Saturday, June 23, 2012

Vacation Nightmare in Indonesia Part 2

I had left the conservation centre, and to their credit they did make sure that I was safely booked into a hostel in Malang.  I now had to figure out what I was going to do for the rest of the trip.  I had two weeks without much of a plan, except for one place that I wanted to go and that was Mt Bromo, which was part of a string of volcanoes not far from Malang. 

Before visiting Mt Bromo, I decided to explore Malang city with a couple of fellow Westerners from the hostel I was staying at, one from Germany and the other from Switzerland.  The place was pretty grim and was also a place I didn't fancy walking around very much at night.  During the day, all day, it was incredibly busy.  Mototrbikes were everywhere and the noise pollution and the actual pollution, along with the general filth of the place and the heat made the general atmosphere oppressive and uncomfortable. 

The one plus point about the place was that it was extremely cheap and a person could easily have breakfast, lunch, and dinner for about 2 or 3 pounds a day.  All you had to do was stand your ground when the locals would, not so subtly, try and rip you off.  At dinner in one restaurant, I was handed a menu that had prices on and ordered from it.  When it came to pay, the cashier tried to charge us five times what it said on the menu.  When I pointed at the menu he pointed at the most expensive dish on the menu and said that we ordered five of these.  In possibly the worst attempt at a swindle ever, I explained to him that there were only three of us and that there were only three plates on the table, and even if we had ordered what he said we did the total he calculated was still too expensive.  I gave him the look of a professional tight-arse and I think he realised that I was not going to budge and agreed to the amount I wanted to pay.  This wasn't a one-off, every single time a monetary transaction was made there was confusion over the bill.  They either charged too much, didn't have any change, gave the wrong change, or didn't know how much to charge.  Believe me when I write this, it was EVERY TIME I paid without fail.  After one day I had had enough but I still had two more weeks of this.

It is an interesting state of affairs when upon doing a little sightseeing around a city you simply can't bring yourself to take any pictures, this was the situation in Malang.  Most of it was so disgusting and horrible I couldn't bring myself to take the camera out of the bag.  I wished I had taken pictures of the animal market we visited just so it could help to explain the absolute horror of the place.  Animals of almost every kind were packed into small cages to be sold as pets or meat.  All of the animals were miserable and visibly suffering, and some even looked diseased and on the brink of death.  The animals included; many kinds of tropical birds, bats, owls, insects, dogs, cats, lizards, snakes, goats, several kinds of rodents, and the odd monkey.  The scene was distressing, I just couldn't take a picture of it, I didn't want to appear like an interested tourist.

Everywhere you went you could see a cage at someone's front door with a beautiful tropical bird in it.  So beautiful a creature in a tiny cage, I was dumbfounded as to what the owners got out of it.  Why did they keep animals like this, why not just let them go?  Did it make such a big difference to their lives?

Even in such a dire and seemingly poor city, there were the usual signs of big business; KFC, McDonalds, numerous car garages and shopping malls.  But walk a block or two in any direction and you could see the city slums not too far away and usually sitting beside the river.  You could normally smell them before you saw them, and I shudder to think just what was flushed into the river everyday.  Despite what inevitably ended up in the river, you could still see people washing themselves and their clothes in it.  What a way to live, and a real eye-opener of just how fortunate we all are.  No wonder everyone was trying to rip me off if they had to go home to that everyday.

Above: A slum area of Malang, quite a flattering picture, but I can assure you it wasn't good.
Another little bonus about Malang was that the hostel I stayed at was great, cheap, and with a nice breakfast every morning.  I also managed to arrange a trip to Mt Bromo with some others from the hostel, which inevitably there was some confusion about paying for, but all in all the trip was probably the only success story of the whole trip to Indonesia.  Mt Bromo was amazing and I was incredibly lucky on the day, as it was the wet season and had rained a lot on previous days.  The views of the volcanoes were extraordinary and we ended the trip with a visit to a waterfall near the volcanoes about an hour away, which was incredible, like something out of an Indiana Jones movie and my pictures didn't do it justice.  Another huge bonus of the trip is that the volcano was not busy with tourists and no one at all was at the waterfall, it felt like an untouched wonder of the world, just what I was looking for.

The area around Mt Bromo was so vast it was truly awe-inspiring and the climb up to one of the craters was made harder by the fact it was standing at about 3000 metres, just high enough to feel the effects of the altitude.

At the base of two of the volcanoes was a hindu temple, quite possibly one of the most precarious of buildings, as Mt Semeru, the highest and most active of the volcanoes, erupted volcanic ash regularly.  This could be seen as the steps up to the crater were dug out shortly before we arrived a few weeks earlier after they had been buried in 6 feet of ash.

There were hawkers present as usual, but they couldn't spoil anything for me and I was fit enough not to require a donkey ride or anything.  However, we were running late and on the way back we decided to catch a lift with some of the scooter riders who were offering their services, for a price, back to our driver, who was waiting for us lower down.

To fit in the trip to Mt Bromo in the best possible weather we had to leave the hostel at 1am.  Because of this we were shattered when we had finished looking around the volcanoes but I was determined to still go to the waterfall as I was told it was so beautiful.  Sure enough, even after about an hour hiking along a stream through the jungle, it didn't disappoint.

 The whole trip was awesome, it was a combination of an alien-like world at the top where the volcanoes were, harsh jungle, and beautiful scenery.  I had made the right decision to leave the conservation centre and I still had the wonders of Bali to come, as this was next on my list of places to visit.  Bali, however, was to prove a huge disappointment.

