Go back to: Dave's Newsletters or to Dave & Whit's Page
Australia and Indonesia
June 10, 1991
Another computer letter! Oh, joy. This time Iím at the YMCA in Singapore.
After Surferís Paradise, which was where I wrote the last letter, Australia did get more interesting. A group of people rented a 4-wheel drive Jeep for three days and went to Frasier Island, the largest sand island in the world. Surprisingly we survived the trip without loss of life, no thanks to the efforts of an American girl who insisted on driving even though she didnít know how to drive a clutch. I got separated from Rick, who Iíd been traveling with for a long time, but expected to meet up with him in a week or so, but I fell further behind schedule and that didnít happen. I went on a three-day sailing trip in the Whitsunday Islands, and also went river rafting on the Tully River.
The real highlight of Australia was a one week scuba-diving trip on the Great Barrier Reef. The boat was really plush, with a great stereo system and good CDís, a TV and VCR, great food and a really fun crew. The diving was great, too. We saw six foot moray eels, reef sharks (apparently harmless), huge potato cod, barracuda, giant clams about six feet across and giant manta rays.
The first time we saw the manta rays our divemaster jumped in and swam with them because they can be quite playful. He showed us a video of people in Mexico hanging on to the rays as they were pulled through the water. So, the next day when they were spotted again, the first thing I did was grab my masks, fins and snorkel. I was the only one who jumped in, and I swam pretty hard to catch the rays. There were two in the water, though I only saw one. I caught up to him, and he was big, about 10 feet across, and 15 feet under the surface. The people on the boat said the other one was "twice as big." They do get to be 23 feet across. I followed him for a bit, and after I caught my breath I decided to go for it. I took a big breath and dove down towards him. I was so excited my heart was just pounding. I got literally inches from touching his back when he just fluttered his wings, and took off like the Starship Enterprise. It was unbelievable how fast he moved. I spent the next two days watching the surface, hoping to see them again, but we never did.
I flew from Cairns, Australia (pronounced CANS, for some reason), to Sydney and stayed again with my friend Mike, from Canada. We went on a short camping trip where we had kangaroos in our campground. Thatís a first for me. I left Australia soon after, having spent 10 weeks there, two more than planned. After being in New Zealand for three weeks longer than planned, I was now five weeks over. RULE #1: No matter how late you are, always stay longer than you are supposed to.
In the first week of April I flew from Sydney to Bali, Indonesia. Indonesia is a fascinating place. I had no idea that the population of the country is 190 million people, the fifth most populous country in the world, after China, India, USSR, and USA. Every island has its own culture and language. One island I was on had four languages, and another is supposed to have 50. There are 14,000 islands total, 6,000 of which are inhabited. The official language, and the one nearly everyone speaks, is Bahasa Indonesian, a pretty simple language to learn. It has some interesting ways of creating words. MATA is "eye", HARI is "day," and MATA HARI , eye of the day, is "sun." RUMAH is "house," MAKAN if fool, and RUMAH MAKAN, house of food, is "restaurant." My favorite though is that SAKIT means "pain." RUMAH SAKIT, or house of pain, is "hospital." SAKIT also means sick, but from what Iíve heard, house of pain is more descriptive. I had a guy give me directions to the big hotel where American Express is, by saying "you canít miss the building, itís the only one taller than the coconut trees."
Do I seem kind of relaxed, kind of laid-back, maybe a little cleaner than before? Maybe itís because I just had my first hot shower in TWO MONTHS! The Indonesian excuse for a bathroom is a flat porcelain hole for a toilet, and a tiled or concrete tank full of cold water (which you ladle over your head with a bucket) for a shower. Itís called a mandi. Sounds barbaric, but itís surprisingly nice. I got to the point where if I stayed in a place with a shower, I would opt for the mandi instead. If the weather outside is unbearably hot, the water can be a comfortable temperature, but usually itís pretty cold, and at high elevation it can be painful. The coldest one I took was at the base of a volcano, maybe 4,500 feet elevation, and my scalp hurt! I didnít have one hot shower the whole two months in Indonesia.
