Saturday, June 30, 2012

Vacation Nightmare in Indonesia - Part 3

I headed to the north part of Bali with a view to escaping the noise, dirt, and hawkers to a black sand beach area with the promise of a possible dolphin watching trip.  The journey through the Bali started off by going through all the dirty and polluted areas but once we got into the forests in the central mountains the views started to become rather beautiful and I was treated to seeing a huge number of monkeys on the side of the road.  The monkeys were sitting on the road, playing around on the barriers and swinging through the trees, producing quite a unique experience.  The mountains were also a lot cooler making the journey far more pleasant than the first part of the trip.

I was heading to a place called Lovina beach, when I got there I checked into some accomodation and was amazed by what I got, a massive room with two beds for about 5 pounds a night.  I thought it was too good to be true and it turned out that it was.  Such a big place was easily accessed by a number of creatures, the most troublesome being the mosquitos, and I was hammered by them the first night.  More welcome guests were the Geckos.  They were the biggest I had ever seen and very colourful, fascinating little animals.  The problem with them, however, is that when I woke up in the morning I could see piles of their excrement all over the floor and sometimes on my bed.  The main problem with the room, though, were the beds, they had horrible mattresses that were uncomfortable and made me extremely hot.  The combination of an uncomfortable bed, a hot room, piles of poo, and mosquitoes made my two nights there far less pleasant than I had hoped.

I also discovered after booking the room that the trips to see the dolphins were all cancelled due to rough seas and my hotel was miles away from anywhere, the staff offered to give me a lift to the main part of town, but it was expensive.  This is what I discovered all over Bali; accomodation was cheap but transport wasn't especially taxis.  Something I knew all too well about a few days before, as I had to take a taxi from my first hostel to another over the other side of town. 

I made sure I got a reputable company that used a meter but this still didn't help me.  I was informed previously that the taxi drivers in Bali have no idea where anything is (one would have thought knowing your way around is a essential trait of a taxi driver), so I made sure I printed two maps with an address and telephone number.  I got in the taxi, told him the hostel name, which he didn't know.  I then showed him a map, which he worryingly squinted at moving it towards his eyes and then further away trying to focus (one would have thought good eye-sight is another essential trait of a taxi driver).  I told him it was near a Toyota garage on one of the main roads through Bali and he seemed to know it and we were on our way.  When we got near the vicinity of the place he was confused and asked me if it was the first or the second Toyota garage.  I showed him the map again, he pulled the car over, squinted again at the map and said that maybe it was further up.  I had an instinct that we had gone too far and told him to go back.  We passed the first Toyota garage again (there was no second) and he still didn't know where the hostel was.  He pulled over and looked at the map again and said he couldn't see well, so I asked him whether he had glasses, to which he responded with a eureka moment and pulled out a pair from the glove compartment, my blood was beginning to boil.  He then asked me, 'Do you know the area?'  To which I replied, 'strangely, no, I am not from Bali and I'm not a taxi driver.'  He then asked me to call the hostel, but I had no phone for Indonesia.  He then tried to use his phone, which was out of credit and didn't work.  I was starting to lose it with the guy as the meter ticked steadily higher, I sensed that he was not deliberately trying to swindle me, he was just incompetent.  I decided to take over all navigation issues completely and eventually we found the place, no thanks to my useless taxi driver.

With the knowledge of the uslessness of the taxi drivers and the expense of them fresh in my mind I decided to walk the 6 or 7 kilometres into town.  This was fine, but was hot, dusty, and dirty.  I eventually found my way to the beach front and the volcanic black sand made for a uniquely beautiful scene.  As I was enjoying the view I was approached by a woman who started a friendly conversation, asking me where I was from and why I was here.  Upon hearing that I was on vacation from South Korea she said that her daughter knew all the words to loads of Korean K-Pop songs, and generally she seemed a nice lady.  Unfortunately though, she was just another hawker.  She showed me to her merchandise and this time I was a little interested as she had done a particularly good job at buttering me up.  I lost interest as soon as she quoted her prices though, which she was reluctant to do and wanted to hear what I wanted to pay.  She wanted about 20 pounds for a head scarf, but the price soon dropped to 5 pounds.  At this point she lost me, as her original charm turned to pushiness.  By the time I had decided that I couldn't really justify spending much money anyway the price had dropped to just 1 pound, one-twentieth of the original asking price and she was chasing me down the street. 

With nothing else to do, I decided to head back to Java early and wait for a few days in Surabaya for my flight and not spend any more money.  After another horrible bus journey, which this time I dressed in warmer clothes for, only to find that they didn't use the air-conditioning this time and was unbearably hot for the whole trip, I arrived in the middle of the night in Surabaya.  Fortunately, I found an honest taxi driver, this was somewhat miraculous as I have learned that when money is involved in anything in Indonesia finding one is akin to finding an honest man in parliarment.  The taxi driver did have some difficulty finding the hostel though, but found it eventually. 

The hostel was great and served up a hearty breakfast as well as the accomodation for just 6 pounds a night.  I met some interesting people at the hostel, which included a very nice American couple doing a around the world trip as part of their honeymoon and a rock climbling, perpetual traveller, who had already been travelling for 3 years and was not planning on stopping any time soon.

I had been really hot for days starting with the uncomfortably hot hotel in Lovina beach and Surabaya was no better.  Their was a gym not far away (apparently) so I decided to walk there and do a workout as I had some time to kill.  What I didn't realise was all those itches I had on my body that I thought were from mosquito bites from Lovina were actually the beginnings of heat rash.  After I had walked two kilometres to the gym and done a workout I discovered, to my horror in the shower mirror, that I had raised red blotches all over my body.  All the dust, dirt, heat, and sweating had blocked my pores causing the rash.  I spent the next two days inside the hostel having cold showers every hour or so and drying myself by standing naked in front of a fan.  Going outside in the oppressive heat was out of the question.

