i can't claim to be a prolific traveller but i like alternative holidays, lying on a sunbed is boring. i want to be seeing amazing things, experience the culture, meet interesting people, be a bit outside my normal comfort zone, do things i've never done before, and if there's a story to tell i want to remember it, so the notes and observations i make on each trip can now be read here by anyone who has the patience.


 A journey across the island of Java.....

15 October 2015
Day 1

Jakarta, Java, Indonesia

Have got that timid first day polite foreigner feeling.  Despite over charging us the taxi driver from the airport asks if he can keep the change from his fare, obviously I say "erm... Yes no problem, keep it", where as in 2 weeks time when I'm into the swing of things I'll likely be haggling and moaning about the price.  It was night when we arrived but not too late so Bec and me went and found a street food stall at a local market area to get a drink just as an excuse to sit and watch life go by away from the tourist area and hotels.  They didn't understand my English so I asked for a drink by acting out and miming what we wanted which I thought went quite well and avoided the language barrier problem but we were both handed some creamy mashed banana gloop in the bottom of a beer glass with ice and a spoon and a bottle of soda.  We shyly and politely pretended to be delighted and look like we knew what to do with it and paid 22000 Rupiah having no concept of whether that was cheap or expensive (but it's only about £1 anyway).  We sat taking in the street life for a while and had a wander around, it's much like other Asian cities I've been to with food stalls on many of the streets, busy traffic, lots of mopeds, choking traffic fumes and holes in the pavement you will disappear into if you're not careful!

16 October 2015
Jakarta day 2
Happiness is free!

Today was a very interesting day, we went to see the hidden Jakarta, an illegally self built town near the harbour in North Jakarta.  Having been there I don't like to call it a slum tour as some would but maybe a back street shanty town tour.  Whatever you call it, for me it was a very privileged, thought provoking and uplifting experience.

We set off in the morning to Fatahillah Square in North Jakarta, an area known for its old Dutch colonial buildings.  We wandered around for a while before meeting Ronny, a guy I had emailed before we came to arrange the back street tour.  We will pay a fee but half of it funds local community projects for the poor.  Ronny seems a genuine nice guy full of information and anecdotes, we chat for a while before setting off with a Polish lad called Greg who has joined us. 
We hop on and off a local bus and are led down a long dark narrow alleyway behind buildings off the main street.  We walk through a maze of DIY houses and the occasional make shift shop each knocked up with boards of plywood and sheets of corrugated metal.  We stop along the way to chat to people and the young children follow us wanting to play or hold hands.  We eventually emerge onto a train track and walk along the track being careful to avoid being killed by speeding trains and reach another area.
The people here are living alongside a polluted river, amongst litter and rats but they have created their own self sufficient world here amongst it all.  You'll see small market areas, sewing machines on the go, fish laid out to dry in the sun, clothes being scrubbed and hung out to dry along the alleys.  Despite the dirt, basic minimal living conditions and lack of possessions there's one thing that strikes us, the people here have their own problems but they seem happy, they enjoy life more than people at home in England who have everything they ever want.  These people work hard, they have it tough and still they laugh, smile, help each other and make the most of what little they have with dignity.  They welcome us into their homes to look around and sit and talk and expect nothing in return except to know something about us. 
 We build up quite an entourage of children as we go which after a while culminates with 20 or so children discovering that it's my birthday today and singing a very enthusiastic mega long rendition of "happy birthday" to me in a variety of slow then fast then quiet then loud versions in both English and Indonesian.  We then take a boat down the river to get an alternative view of the harbour.
What a day!  A humbling experience that has left me feeling attached to a place and sad to leave after only about 4 hours.  I don't want to just waltz through a country ignoring that this poverty exists.  It may all be a bit voyeuristic, and it feels a bit like that with touring through taking photos and then swanning off back to our luxury hotel later but at least I've mingled with the real people of Jakarta, been inside their homes, talked to them about their lives and told them about mine, it's made me feel more human.