Iíd been in Bali for three days, and who do I see walking down the street, but Rick. He was recovering from malaria, which heíd contracted on Lombok, where I was going later. I hadnít seen him for about a month, since Australia, and didnít even know heíd be here. Weíd run into each other in Sydney pretty much the same way. We rented motorcycles in Bali for a week and drove all around the island, and had a great time. When I applied for the motorcycle license, the form that asked for passport #, etc., also had a space that said "When you ride your motorcycle, do you promise to always wear long pants and dress nicely?", at which point you have to write in "YES". They are very conservative about dress.
Rick and I went scuba-diving off Bali on a U.S. warship sunk in WWII by the Japanese. It was a beautiful dive. We also tried a lot of the culinary delights of Bali. I donít want to get too explicit, but I will say that the term "good dog" takes on a whole new meaning for me now.
Rick was heading another direction, so we said goodbye again, but made tentative plans to meet in Thailand. I saw a Hindu cremation in Bali that was really dramatic. When someone dies they have a small funeral for him, then save money, sometimes for years, and have a big cremation. This man was wealthy, so the cremation was pretty elaborate. They built a large platform out of bamboo poles lashed together, about 15í wide and 20í long, with a tower in the center where the body rests. It takes about 20 people to carry it, and they wildly careen about the streets, going the wrong direction and spinning circles in order to confuse the spirits so they wonít be able to return to earth. Part of the ritual was people throwing water on the men carrying the platform, and I saw one guy in an absolute frenzy scooping water out of a canal and throwing it on them. He acted like he was possessed. It was obvious that the locals took the occasion seriously. They put the platform in a temple, and after a ceremony, poured fuel on it and ignited it. Unfortunately the casket burns before its contents, so when the body dropped onto the fire I thought it was a good time to leave (after taking a picture).
I flew from Bali to the island of Flores, which is much less touristed. I knew Mike from Sydney would be in the area, but was surprised and happy to find that he was staying two doors away in the same losmen (hotel) as me. We traveled together for the next six weeks. The bus rides in Flores are unbelievably bad. Really crowded, everyone smoking, and the roads are an incredibly windy collection of potholes. The buses average 12 mph over an eight hour trip. One bus was so crowded, there were five people in the front seat, including one to the right of the driver! (They drive on the left, so the driver sits on the right.)
On the second bus we took, we got a flat tire in the first 10 minutes. They pulled the wheel off, took the tire off the wheel, and patched it right there on the road. There was not even a hint of tread on the tire, so when it began smoking half an hour later, we assumed it had to do with the bad tire. When the bus stopped in the middle of the road 10 minutes after that, we found that the axle had come loose from the bus and the wheels on that side had slid out about a foot. You could see the gearing on the differential. I figure it had another six inches or a foot before the whole wheel assembly on the side fell off. The fact that there was a 200í hill (cliff?) right next to us didnít seem to alarm the other passengers. They all just got out and sat on the road, watching the repair, like it was the most normal thing in the world. A local man summed up their attitude about it when he said to me, "Sometimes this happens." After an amazing repair job which included trying to stick mud in a hydraulic jack to stop it from leaking (unsuccessfully), the axle was fixed in about an hour and a half. I watched the repair with more than a casual interest. I wanted to have some confidence that it wouldnít slide off again. And, two hours later, the axle was smoking up a storm, but was still attached to the rest of the bus.
Mike and I did a lot of walking through small villages, and the people run out of their houses just to look at you. They are really friendly, always smiling. The only English most of them know is "Hello, Mister," which comes out more like "Hallo Mestair-r-r-r!" with a rolling Ďrí at. the end. If I had a dollar for every time, I heard that I could retire. One group of kids asked if we wanted coconut, and when we said we did, this kid scampers up a 35í coconut tree like it was nothing. He started up a smaller one, but decided it wouldnít be as good a picture, so he went up the bigger one. After the coconut milk (which is great) they asked if we wanted to play volleyball. When we said yes, they went nuts. The whole village came out and watched. We had a great time.
I should mention how inexpensive things are. An expensive room will cost $2.50 each including breakfast, while the cheapest cost $.90. A four hour ferry costs $2, a great banana pancake $.50, a big meal $2. I averaged $14 per day, but you could get away with a lot less. One place cost $2.50 for the room and three meals!
