We left Amsterdam on June 6th. Rounding up the first month since we left, we are about to move west from Bali (and Lombok) towards our final -rather large- island in Indonesia, Java (the hutt). We will be crossing Java from East to West towards Jakarta. I thought this was a good moment to share some of what we’ve gone through, thus far, in this new RTW travelers’ lifestyle.
Eat, Sleep, Move, Repeat – Some of the lessons learned
Great adventure until now, but it’s not all a bed of roses. Here some of the interesting lessons learned.
- It’s the first time that I’ve sleep under a mosquito net (canopy, I think is the name?). Some hostels/guesthouses have them, but we also brought our portable one. Big hit. For Sandra it has become almost an obsession, to make sure the seal is water tight. Any opening, even if it’s just to put one hand out to turn off the light, must be closed again in less than 0.3 seconds -that’s the current record-. Even if she is sleeping… she will somehow “feel” the opening and wake up to give me the evil eye.
– Managed to stealthily escape from her net –
- Our stomachs have been put to the test already a few times… not so much by the street food, but by sheets which had seen better days, bed bugs and toilet seats which hadn’t seen a cleaning product for a while. Great idea, to also have brought our “sleeping sacks” and our own microfiber towels.…. Luckily this has only happened in one (or two) of the 10 places we’ve slept in, so far, so the average hasn’t been too bad. We’ve also had very decent rooms. Part of the “finding the right balance between cost and quality” dilemma, I guess. We are learning.
- To make things even more interesting, in that same place (where the toilet was definitely very close to the septic tank), there were MANY ants and mosquitoes. Not having anything better, I sprayed a bit of our DEET repellent on them… and it kind of worked!… however -ok I might have over done it with the repellent- the smell was SO strong and toxic that we almost couldn’t sleep that night. Sandra was afraid she wouldn’t wake up anymore, because the eye drops she had just used would dissolve the toxic gases on her prickly eyes and make the toxins flow into her digestive system, guaranteeing a slow and painful death by DEET-poisoning. Opening the door or windows meant more of the filthy, malaria-carrying mosquitoes would fly in, so it was either the gas chamber or malaria. Tough night.
– but not necessarily foryastomach –
By the way, I’m writing these lines while staying at a four-star hotel. We decided that the first month abroad and the one or two not-so-great lodging experiences were good enough reasons to spoil/treat ourselves with a nice hotel for the weekend (not that a Saturday is any different than a Monday, nowadays, but it coincided)… buffet breakfast, gym, rooftop infinite swimming pool, good wifi, housekeeping service and not one single tiny mosquito! Much needed. We are squandering the insane amount of 38 Euro a night to stay here (price of one decent meal back in Amsterdam). The plastic in my credit card is almost melting. Life is good.
- As you can see, healthy food and higher quality lodging vs. keeping the budget under control…we haven’t fully figured that one out yet. Sandra is very keen on healthy eating… she looks at saturated fats, carbs and sugars with the same face she uses for mosquitoes (or when I open the canopy). Me, on the other side, could eat banana pancakes for breakfast and Nasi Goreng for lunch every day (that’s fried rice with vegetables, chicken and egg… the quintessential local specialty). That has triggered some interesting debates every now and then. We’ll get there, though, I’m sure.
- We also had our first Coachsurfing experience. Not the most positive one, unfortunately. Our host was one of the nicest Indonesian guys we’ve met so far. In his profile, however, he hadn’t included pictures of the toilet we had to share. Wasn’t the most comfortable situation. We only spent one night there, however had some good conversations, ate ultra-local food and made some music together. We even met at a bar the following night, after we had moved to a last-minute booked Airbnb room.
– Two different musical moments, first one in Jimbaran, second in Kuta Lombok –
- Lastly (in this short list) we both agree that packing and moving from one place to the next is probably the largest not-so-nice part of all this. We are slowly concluding that fewer than 3 nights in a place is not worth it. Ideally 5. It’s a bit too soon to be fully conclusive about this one though. Who knows, maybe we’ll get used to it.