So later we return back to Fatahillaha Square discussing and trying to absorb what we just experienced.  The big open space of the square is getting busy now with every type of street performer you could ever imagine, we sit and people watch as it falls dark taking in the relaxed atmosphere.  Several Indonesian tourists want a photo taken with us, presumably so they can post pictures of their European 'friends' on Facebook or whatever or maybe I just look freaky to them(?).  In the tourist areas we've been asked regularly "can I have a photo with you?", not just by school children but adults too, sometimes whole families.  Bec obliges sometimes but isn't so keen whilst I'm lapping it up enjoying my temporary celebrity status, if anything I encourage it.
 A bumpy Bajaj ride back (tuk tuk) in the dark through the chaotic traffic and choking petrol fumes is, believe it or not, our preferred mode of transport.  Having seen the backstreets today I now feel more qualified to do some touristy sight seeing in Central Jakarta tomorrow.....

17 October 2015
Central Jakarta
Today we went to central Jakarta to the 137metre high national monument and around the area.  I read that it's a good idea to get there nice and early if you want to go to the viewing platform at the top of the monument or else be faced with very long queues.  This was great advice because after 10am the queue would be two hours long.  I know this because I couldn't get myself out of bed in the morning and so we arrived after 10..... and queued.  It was worth it though, the panoramic skyline views across the vast city are impressive.  You don't quite grasp the scale of a city of 30 million people from the ground.

In over 30 degree heat hundreds of Indonesian tourists happily queue in a calm orderly fashion for hours, nobody is moaning, the children are well behaved playing nicely- there's no bratty screaming ones, everyone waits patiently with smiles on their faces.  Maybe it's their culture, maybe it's Islam, maybe the sunshine or maybe it's this national fertility monument representing a 137 metre high erect penis.
Central Jakarta is full of big skyscrapers and nice air conditioned restaurants where the more affluent middle class people can be found.  A big contrast to what we saw yesterday, the divide is huge.

For the next 9 days we will travel across Java with a group.  We met everyone in the evening and went out for food and drinks.  Bit of a mix of age groups, everyone seems nice, there's a few people I can tell I'll get on with well and hopefully some of the others too, we'll see.....

18 October 2015
Jakarta to Badung

Off out early to the harbour in Jakarta looking at the traditionally built wooden ships.  We climbed aboard one by a long wobbly plank over the water and had a mooch about on deck.  

After the harbour we walked to Fatahillah Square where we'd been a couple of days ago.  Today there are what seem to be millions of school children who are wanting to interview tourists so they can practice their English.  We have already explored around the square last time so after a quick visit to a puppet museum we talked to the children and got interviewed many many times while they filmed it on their phones and then posed for lots of photos. 
Bec was up all last night being sick, not sure if it's food poisoning or whatever but she's feeling rather ropey, she has battled through the morning and I've been a bit useless not knowing how to help.  Although the bus ride to Badung is a bit bumpy she sleeps most of the way.
When we reach Badung we go to see an Angklung musical show, an angklung being a bamboo instrument you shake to make a melodic sound.  We learnt how to play one and joined in with the angklung orchestra which featured a lot of very skillful school children.  Very enjoyable, better than I thought it would be.

On route to our hotel the streets are full of Persib fans, Badung's football team who are playing in a cup final today in the national stadium in Jakarta.  There are hundreds of mopeds driving around waving big flags, horns beeping, and the streets awash with blue team shirts and scarfs.  Persib won 2-0!  Get in!

