Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia – Tomorrow morning, I’ll be flying out of Indonesia’s second largest city marking an end to my 9-day trip in this unforgettable country. I have read many good things about Indonesia even before I started planning the trip but nothing could have prepared me for what waits in Java. Like the tasty Nasi Goreng, my experience was a mixture of many things: good memories, unpleasant incidents, and new experiences all held together by the universality of human kindness. Take this case for example: On a public bus ride from Situbondo to Surabaya yesterday, I asked the bus conductor how much I should pay. Not understanding his reply, I handed over IDR 100,000 and relied on his honesty to give me the right change – I received IDR 15,000. I mentally converted the fare to PHP and it seemed correct for a six-hour bus ride in the Philippines. I smiled and said “Terima Kasih”. After what seemed like five seconds, the guy sitting beside me, a member of the Indonesian Marine Corps asked the bus conductor in a calm but assertive voice how much change he gave me. I was floored when the bus conductor handed me an additional IDR 50,000.
Just like that, and I had someone to converse with until we reached Mlandingan .
While it is true that I met some not-so-good people, who tried to take advantage of my relative ignorance, they could never tarnish the positive image of Indonesia in my mind. If anything, they only made me a smarter traveler.
So, here are the seven reasons (in no particular order) why I’ll never forget Indonesia:
1) The Sunrise in Mt. Bromo. I will not say much except this: it is probably the best sunrise I have seen in my life, so far. This deserves a separate blog entry.
2) Experiencing the ‘art’ of
selling Batik. I always trust my instinct. And in this case, I was saved twice. The first near Taman Sari, and the second in Malioboro. The second one was more interesting as it involved five people in concerted effort trying to lure me into buying overpriced Batik Art – the master, three students and the friendly vendor.
While I was looking at souvenir items in a shop along Malioboro the friendly store attendant began asking where I came from, where I’ve been so far in Jogja and if I’ve heard of the Batik Art Exhibit which is on its last day in a nearby building. As soon as I entered the room, somebody offered me hot tea and asked which pieces I liked most. He informed me of the prices and said he would give me a ’last-day’ discount. I told him I don’t have money for Batik Art as it is not part of my travel plan (the same excuse I used in Taman Sari).At one point, he even suggested I use my ATM or Credit Card.
He got angry when I told him I’m already leaving.
Truth is, the Batik paintings in this exhibit are beautiful. There’s no way I could tell if they’re fake – but the hard selling technique is not my cup of tea.
3) Being asked by Indonesian students for photos in Taman Sari and Borobudur. Don’t laugh now. Just let me enjoy this fifteen minutes of fame (Haha.Kidding). I wouldn’t say I was surprised by this little oddity because I have read in one blog that students coming from other Indonesian provinces visiting Borobudur usually ask foreigners for photos with their group . Caucasians apparently, are the main target. I asked some of them if it is for school because they also tried to start conversations in English. Some of them said yes.
They would start pushing the ‘bravest’ one to approach you and ask for photos; or sometimes they would say in chorus “mister, photo-photo please?” You’ve guessed it right, I said ‘yes’ each time.
At one point, I also asked a group to use my phone (as proof of course!) – too bad, #4 happened.
4) I lost my phone in Teletubby Land. Somewhere in this beautiful landscape, I did not notice I dropped my phone. I never found it and I’m sure it was not stolen. This is a mistake I hope to never make again – I feel blind travelling without a smart phone. I had a backup which proved useless because I wasn’t able to bring the charger. Complete loser, I know.
5) Wildlife in Baluran. When I saw a blog post on Baluran, I never had to think twice about putting the National Park in my itinerary. Indonesians should be really proud to have a gem as beautiful as Baluran in their midst.
The girl-boy tandem from Besuki had a soaring performance. I didn’t understand the song but It was so good I had goosebumps.
6) Indonesian Bus Experience. As a Filipino, I thought nothing would surprise me anymore when it comes to buses. I was wrong. The public bus fare in Indonesia is very low (IDR 35,000 mentioned earlier) but it took more than six hours for the non-aircon vehicle to reach Surabaya from Situbondo. Almost one and a half hours of this was spent waiting for more passengers at various terminals along the way. Public buses I have tried in Indonesia operated in an ‘anything goes manner’ – feet on the chair, cigarette smoking (as the passenger next to you pleases), and overtaking while running at very high speed. But if there’s one thing that surprised me most, it is the succession of performers going in and out of the bus from one town to another bringing with them various musical instruments: guitars, ukulele, banjo, pvc pipe drums, and maracas. It was six hours of awe-inspiring, amusing, and sometimes downright irritating performances. I felt like an Indonesian Idol judge by the time we reached Surabaya – punctuated by an unforgetable ‘silent song’ from a deaf-mute performer in Paiton.
7) Blue Fire at Kawah Ijen. This is an out-of-this-world experience and deserves a post of its own. Along with the sunrise in Mt Bromo, I would consider this as the highlight of my trip to Java. I greeted a brand new day at the mouth of an active volcano with the sulfur miners. Indonesia and its more than 17,000 Islands has so much to offer. This ‘unforgettable’ list could easily reach 100 in no time: getting inside a Mosque for the first time, an indecent proposal while checking out at a hotel in Jogja, eating a hot Bakso one chilly evening at Cemoro Lawang, and so much more. For now, let’s have seven, if only because it’s my lucky number. 🙂