apparently very!

Day Seven

In my quest for a religion devoid of social control, I visit the Islamic festival of Grebekam at dawn. The whole town is there and gloriously unified in their reverential prayers facing Mecca. The earth vibrates with the soil slapping rituals as I, an outsider, look on. Great to see the Judaic family groups - a huge sense of communal (non-violent) involvement. The prayers are followed by the ritual slaughter of cows and sheep. It is for the good of God Allah but seems a huge juxtaposition to me. Sure the poor and needy get the flesh, but the knife in throat and gushing blood is certainly a slice of life. If compassion for all creatures is the ultimate ethic, then Islam is missing something. I'll try to stick to bean burgers in the future.

Day Eight

An eight hour train ride in economy class - 40C. The train gradually becomes more crowded until the aisles are packed with people standing shoulder to shoulder. The combined mass of sweaty humanity makes the long drawn-out stops at stations almost unbearable. Almost can't get off carrying guitar et al. Only brought two changes of clothing (costumes) and, as my shirt is inevitably always wet with sweat, its starting to smell quite interesting.

Day Nine

I meet some villagers growing rice and finally make the connection between what looks like green stalks growing in water and where the actual white ricey bits come from. I hear stories of suffering workers on poor wages in the sulphur mines on one of the nearby volcanoes - those over 50 suffer lung diseases with no medical assistance. Many Indonesians appear to be on the wrong end of global capitalism. No wonder some of them adopt extreme perspectives.

Day Ten

I make it to Mt Bromo - a predominantly Hindu enclave high in the hills which is close to a group of smoldering active volcanoes. I'm up at 3am to watch the sun rise over the volcanoes. I walk up Mt Bromo to stare down into the crater billowing sulphurous clouds. The whole area is one big plug of ash, like the congealed head of a human zit on the pock-marked faces of planet earth. Hopefully it won't burst again... while I'm walking on it.

Day Eleven

I ride from Java to Bali. The first thing said to me in Bali is: "Would you like some magic mushrooms?" The religion changes from Muslim to Hindu, and there is plenty of incense in the air around here.

Day Twelve

I buy t-shirts for my pet humans (children). I pay too much, but if it helps the locals then why not?

Day Thirteen

Make it to Lombok Strait.  If I was a pirate, this would be the place to set up operation. Plenty of sea traffic shooting the gap between the island of Bali and the one whose name eludes me. Later, I enjoy the punctual monsoon rain at 3pm.

Day Fourteen

I attend a Kechek show where 100 males sing songs without musical instruments. One guy keeps impeccable time with a hooting sound while others sort of chatter like monkeys. Another yells and drives the piece with a great guttural rough-sounding voice like Lil Jon from the modern East Side Boys Band. At the end, a man high on something, allegedly a trance, does a genuine fire kicking show with his bare feet. The flaming coconut shells (good name for a band) are not fake. No blisters on his feet afterwards but, as he lies resting, he looks genuinely out of it. Whatever he was on, I wouldn't mind trying some.

Day Fifteen

Finally reach Kuta in Bali - on my last day - and the site/sight of the Bali nightclub bombing. Ideas received by impressionable people (ie naive fundamentalist perspectives that cement "us and them" mentalities) can be dangerous things, and killing people seems to be taking religious philosophy to a ridiculous extreme. But there's a lot of it about and unless humans relinquish divisive ideologies that premature, death shows will inevitably roll on and on. Some say we're a flawed species with quite a lot of emotional evolution left to go. I'd have to agree. Kuta, a touristy shopping scene, holds little attraction for me, although the tourist population is only 10% of what it was pre-bombing. A slightly anti-climactic end, but I manage to get the plane late at night and get out - just like it never really happened (not!) - the end.