19 October 2015
Badung to Yogyakarta 
Up early again for a long train journey to Yogyakarta.  After this we seem to have travelled quite a distance already but it should be worth it with some amazing places to visit.  By Indonesian standards we're travelling executive class and to be fair it's pretty decent for an old train and more comfortable than most trains back home.  Some great scenery along the way and 7 or 8 hours later we're in Yogya.  The hotel is nice and has a pool so after a quick swim we set off out with people from our travel group to find the markets and food stalls and somewhere to eat.  Yogya seems a bit more touristy, there's plenty of bars and craft shops and that sort of stuff.  Got talking to some of the travel group a bit more and everyone seems easy going.  We've got a few Brits, Canadians, Swiss, Austrian, Americans and our group leader Andri who is Indonesian.
It seems quite busy at night here and after food we go to a busy bar.
Tomorrow we go to Borodobur, the largest Buddhist monument and sanctuary in the world. This is one of the places I've looked forward to most.....

20 October 2015
Incredible Borodubur and the worlds best crisps.

When the bed started shaking early this morning I thought Becci had woken up feeling frisky but no, it was an earthquake.  They get them occasionally here and were hit badly with the tsunamis 10 years or so ago. Hopefully it wasn't a tremor before a big one on its way.
So the earthquake woke us up at 7am in perfect time to get breakfast before heading off to Borodubur, a 1200 year old Buddhist sanctuary with the largest Buddhist monument structure in the world.  It is incredible!  It's a huge stepped temple built with large blocks of volcanic stone which are carved with amazingly detailed sculptures  explaining the whole story of Buddha's life running clockwise around the walls.  It's topped with large bell shaped stupas with great panoramic scenery of the surrounding mountains and forests from the top.  This thing is so mind bogglingly detailed on such an epic huge scale that I feel I can't comprehend it well enough to appreciate it properly.  I would continue to try and describe it but I can't do it justice with words or pictures so I'll stop here.  Go and see it for yourself!
Next we go to see a nearby village and are taken around by horse and cart.  I'm a bit uncomfortable with it because I don't agree with the horses being enslaved for this but it's the only way I can continue with the day so I jump on one of the carts.  In part of the village we visit a small factory work shop producing fried cassava crisps.  They farm the cassava then peel it, pulp it, shape it, dry it, fry it and there you have the greatest crisps in the world ever.  maybe they're crackers, maybe they're crisps but they are the best either way.  I bought a big bag for 5000 rupiah but there's no way these are making it all the way back home to England, not a chance!

We have some little children do a musical performance for us on some gong type instruments and then learn to play ourselves too.  Good fun!
A good dinner in the village which included what was billed as the world's best soup which I can personally verify which pretty much makes it official.  World's best crisps and world's best soup in one small village.  Not bad going!  Another reason for anyone reading this to visit this place.....
This evening bec is going for a massage spa thing with Amanda so whilst she is doing that, I kid you not, I am going to the ballet!

21 October 2015
Yogyakarta to Surakarta
The Ballet! Prambayan Temple and bike to the future
Soooo..... the ballet last night.  It wasn't a ballet as you might traditionally think.  This was more like a psychedelic theatrical dance.  it tells the Hindu story of Ramayana and beyond that, despite having read about it and seen the 1h 30m show, I can't really explain what the story is. 
 It was certainly different.  Bec was having her massage so didn't come and so 4 girls from the group and myself got rickshaws over to the theatre and had the VIP treatment with welcome drinks and were taken backstage to see the dancers preparing their make up and costumes.  We had a great view with front row seats but this didn't really help follow the story as Bettina and I tried to read it as it went along but got very confused.  It was quite surreal but for that reason I enjoyed it.
We met the others for drinks in a bar after and stayed drinking and enjoying the live band until about 1.30am.  A great day!
This morning we set of for Surakarta or better known as Solo.  Stopping off at the Prambanan temple complex, an expansive series of Hindu temples the largest central one being (I think) the tallest Hindu temple structure in the world.  I wasn't expecting this to be as impressive as Borodubur but it nearly does it, not quite though.  Earthquakes in 2006 damaged the temples badly but restoration work is well underway and due to be finished..... in 60 years time!  This is due to the size, complex detail and the fact that there are over 200 temples on the grounds!

