My recent trip to Indonesia was one of those trips in which you find yourself constantly saying, “well, that’s going in the blog!”
The whole trip, start to finish, was, as Yuko said rather dejectedly one day “like a big joke…” and she didn’t mean the kind where a Kiwi, an Aussie and a Japanese person walk into a bar.
It wasn’t that the whole experience was horrible—in fact I did have some great experiences—but we were lied to, scammed, cheated, harassed, pick pocketed, over charged, outright robbed, food poisoned and deprived of sleep enough times that the general feeling was that none of us would ever return to Indonesia ever, ever again.
So, as requested by my travel companions, I present “Indonesia: a comedy of errors. My top five list of best/worst stories”.
Read this with the understanding that I ate some excellent banana pancakes, had some good parties, saw some beautiful things and met some cool people. This post is not about those times.
Number one: The Magician
My real number one was Christmas morning, but that one deserved a blog all of its own, so here is my number one best/worst story from Indonesia!
Arriving in Kuta, our last stop in the journey, we were all out of money for various reasons, and needed to change more to pay for accommodation and other important things (beer).
Yuko and I walked down the street checking the various exchange rates with the yen, and when we found one that seemed decent, the man working there was quick to notice our interest and hustle us into the shop. In hindsight, one should probably never exchange money in an alley, but foresight doesn’t have that 20/20 vision.
I handed him my 10,000 yen note and he showed me the exchange rate and calculated how many rupiah I would get. It all looked good to me, so he pulled out the cash, and counted it out while I watched. He then gave it to me to count, which I did ever so carefully. He then took it back and counted it one last time before pushing it across the counter towards me and advising me to put it away.
Yuko then also handed him 10,00 yen and he repeated the process with her; calculated it, counted it, gave it to her to count, counted it again and gave it to her to put away.
Yuko, being a smart cookie, counted her money one more time and couldn’t get her numbers to match the ones on the calculator. She pointed out to the man that she was actually missing about 300,000 rupiah (almost 3000 yen).
He put up a weak argument, trying to convince her that she was wrong, but gave her the money quite quickly. While this was going on I started getting suspicious and decided it might be wise to recount my money.
I’m generally pretty bad with numbers, but even I count well enough to know when I’m 400,000 rupiah short. Somehow, this quick handed sheister had managed to swipe a bunch of notes off the pile and up his sleeve, or under the counter, even though we were watching him the whole time!
It was lucky that Yuko had triple checked her money, or we might both have been thoroughly ripped off.
We left the store feeling equal parts furious and impressed with his magician skills. If only he would use his powers for good not evil.
Number two: The Pond
In Gili Trawangan, another casualty of Lombok Tourist Information, we had been booked into the furthest accommodation from the town centre and beach, where the internet was sketchy, the breakfast was mouldy and the key was partially functioning. I slept on a mattress on the floor, with an ant colony for company, and the only water supply was salty, which made brushing our teeth kind of a flavor sensation. I also found the biggest gecko I’ve ever seen lying in wait for me outside our room.
None of this was a huge problem for me though; the real problem lay in the fact that access from all sides was through a pond courtesy of the twice-daily rainstorms (yes, we did know it was rainy season, thank you.) I guess they didn’t bother with drainage on the dirt roads that far into the island, and these murky, ankle deep ponds with unidentifiable objects floating about in them meant getting to and from town every day left us with wet, filthy feet and ankles and dirt flicked all the way up our backs.
It also meant there were lots of frogs about at night. Coming home very late from a party one night I stopped to look at them, and decided to pick one up.
I will never do that again.
Number three: The ‘Kind of Spice’
I was so excited for the food in Indonesia, but for the most part I was pretty underwhelmed. Most of the street or local warung (restaurant) food is pre-cooked and left sitting all day before being spooned out and served unheated, which made me dubious about eating it. My most memorable experience in Ubud was our first lunch from one such warung.
We were bright eyed and excited to be in Indonesia and we decided this place looked good to eat. We each selected a few spoonfuls from the bowls of unidentifiable food and sat down to eat. It was pretty good, and I was enjoying it until Yuko pointed to a corner of her plate said, “hey, is this a kind of spice?” I looked over at the spice in question to find that it had legs and a head. We decided that it probably hadn’t been added deliberately and probably shouldn’t be eaten.
I was pretty much done with that meal after that.
Number four: The Indonesian Bug
This one only affected me by proxy, in that it deprived me of my friends for a day or so, but in deference to their suffering I will include this in my list.
From as early as Boxing Day, Soeng had had an upset stomach, and she was joined on the 28th by Yuko. They weren’t incapacitated, but they were pretty uncomfortable, couldn’t go far from a bathroom, and couldn’t eat much of anything.
Yuko missed out on the snorkeling trip because she felt too unwell, and Soeng was a bit off right up until our return to Japan, meaning she rang in the new year in bed eating dry biscuits and feeling icky.
Based on #3, I will assume it was something they ate, but that didn’t stop me in my quest for spicy, delicious food.
Number five: The People
This is the most conflicting category in the list of ‘things that bummed us out in Indonesia’.
Indonesian people, by their nature, seem very chatty and smiley. A tattoo artist told Soeng that the reason Indonesian people look so young is that they laugh every day, and I think that’s true.
However, our first experience in Indonesia was being overcharged about 400 per cent by a taxi driver from the airport and this experience of being ripped off with a smirk unfortunately became an almost daily experience on our trip. Prices at street food stalls doubled because we were foreigners, we were taken on an expensive tour that included none of the entrance fees and involved us being coerced into buying an incredibly expensive lunch, and we were lied to about areas being in peak season so we would buy accommodation packages which left us paying twice the on-site rate for very bad accommodation in otherwise empty buildings.
On top of that was the not unexpected, but constant harassment by people on the street; not just beggars but shopkeepers, taxi drivers, restauranteers, men with scooters, women offering massages and hair braiding, and men sitting in doorways with nothing better to do than harass blonde tourists.
Most of these people were irritating but harmless, but while walking down the street in Kuta, three particularly aggressive ‘hawkers’ approached me and Soeng, cleverly separated us, and waved their ‘wares’, small packets of batteries, in her face. They were being very pushy, and I understood why when she burst out of the group of them clutching her phone, which one man had been working out of her pocket while the others distracted her.
Like I said at the beginning, I did have some great experiences–watching dolphins swim alongside our boat, snorkeling with a turtle, dancing on the beach at a full moon party, eating banana pancakes in the sun, showering in a waterfall on Lombok–but as the trip scribe I am contractually obliged to turn our bad experiences into something we can laugh about later.
After all, “a Kiwi, an Aussie and a Japanese girl walk into a bar in Bali” sounds like the beginning of a good joke to me.