To get to Bali I had to suffer a 15 hour bus trip along some of the worst roads imaginable and with drivers worse than those even in South Korea (hard to believe, but true).  I had already been introduced to the horrors of driving in Indonesia when I was in the frontseat on the drive to Mt Bromo the day previous.  It was best just to close your eyes and try and forget about what was going on in front of you on the road, so I tried to get some sleep on the bus.  Unfortunately, the Indonesians had other ideas.  Immediately upon entering the bus I was greeted with thunderous and terrible music blasted out over the speakers.  After half an hour they switched this off to play something on the TV, 'great' I thought, thinking that it might be a western movie as they appeared popular in Indonesia.  It wasn't, but they did play the loudest, most obnoxious, irritating, and unfunny Indonesian comedy, which at regular intervals included a high-pitched squeal of a laugh by one of its main characters.  Impossible to sleep through.  It seemed as if there was a plan to keep everyone awake until a particular time and then everyone would sleep at the same time.  I wouldn't put this past them, as it was quite clear by the noise pumped out through the speakers in the towns and villages that everyone had to wake up at 4 in the morning to pray, regardless of if they were Muslim or wanted to or not.  To make things worse I had worn minimal clothing anticipating a hot and sticky bus trip, however the bus driver turned the air conditioning on full blast the whole journey.  Even for someone like me, who is always hot, it was like travelling in a fridge.  The poor German girl next to me was curled up with about 4 layers on and was still cold.  My seat was also broken and wouldn't stay in its upright position but constantly slid back into the fully reclined position.  15 hours of sitting like this did nothing for my back, which was shot to pieces by the end.

On arrival in Bali, we were immediately pestered by taxi drivers with 5 or 6 of them shouting prices at us upon leaving the bus.  After 15 hours of freezing cold and an uncomfortable seat I was really not in the mood for this.  I did eventually decide on a driver at a reasonable price and finally got to our hostel and had the usual confusion paying at the end.  The hostel was great, with very clean and comfortable dorms and I went to sleep immediately and woke later in the afternoon looking forward to a stroll along the beach.

I was told directions to the beach, 10 minutes away so I thought I'd watch the sunset and relax.  I found my way to the beach, but relaxing and beautiful it wasn't.  There was trash everywhere, it was dirty and disgusting (better beaches could be found anywhere in England).  In fact this was not just confined to the beach, the whole island was dirty, smelly and disgusting.  I didn't want to stay in this area for very long, but before I left I went on a trip to see some monkeys and go to a famous hindu temple by the sea.  The temple was nothing special, but for some strange reason lots of Indonesian people wanted to take photos with me.  One girl even went cheek to cheek with me, resting her chin on my shoulder and hugging me posing for a photo, just as well my wife wasn't there, she might have punched her in the face.  I must have had 7 or 8 requests for photos, it was as if I reminded them of a movie star or something.  The excursion to the monkey forest was much more enjoyable, however, as the monkeys were charming and surprisingly well behaved, as I did hear some horror stories of them stealing people's sunglasses and cameras but they were very nice with me.

There was another thing really bothering me about Bali, Hawkers.  They were everywhere trying to sell you all sorts of exactly the same naff things.  I moved out of the nice hostel and relocated to another part of the island to see if matters would improve.  They didn't.  It was just as dirty over the other side of the island, but at least I found a nice beach front.  I took a stroll along it for a few kilometres one day, I could see many more expensive hotels just set back from the beach with a lot of beach-side restaurants.  It was all quite pleasant and peaceful but for the constant annoyance from the hawkers.  'Foot massage, sir?' 'Pedicure, sir?' 'Snorkelling?' 'Kite?' 'T-shirt?' 'Radio-controlled car?' 'Sunglasses?' 'Pirate kite?'  The list of things went on and on, I couldn't walk for two minutes without being pestered by someone.  It was all cheap tat too, nothing worth buying and if I did want to buy something I had to go through all of the hassle of bartering them down from a stupidly over-inflated price because of the fact I had white skin.  I just couldn't be bothered with it.  Sometimes people would come along and seem like they wanted just a friendly conversation with me, asking some questions about where I was from and why I came to Bali.  This happened on many occasions and I gave all of them the benefit of the doubt that they were just being curious and friendly, so had a conversation with them.  Every single one of them used the friendliness to try and blackmail me into buying some of their rubbish, however, which was very depressing after a while.  I had gotten used to Korean people coming up to me and talking, but they do it with genuine interest in you and a desire to be friendly and welcoming.  This was something I took for granted living in Korea and now because of my experiences talking with Indonesian people I have much more time and affection for people that do take an interest in me in Korea and I make sure I chat with them a little more and show a little patience.

I noticed a couple getting married on the beach, with some traditional Indonesian style dancing going on to celebrate it, which I suppose was quite nice.  I think they were a British couple, I didn't hear them speak but they just looked British.  The groom was a normal looking guy and quite slim, his bride would not have looked out of place lying on the beach with a colony of elephant seals I was watching on the TV a couple of hours beforehand, she was huge.  I Felt sorry for the guy, terrible place to get married and with a whale of a wife.  Though it made me feel better about myself and my miserable vacation.

Bali was such a disappointment, I had even lost enthusiasm to do anything at all.  I had planned on doing a dive or two there, but reasoned that it would probably be as disappointing as everything else was and decided to save my money.  I needed to get out of the busy, smelly streets and get away from the hawkers and go somewhere peaceful so I headed north, which was also on my way back to Java, where I needed to go to get my flight back home.  Things, however, continued to take a turn for the worse.

Final part next week.

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