Upon reaching Solo 8 of us decided to go on a bike tour and spent 3 hours or so cycling through local rural villages and rice fields.  We visited places producing tofu and tempeh, roof tiles, rice crackers and unlicensed illegal alcohol which tastes delicious, maybe tastes more delicious because it's illegal.
Since we've been in Java I have not noticed a single Indonesian who has been grumpy, angry or annoyed.  nobody shouts, there's no road rage, nobody argues.  All you see anywhere is peaceful, happy people and the villages we cycle though are no exception.  Everyone smiles, waves and says hello as we pass by on our bikes.  Traffic stops and waits for the 8 tourists to slowly roll past and it's no problem, local people chat to us when we stop, every 20 seconds you're saying hello to someone.  If only the future planet earth was like this everywhere!  The future would be magical if every person on the planet could adopt an Indonesian attitude to life.

Later on after food we found that nowhere around sold any alcohol but 10 thirsty travellers wanted beer.  The hotel didn't seem keen on giving us any because they were hoping to close the restaurant and bar up for the night but we persuaded them to sell us the last 11 bottles they had in stock to drink by the hotel pool and sent one of the staff out into town to find us some more which they did.  Had a great time laughing and being noisey, probably kept half the hotel awake.  The group are getting on really well now, there's a mix of ages and interests but everyone seems to click together.  When I finished the night putting my foot against my ear to use it as a telephone to call other people round the table... well we must be getting on okay!
Tomorrow we move on again to Batu where we will be hiking up a volcano.

22 October 2015
Travelling to Batu 
Today was mostly travelling so not much to tell.  Long, long bus journey, a bit too long really having travelled a lot already in a fairly short time, but anyway..... We made a couple of short stops on the way, one of which was to buy some durian fruit, sometimes known as smelly fruit when people can't remember the name because, well, it's renowned for smelling rotten, so rotten I've noticed it's banned in some of the hotels.  I tried it out of curiousity about 10 years ago in Bangkok and at the time described it as "like eating someone else's vomit".  So with that memory and expectation in mind we stopped at a roadside stall and tried some.  Wow it tastes unusual but delicious and slightly sweet.  Whilst I'm enjoying it some of the others are pulling repulsed contorted faces just like I did in Bangkok, maybe my taste buds have either matured or degenerated since the last time I tried it.
A little later we stop at a tall powerfull waterfall.  I am surprised to find that I am the only one stripping off to go stand under it which meant I had an audience of 14 people watching me get pummelled from above with cold water.  I could only manage to stay under for about 10 seconds at a time because it was a bit too powerfull but I felt amazing afterwards, it was so invigorating I felt superhuman for the rest of the day.

Reached the hotel in Batu, Kampung Lumbung, it's nice.
So anyway see if this sounds like the kind of thing you do to enjoy yourself on holiday:
Go to bed at 9pm for 2 and a half hours sleep and get up to start the next day before today has actually finished yet.  Confused?   