Indonesia… one month of the good, the bad, the ugly, and the surprising
So far, we have stayed in only 9 different areas/cities of 4 of the thousand islands (is that where the name of the dressing comes from?) of this huge country. Not even close for us to claim that “we know Indonesia”. I can however say that it resembles our home country Peru quite a bit. It’s probably partly because of the third world status, which tends to come with that oh-so familiar chaos. Traffic, honking of cars, poverty, signs of cheap labor -easy to spot when you’ve grown up surrounded by them-, the fancier the place, the more security personnel at the door… the law of the jungle. But also some of the landscapes and even the people are very similar to those of our Peruvian rainforest. Many other things are radically different as well, of course. It’s a beautiful and interesting country. Can’t wait to explore Java.
– Waterfall in Lombok – Indonesia… or is it in Iquitos – Peru? –
Some nuggets of what we’ve lived and learned so far…
It’s not the idea to go through a laundry-list of our experiences. I think most of you would find that kind of reading rather boring. We’ve climbed a volcano, taken surf lessons, snorkeled, hiked to waterfalls, seen beautiful sunsets, explored beautiful beaches, enjoyed street food, driven a scooter in places where I wouldn’t take an ATV and rescued a baby turtle. You can borrow my diary for the details, anytime (good luck trying to understand my handwriting, though 😊 ). I’ll just mention, in no particular order, a few things/facts/thoughts that come to mind, that I believe are worth sharing…
– seen this new type of mask already?… doesn’t get much better than that –
We met Wayan, the healer from Eat-Pray-Love. The one and only. And she gave Sandra a full checkup. Interesting experience. Of course, Sandra spent the next 3 days thinking about all the not-so-good things Wayan had “found” in her. But it was just a diagnosis… the healing had a different price tag, as expected. I saw it coming and suggested Sandra NOT to have the checkup, but she really wanted it. And as my friend Alexandros says: “happy wife, happy life”… so there we went. I sat next to her and was officially appointed by Wayan as the note-taker. “Immune up and down…too much worry in your head, huh? …digestion so so…your uterus a bit hard… oh, when your mother was 4 months and 3 days pregnant with you, she and your father had problems”…All in all, quite a special character, Wayan. I’ll need to do some fact-checking with my in-laws, though.
- By the way, we’ve also come to learn that 80% of the population (that’s my exaggerated ballpark estimate) is called Wayan, which happens to mean “number 1 son”. Second and third are Made and Gede, respectively, so you hear those names quite often as well. I wonder how people get each other’s attention when they are in big groups. “Hey Wayan!!.. no, not you.. Wayan!… the other Wayan, skinny Wayan!.. no no, the one next to tall Wayan, behind red-shirt Wayan. Yes! Tell him Wayan is looking for him!”.
- Internet… internet speed is bad. Really bad. Bad as in making you wonder why you can’t hear the piiiiiiiiii….pffffuuuuuuu …trrrrrr tut-tuutt….tuuu… from the 14.4kbps modem. Successfully uploading a picture becomes a reason to celebrate.
- Ever heard about Indonesia having death penalty for drug-related stuff? Some people back in Amsterdam warned us about it. I was even afraid to walk next to a coffeeshop during my last days back home, in case the smell of weed would stick and then an evil Indonesian police-dog would jump on me right after clearing customs and I would spend my last days praying for forgiveness before a broadcast execution… Then we arrived to Gili Trawangan, the “Party Island” as they call it, and I thought my name had suddenly changed to “Mr. Mushroom”, as every 10 meters someone would offer us the magic fungi. And weed. And cocaine (ok, cocaine perhaps only every 20 meters). Mushroom Shake is the flagship cocktail of the Gili’s and you don’t need a secret key word, nor to know someone who knows someone. Bars offer it openly, with colorful smurf-houses and phrases like “don’t panic, it’s organic” decorating their billboards. Turned out to be no man’s land. Crazy. Who would be so stupid to take such a risk and try that green, extra-sweet, pineapple-flavored, tasty shake?
- If you read my last post (the one with the photos and thoughts about contrasts…), well, contrasts continue. Not only people openly offering mushrooms and weed with the sounds of the mosque calling to pray -and the thoughts of death penalty- as background, but also the many sexy bikinis -and even that one topless girl-, with women walking by in their burkas -and burkinis-, 10 meters behind. The tourist bubble and, one block behind the main street, the local reality.
