Southeast Asia travelogue continues
Vail CO, Colorado
One of the biggest surprises of the trip so far has been, first of all, the weather. I am so pleased that I brought my sweatshirt because even at the Equator, it is quite chilly and I have been making good use of it. The second surprise is that here in Indonesia they drive on the left side of the road. I did not expect this, since this country was ruled by the Dutch until 1948 and they drive on the right. Interesting.
Now about hotels so far. Ever since that night in Medan, the prices of the accommodations have been quite reasonable. It is fascinating to notice, however, that the farther west I go, the prices seem to double, while the quality of the hotels seems to remain the same ” not very good. I wonder what Bali and Java will bring.
While eating a late brunch yesterday, I was reflecting on the trip when three teenage girls asked if they could join me. Two wore Islamic headdresses, one did not. Slightly taken aback initially, I recovered and asked them gracefully to sit at my table. The reason, they explained, was to improve their English; what a blow to my ego! We chatted amicably and one told me she wanted to be a doctor, the second a druggist and the third a poet. Then after about 15 minutes or so, the prospective poet asked me whether (exact words) “I wanted to see her body?” I must admit, this threw me for a loop. I told her that wasn’t necessary. Then the mystery was solved. It was, to my relief, not that they were (very young) pleasure ladies, but she wanted to know if I could give her tips on losing weight. She was indeed overweight. I told her to swear off sugar and soft drinks, which she was drinking, forget about fatty foods and eat healthy. I forgot to mention exercise, though. Then six more girls joined in, all from the same village. We took pictures, but when another five came to the table, I politely told them that I needed to go. Some of them wanted my phone number (why?), but, smiling, I declined.
I arrived in Padang after a relatively comfortable two hour ride in a minibus. On the drive we passed gorgeous rice fields, a waterfall and lots of tropical forests. Once in Padang I started walking through the “historical” quarter, which, believe me, is no great shakes. However, it started pouring rain and I took shelter under an overhang of an export business, sitting there quietly, minding my own business, waiting for the rain to stop. A middle-aged man, who had entered the complex 10 minutes before and with whom I had exchanged “hello,” came out with a plate of fried bananas and water for me. He did not speak English, but we sat there consuming the fried bananas and watching the rain come down. It was a great experience.
On my way to Lombok, I changed planes in Jakarta, arriving around 10 p.m. On both flights, as well as in the national terminal in Jakarta, I was the only non-Asian and English speaking person. So far, on all public transportation, I have been the only Westerner. Either I am here at the wrong time or I don’t know what’s going on.
Over the last week, my life has drastically changed and my luck with it. I missed the three-day boat trip to Komodo and Flores by one day, with the next one not happening for a week. I sat down with a “kind of” travel agent and two hours later we came up with another unpleasant but feasible scenario. You guessed it: One more long distance bus. In two days I will embark on another record-setting bus ride over the island of Lombok and Sumbawa and then take the ferry to Flores, all in the name of the Quest, now starting in earnest.
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