23 October 2015
Mount Bromo and the Bintang crisis
2 hours sleep last night and the alarm was set for 11.30pm to set off at midnight on a 3 hour drive to see the sunrise from a hilltop viewing point looking over a region of several volcanoes, one of which we hiked up a bit later.  The group sped there in 3 jeeps, our jeeps driver wasn't afraid to put his pedal to the floor or overtake on cliff edge bends, good job it was dark so we couldn't see how big the drop was off the edge of the mountain roads.
Not realising how cold it would be we caved in to the persistant hawkers selling woolley hats and scarfs, Bec designed herself quite an outfit, indescribable, you need to see the photos really.
At the hilltop the milky way is putting on an amazing spectacle across the night sky and Venus, Jupiter and Mars can be seen brightly all in a row.  There's quite a lot of people up here but we manage to bag a good spot standing on a wall at the edge of the viewing platform beaten only by a gaggle of Japanese who look like they've been here for hours already all set up with expensive cameras and tripods taking 500 photos per second in the darkness.
 The sun rises, the horizon goes red, silhouettes of the volcanoes and mountains gradually reveal themselves from the mist and one of the volcanes starts farting out little plumes of smoke right on cue.  When the show is over we jump back in the jeep and drive off road down to the desert basin region for a bit of early morning breakfast in a moon type landscape.  We then head off to the foot of Mount Bromo to hike up to the top on the crater rim and stare into the mouth of the volcano.  It's huge crater is stained a rusty green colour and a deep grumbling sound echoes up from somewhere down its throat beneath the steam and smoke steadily puffing out.  It kinda instills a sense of respectful fear deep inside my gut at its awesomeness.
 The jeep ride back to the hotel was quite horrific.  having had only 2 hours sleep a bumpy erratic ride in the back of a jeep with the morning sun reaching 30 degrees was, well.....horrific.  Bec and me were stretching out cramp and aches until our legs were tangled with Simon and Ian's legs into something resembling a bird's nest.  After such an emotional journey in our jeep I think Amanda, Simon and Ian are now officially classified as our brothers and sisters.  Bec thought she wouldn't survive.  The thought of a cool swimming pool back at the hotel was all that kept me going. 
Having only slept a couple of hours in the last day and a half I felt surprisingly fresh and decided to see it through and not have a nap.  In any case we seem to be surrounded by several mosques all of which are shouting out their call to prayer over the tannoy towers which isn't particularly relaxing.  I wouldn't mind so much if there was some melody to it but this out of tune warbling carries on all day.
When out for tea tonight we are disappointed to discover there's no beer available with our meal, it's a particularly Islamic city so a distinct lack of bars or booze anywhere.  My favourite beer and good friend Bintang will not be making an appearance tonight.....but wait...... back at the hotel they have some beer, we clean them out of the last 11 large bottles of Bintang with coincidently 11 of us sitting around the table, but after that it seems the whole city is dry of beer!  Maybe we should move on, yeh let's fly to Bali tomorrow!  They'll be no shortage of Bintang there.....

24 October 2015
Bali and the punky Bintang party
A short flight over to Bali to stay in Sanur.  It instantly feels different to Java, more tourist focused with bars, restaurants and gift shops but it's a chilled out vibe so feels nice.  It's Hindu here and lots of places have offerings and incense outside on the pavement, our hotel room even has a shrine next to the toilet presumably so you can pray while you poo.

Bec and me are staying in Bali for a little while yet but our tour group ends in the morning so it's the big last night out tonight.  We all kit ourselves out in Bintang gear from the gift shops and sign each others shirts after eating.  Out in the bars it's beer and dancing, must have been throwing some crazy shapes because I managed to rip a big hole in the back of my shorts, I think that's what you call tearing up the dance floor.  What a great bunch this group has been, it's not quite proper backpacker travelling doing a tour like this but it's a great way to make new friends.  I kept going until 5.30am which means the yoga class Bec booked for 7am in the morning.....well, what do you reckon?

25 October 2015
Hangover City

Yeh so after last night I woke up at 11am ready for the yoga class at 7am, oops, oh well it was never gonna happen was it?  We've rearranged for tomorrow morning instead though.
Had a lazy day at the beach with Amanda, Cornelia, Bettina and Steve recovering from last night's party which enabled Bec to get some long awaited sun bathing done.

Some of our new friends are leaving today to move onto somewhere else or set off home.  It's strange really, as we do hugs and goodbyes with Bettina and Cornelia we're waving off good friends but then we only met 10 days ago.  Andri our tour leader is a nice guy too, I guess he has to do these goodbyes every couple of weeks.  We've missed some of the others who've already jetted off whilst we were out but Steve and Amanda are still around so we go out for food, drinks and live music at night before saying our goodbyes to Steve our big super happy Canadian buddy who is getting a boat out to a nearby island in the morning.  Right ok yoga at 7 in the morning, I think I can manage it this time.....

