Updated August 18, 2014.
August 10, 2014. Jakarta, Indonesia.
In Indonesia we are minor celebrities. People in Jakarta approached me four times on my first day to ask for a photo. A whole family asked for our picture, pulling out all of their phones at once. Two teenage boys asked for our picture, swapping sunglasses and a cigarette between the two of them so they could pose looking awesome with my friend Chris.
The best was when a teenage girl, about five feet tall and dressed like a beautiful lime green popsicle, approached me and my friend Chris to ask for a photo. She stood between us, beaming, while her sad boyfriend snapped a picture of the three of us on his phone. I offered to take a picture of the two of them with my friend, but she seemingly didn’t care if her boyfriend was in the shot.
We walked around “monas”, the National Monument. There were a suspicious number of people in costume wandering around.
Our first night we ate Nasi Goreng for dinner on the street. About 15,000 ($1.20) rupiah for a freshly cooked plate of rice and eggs. As far as street food goes this is a great deal, tasty, and really unlikely to cause food poisoning.
We take a walk through a non-tourist neighborhood of Jakarta. Children are happy to see me until they realize I’m not handing out money — then the sulks come out. In hindsight I think she was asking for money to play on the bouncy house, but there was no one around to take the money and wordless pointing at the house didn’t get the message across. With a picture like this you think: “shoot or don’t shoot?”. I might as well show you how the real world is — not all the kids are smiling if you aren’t paying them.
August 11, 2014. Jakarta to Bandung.
The next morning we took a train from Jakarta to Bandung for about $10 each, riding in coach class for the three hour journey.
Three men sleeping in Jakarta.
As we walk around the kids are excited to see us, yelling “hello mister!” as I walk by. After accidentally walking down a dead end street five of them took off running after us. I still don’t know what they wanted other than to say “hello” and be close to the westerners.
After being in heavily touristed parts of Asia for the last few months I really appreciate it when a local just wants to say hello. I also realized that maybe there’s no point in using guidebooks anymore: any city worth seeing is going to have a way to get there. My bag is light enough that I can carry it at any time and I’m tempted to just head for a train station and take the next train out of town, figuring out where it takes me.
August 12, 2014. Bandung, Indonesia.
After breakfast in Bandung we took a long walk across town and found that we needed to cross a small dirty river running through a run down neighborhood. There was no obvious footpath on the highway bridge so we headed down the hill into the neighborhood. Some kids were playing games under the bridge, people living in small alleys with laundry drying everywhere and lots of nice graffiti and color.
A local pointed us toward the bridge, a few other locals pointed us out of the labyrinth.
I really like the designs on the rickshaws here.
We got lost a few times and along the way people asked me to take their picture.
The streets are lined on each side by free flowing open sewer systems full of trash.
Emerging from the neighborhood I found a man selling head scarves like the wool buff I wear and looked through them. After finding an American flag buff all laughed, then he pulled out a Nazi flag head scarf and he laughed even harder. This was the first time I’ve seen Nazi propoganda for sale in Asia, but later in the day I came across a man selling Nazi posters. I’ve only seen Nazi stuff for sale once before in Mexico. I’m not sure why it’s for sale in Indonesia as well.
That evening we take a flight to Surabaya.
We arrive at the airport and find tons of laughter as we describe to the taxi desk that we want to go to CitiHub hotel. Our taxi driver also laughs, motions to me to get into a cab, then breaks out into fits of laughter again as I try to get into that cab and he points me to another.
CitiHub hotel is the first where we don’t find towels, and afterwards no other hotels in Indonesia offer towels or soap. I’m not sure why — do most Indonesians travel with their own towels and soap — or is this just a way to save money?
August 13, 2014. Surabaya to Probolingo, Indonesia.
Right next to the Surabaya airport is a bus station, and if you walk around back the men are actually helpful. Each bus has destinations written on a board out front. Get on the right bus, pick a seat, and pay some cash once the bus takes off. Our four hour ride from Surabaya to Probolingo costs only $5 each.
At intervals men jump in the back door of the bus and walk through selling flowers, drinks, noodles, egg rolls, and fruit. A mile or so later the jump out the back, cross the street, and wait for another bus heading the opposite direction. Some of them seem genuinely surprised that we don’t want to buy anything. Others laugh when we buy food and watch our reactions as we eat it. My friend Chris mimes the best meal he’s ever had: cramming his egg roll into his mouth, spilling it on his face and laughing and getting the whole group of locals around us laughing at the westerner eating their food.
In Probolingo we get dropped off at the wrong place, a tour shop that wants to sell us a ride up to Mt. Bromo. We spend 45 minutes looking for the real bus station before going back to another tour shop and booking a tour. At our estimate we spend only $10-20 more booking a three day package tour up Mt. Bromo and to the Ijen Volcano. It’s $100 for meals, transportation, park entry fee, and lodging.
August 14, 2014. Mount Bromo.
We wake up at 3:30 in the morning at what’s maybe my favorite lodge I’ve ever visited. The crisp morning air up near Mount Bromo is a fantastic feeling after months of burning South East Asia heat.
We take jeeps to Mount Bromo for sunrise. The jeep winds through the hills and then takes 30 minutes to find parking. The crowds are like nothing I’ve ever seen. Hundreds of people milling unable to see the mountain at all and another hundred fiercely guarding territory up on railings that lets them see the sunrise, not letting anyone else get a view, and snapping selfies and picture withs with their iPhones and Androids.
At this point I’m a little disgusted with tourism. We paid a ton of money to get here, including $20 for park entry, but there’s no way to even see the sunrise. I shoot pictures of the people standing around for a while. I think that maybe the best view I get will be through someone’s legs.
Finally I get aggressive and push my way to the front. Almost by accident I end up in the extreme front, next to a German photographer who gets a little rude until he sees the Leica and then makes some space for me to take pictures. We talk about photography for a minute, he tells me he’s new at this, and I suggest that f/11 is too high and he could be shooting just fine at f/8.
I get the best landscapes from this trip so far, maybe ever. I’m very fortunate to have caught the mountain right in the best light. I take perhaps 10 exposures, 1-8 seconds each, and then clear out so someone else can get a decent sunrise shot. Everyone else seems fixed in location, someone fixated on taking in the view and snapping selfies until no one else can appreciate it. I find it frustrating again.
After sunrise we descend Bromo and go right up to the volcano. It smells terrible at the top and is filled with garbage, but I like the view.
August 15, 2014. Ijen and Arabica.
What we didn’t know was how bad the meals could be. Our breakfast the morning of the Ijen volcano was two pieces of wonder bread, margarine, chocolate sprinkles, and a hard boiled egg. This sounds like a first world problem — but when you’re stuck in the wilderness with no food to buy getting a 300 calorie breakfast is a letdown.
The local coffee in Indonesia is strange. It’s just finely ground coffee beans mixed into boiling water. Every cup has a thick sludge of grounds at the bottom that you can swallow by accident.
The fog on the hike down is incredible.
It was a very long day. We woke up at 12:30 am, saw the Ijen volcano, then took the bus an hour and a half down to a boat port. Took a boat from Java to Bali then a four hour bus ride across Bali to Denpasar.
August 16-18, 2014. Bali Indonesia.
We relax. I write, we swim in the ocean. We catch up on sleep. We try three different hotels: $28/night, $15/night, and finally $9/night. It’s good to be somewhere developed again. I haven’t taken a picture in several days.