Finally, it was time to go home and I wondered whether anything else was going to go wrong, I really did just want to be home to Korea and see my wife, but Indonesia had one more nasty surprise up its sleeve.

I arrived extremely early for my flight as I was so keen to leave, but they didn't start checking in until about an hour before, much to my annoyance.  When I got to the check in desk, the man checking in got in some confusion about my Korean visa.  On my visa is has a part that says, 'Final entry date.'  This is 3 months after I applied for the visa in England and is the last date I can enter the country for the FIRST time, the visa itself, however, is a one year visa, which it clearly states.  So confused with this and not willing to take my word for it, he called his supervisor.  She didn't believe me either and started making a bit of a fuss about it. 

What I couldn't understand it that I could enter Korea as a tourist even if my visa was out of date, but they wouldn't accept this either.  Numerous calls to Airasia officials in Kuala Lumpur and 45 minutes later they were saying that I could not board the flight.  I was having a serious panic at this point, as the stubborn and ignorant woman was explaining to me that I would have to apply for another Korean visa from Indonesia and apply for an extension of my Indonesia tourist visa also.  I also had to be back to work the next week as well of being truly sick of Indonesia. 

10 minutes to go until the flight was supposed to leave and I was in a back room of the airport pleading my case with this dumbass woman, who I increasingly felt was also being dishonest with me.  She then categorically stated that I would not be getting on the flight, to which I shouted and screamed in massive frustration.  Showing her my Korean alien card made no difference, as she said the date on it could be almost anything, and not necessarily the validity of it, as she couldn't read Korean.

I was now slumped in front of customs 5 minutes after the flight was supposed to leave and holding my head in my hands, this was a nightmare.  In the depths of despair, however, I was thrown a life-line.  The flight was being held up for a Korean woman and her daughter, who was half-Korean and half-Indonesian, because of problems with their baggage.  Her daughter spoke perfect English and Indonesian.  I explained my situation to them and they explained the alien card and the visa to the horrible Airasia woman, who then brought all of us to a backroom again to make more phone calls.  It was impossible for her to be dishonest about the situation now as I had Indonesian speakers with me, and with a quick phone call and more help from the Korean mother and daughter, I was back on the flight.

It was now 25 minutes after the scheduled flight time so we ran through customs and to the departure gate and hastily boarded the airplane.  I thanked the two of them again and again, and I think they were quite amused with what a state I was in, I just wanted to be out of Indonesia and I was so relieved to be on the flight.  They would later inform me that if I had offered the Airasia woman some money she probably would have let me on the flight.  They said, 'This is Indonesia!'

It took me a good hour to calm down on the flight, as my blood pressure must have been soaring through the roof.  I began reflecting on what had been a terrible vacation, relaxing it certainly wasn't but I did experience some real culture both at the volunteer camp and in general.  One of the things to realise about experiencing a different culture, however, as I have learned in Korea, is that you are not always going to like it.  Indonesia's culture, I had discovered, was not to my liking at all.  I had been educated but now I was happy to be escaping my nightmare vacation in Indonesia.


  1. I admit I didn't read every word you've written (I'm still at work, will read thoroughly later but can't wait to comment =P) but knowing that Indonesia didn't leave you a good impression somehow made me sad. I'm a tour guide so I feel that it's my job to show people, especially foreigners, how impressive Indonesia can be. I honestly don't know how it feels like to travel to other countries as I've never left Indonesia since I was born so I understand that some things that are very common to Indonesian people might seem like major disaster for foreigners. That river thing? Trust me that it's nothing unusual here for people who live near/on the river to use the water to do dishes and wash their clothes while doing the small and big businesses there. Yes, all goes in the same river but that doesn't mean the locals are dirty. I was actually a bit hurt when my recent guests showed their disgust when I told them that fact. I have to remind myself every single time that these people come from very different cultures to prevent myself from being completely offended.
    Anyway, I hope that won't be the last time you come to Indonesia. From a host's point of view, anything can go wrong at any time. You may experience bad things at one time but it doesn't mean it's going to be like that all the time. Plus, Indonesia's cultures are very diverse. What you find at one place won't be found at another place. Give it a try. Go to another part of Indonesia. Sometimes non-touristy places offer a better experience. =)

    1. I know what you are saying and I partly regret being so harsh on Indonesia in these blog posts. I just had a bit of a rotten time there that's all and this was me reporting on it. I am sure there are great people in Indonesia and wonderful experiences to be had.

      I do feel that Indonesia is a place worth visiting but there is an attitude present in the country that is counter-productive to encouraging visitors to go there and spend money. I spent half my time in a non-touristy area doing volunteer work and half in Bali. The thing both had in common was poor organisation and it was so poor it felt like scamming; a willingness to take my money without really giving any thought to the service or experience that was being offered to me. I understand I will be seen as a rich man whilst many around me are poorer, but when you feel like people are scamming you 24/7 you start to lose sympathy and I think that was what happened to me. I got sick and tired of paying for something and having a poor service, a debate over the price, being short-changed, or simply being told that they had no change at all. It all culminated in me almost not being let onto my plane home and I got the distinct impression that a couple of hundred dollars might have helped get me on the plane. Fortunately, I got lucky with a Korean passenger having problems with their luggage at the same time.

  2. bad experience in Indonesia, makes you so hate with Indonesia and forget the positive side of Indoneisa. representing the people of Indonesia, I apologize profusely to you.