26 October 2015
Yoga, bikes, beach
A 7am yoga class to start the day, my first ever class but fortunately for me I've got elastic arms and legs and find I'm able to nail the full variety of contorted positions.  Enjoyed it actually and we were invited to join a session tomorrow on the beach which we will do.
After yoga we were in time to wave goodbye to Elson and Evelyn as they go off onto another tour and just catch Cornelia, Steve and Andri too as they're leaving to say a second goodbye.
Usual Indonesian breakfast of rice and noodles and then Bec me go hire bikes out to explore a bit of the coastline and chill for a while on the beach.  That's it for today really, it's all winding down now. 
We went out with Amanda for tea as the last remaining members of our travel group and fortunately for Bec and me Amanda still has some money left and was able to bail us out of not being able to pay our meal bill.  My bank haven't unblocked my account for overseas like I asked them to and so we're stuck without money and relying on credit from Bank of Amanda to survive.
I've sorted it now though but that will probably be an extremely expensive call to telephone banking.  Another downside to this means we can now afford to pay for our airport taxi and departure tax and will not be stranded in Bali.

27 October 2015
As good as yoga was yesterday I couldn't drag myself out of bed this morning, I needed a bit more sleep.  There's just today and tomorrow left in Bali and I don't think we'll really be doing any activities other than beach and food and quiet time so it's nearly time to sign the journals off as thoughts of boring stuff start creeping back into mind, you know like what time shall we taxi to the airport, have I got enough clean shirts ready for going back to work.
We're going back to the hotel to say goodbye to Amanda in a few hours and then it's just Becci and myself in Bali.  

We've seen some incredible sights in Indonesia such as Borodubur a true wonder of the world, Prambanan temple complex and Mount Bromo volcano.  Also there was the amazing experience of exploring the hidden back streets on our first day in Jakarta before joining the tour.  The Indonesian people are lovely, in two and a half weeks I still have not encountered a local who has been grumpy/angry/annoyed/confrontational, it's difficult to find anyone without a smile on their face, the world could learn so much from their attitude to life but unfortunately never will, I will try to though and maybe spread some Indonesian spirit back home. We've had to travel a lot in a short space of time to experience these things but the positives outweigh this.  And the group of fellow travellers we spent 10 days with got on so well that by the end, in the words of Bettina "we became a big family".  We had some great experiences and super fun times together, many thanks and best wishes to you all if you ever read this!

28 October 2015
Last day in Indonesia..... but where to next time?
Made it to the beach for a yoga class at 7.30am.  Quite different to the previous one, there were around 30 people rather than just Bec and me and the teacher who seems to be quite a yoga master speaks only in Indonesian and warms up for the class by casually balancing on his head.  The class is fairly easy to follow even in Indonesian I got most of it but when trying a couple of his poses towards the end such as balancing on one leg whilst holding the other leg straight and up above his head I think I found the limit of my flexibility and balance even for my rubber legs.  Another day of beaching it, back to pack our bags, great meal at small place called Little Thai, one last Bintang beer and off we go for our flights home.  Nice to have a few quiet days to relax at the end just Bec and me although I'm not a sunbather or a reader so I'm a bit annoying to be with when I'm fidgeting, looking for stuff to do, so hopefully Bec managed to relax a little bit for a few days. :-)
 Shortlist for next year's trip;
Nicaragua, Myanmar, Peru, Philippines, Ecuador, Bhutan.....


Rebecca Brand said...

Wow..... That is amazing!💞💓❤️

🐩 said...

I was hooked all the way through(even though I read the rough version first) I had to read from beginning to end. The pictures were fab, I could almost see myself going there. I look forward to reading your next blog.

Andri Agassi said...

Great post John! It was a really great group and reading this reminded me of all the fun we had!

Lori said...

Thanks for the memories John. I vote for Peru for next year. It is on my short list as well. Who knows, maybe we can meet up for a beer...it is a small world out there. -lori

jonny brand said...

Thanks for reading! Always feel humbled and slightly amazed that people actually enjoy reading my ramblings!