From Flores a group of 17 travelers chartered two boats to Lombok, via Kimodo Island, home of the Kimodo dragons. There were a Danish family of five (who were traveling around the world for a year!), a Swiss, a German, an American girl, and the rest English. English people have a funny sense of humor. "My dog doesnít have a nose." "How does he smell?" "Bloody awful." The seven day trip cost $50, including all meals. Conditions were not exactly plush, like my last boat trip. The toilet was a hole in the floor at the back of the boat. We slept on the wood deck or on the beach, and did a lot of snorkeling. At one island where we stayed the night, our boat crew announced they were going to catch a goat for dinner, but they needed help. Having always been interested in stupid ideas, I volunteered and mustered the others. We had no weapons other than rocks to throw and our cunning. Like I said, no weapons. The hills on this island were so steep and rocky, you could hardly walk. Unbelievably, our guides werenít wearing shoes. Have you ever tried even getting close to a wild goat, much less catching one? You canít get within 150 yards of them. I still wonder whether a goat has ever been caught by that method. I think not, they just keep hopping. That fried rice for dinner, AGAIN, was just a little boring.
Our stop at Kimodo island was interesting. The dragons get to be 12 feet long and weigh 300 pounds. As we walked we came across a group of Japanese tourists whoíd been treed by a charging dragon. Theyíd gone ahead without a guide, and had to wait to be rescued. We watched the dragons devour a goat. They swallow pieces of it whole, and when. they are done there isnít a scrap left. No bones, no hair, nothing. Every once in a while, people are reported missing on the island. After seeing this display, you could imagine why theyíre never found.
.We arrived at the island of Lombok, and after seven days of fried rice and fried noodles on the boat I couldnít get enough to eat. It was heaven. Mike and I rented motorcycles and had a really good time, going to villages that rarely see tourists. We stopped at a market, and 50 people gathered around just to look at us. They donít say much, even to each other, but they are content to stand there and look at you for the longest time. Itís fun, but it can get kind of tiring, always being on display. I had developed a cough in Bali that kept getting worse, so I went to the emergency room at a hospital. The nurses wear the traditional white outfits, but with thongs. The doctor charged me $2.50 for the visit and gave me some medicine that cleared up the cough.
Itís funny how you adjust to local customs and prices. Bargaining is part of everyday life, and you have to play the game if you want to pay the right price. Mike and I wanted to catch a bus back to our losmen, about three miles. The driver said, that will be ten cents. We said, no way, the standard fare is seven and a half cents. He wouldnít budge, so we walked for half an hour until we got a ride for seven and a half cents. Yup, Iím pretty proud of saving that two and a half cents. I think Iíll sock it away towards my next trip.
Had to cross Bali again on the way to the island of Java. With 60% of Indonesiaís population, there are 100 million people on Java. The main religion is Muslim. I saw Saddam Hussein T-shirts and "Islam is the Way" bumper stickers. George Bush is not a popular guy here; Americans in general arenít particularly popular, though I never had any trouble. I wasnít in Java very long, but one of the more memorable experiences was a bemo ride. A bemo is kind of a cross between a taxi and a bus. This particular bemo was a standard sized van. We were coming down off of a mountain (where the mandi from hell was) and we had 18 people, all adults, in this van. We couldnít believe how crowded it was, and then he kept stopping and getting more. We ended up with 22 people wedged in this van. Nobody complained once!
Jakarta was my last stop in Indonesia. Crowded, really hot and humid, dirty. Loved it! OK, I didnít love it, but it as interesting. Flew from there to Singapore, eight and a half weeks after arriving in Indonesia, and four and a half weeks longer than scheduled. Iím now nine weeks over schedule, and itís about to get worse. In three days Iím flying to Borneo with an English guy, Steven, and a Canadian, Bill. Weíre planning a boat and hiking trip across the center. Planning on being there a month. The latest plan gets me back home in April of next year.
Congratulations if youíve lasted this long reading this. If you want to write me, I would really appreciate the mail. My mom has my addresses. Selamat tinggal! (Goodbye!)
Go back to: Dave's Newsletters or to Dave & Whit's Page
You can contact me at DavidAdair@myrealbox.com
All everything © 1997 by Dave Adair.