– looks like we decided to stay right in the middle of 2 “zones” –
- Wine, we miss wine. I had no clue wine would be so scarce and -relatively- expensive here. The cheapest bottles you can find cost about 11-12 Euro a bottle, supermarket price. And it’s not precisely a 1988 Brunello di Montalcino. You can have dinner for two with that amount, beers included. We’ve bought two bottles in one month. *Sigh.
- We found it interesting to see 10 gazillion street dogs in Bali… and then in the Gili’s not one single dog, but 10 gazillion street cats! Wonder if we should bring the gazillion mice from Amsterdam and complete the food chain.
- There are so many, SO MANY, great landscapes, mountains, beaches, sunsets, fields, reefs, waterfalls, temples and many other “elements” you get to see, that it’s useless to try to write about it all. I guess I’ll have to post another set of pictures soon, to illustrate.
– one of many days with amazing sunset colors –
Biggest turn-off so far, by far, is the feeling that everything is about the tourists’ money. I’ve concluded that to work in tourism they need to learn about Boston Consulting Group’s matrix, with tourists placed high up in the “cash cows” quadrant. Gotta milk them while they last. At the beginning bargaining is an adventure, almost a game. How low can you go. Also not something we Peruvians are not used to. But over time you kind of get tired of it. And it’s “our” fault. I’ve seen many tourists giving tips in red bills, meaning 100,000 Rupiah. It’s true that it’s not even 10 Euro, but here it’s a lot of money, and locals in the tourism circles are getting used to it. And they get spoiled. It’s easy money.
There are prices for locals and prices for westerners -not necessarily explicitly- for almost everything. Most things don’t have labeled prices, and when you ask, you see the seller thinking for 1 or 2 seconds… you can almost read their minds “hmm…look at their clothes… they can probably pay more…”. You are asked which hotel you are staying in before getting a quote for a tour. With some products, prices can vary 300% and more from one block to the other…. Bottle of water… 4K here…10K there… Fresh coconut…10K here….35K there…bag of snacks… 2K for locals, 15K for tourists… for the same tour, we paid 300K (about 20 Euro)… others had paid 65USD. Want a nice Sarong from the market? This woman started asking 150K for it… I bought one for 20K, same quality.
Too much. Way too much. As a 2-week tourist it probably doesn’t matter too much. You might not even notice it or will think it’s just part of the experience. When you spend longer here and get to see what the locals pay for things, you just want to be treated fairly, at least to some extent.
We met Natalie, this lovely Australian woman with an awesome tattoo on her shoulder, at a healthy yoga café in Gili Trawangan. She had been in Bali some 20+ years ago and now didn’t dare going back. She was afraid to see what it had become. “What we have done with it”, were her words. I think you are right, Natalie. You’d probably be shocked.
– Some things are priceless and will never change, though. Ask the surfers. –
Yes, there’s plenty of great experiences we’ve had and places we’ve seen… however meeting people will always be for me one of the biggest highlights. Both locals -I’ll focus on the local people we’ve met in a future post- as well as other fellow travelers. It’s amazing how many stories can start with a “where are you from?”, asked across from your terrace in the guesthouse, across tables in a restaurant, in a shared shuttle bus before a trekking tour or in the middle of the beach after noticing that the couple next to you also speaks Spanish.
Being a “westerner” traveler in this part of the world automatically creates a common link … and two or more people who in Amsterdam, Paris or Lima would have never crossed words, in Bali can immediately become friends by association.
With some you’ll only exchange a few words, with some you’ll have a nice conversation that makes that bill already on the table wait for an extra hour, with others you’ll share a great experience, group pictures and perhaps exchange contact details which are never used again. But there will be some with whom you’ll immediately schedule a follow-up plan and then either regret that you chose a different island as a next destination or go out for drinks after coincidentally meeting again, one or two towns thereafter. In less than a month we’ve had examples of all those cases. And they all started with a “where are you guys from?”.
– Nice Cuban-Peruvian couple we met at Padangbai… too bad we had chosen different Gili Islands to go next-
And I’ll leave it there… I have many more thoughts (some already written) however this is turning out too long already. More to come.
– pen-pineapple-apple-pen –
– those scars on my shoulder are from my first close-encounter with the coral reef, btw –
Uluwatu, Bali – 7.Jul.2017