I hate malls. I hate shopping. But this was like wandering the halls of Future World. I spent over three hours exploring tomorrow, awestruck by the contrast. Just outside the mall were humble rural reminders, three-wheeled bicycle taxis engulfed by modern chaos. Part of me considered getting back on the ferry to Maumere and returning to the past. II think. Or not? Is. Isn’t. Dunno. Ever been to Chicken, Alaska? Me neither. Imagine a direct flight from there to MOA (Mall of America) in Minnesota. ’ve mentioned the “In Between” in earlier posts and will probably continue to do so ad nauseam. Lots and lots of thinky time on a three-day ferry…from Maumere. Point “A” to Point “B”.Read More
You know the rules by now. The sunrise is a fucking must. Is it worth seeing? Sure, but you won’t be alone on Mt. Penanjakan (sunrise viewpoint). The early morning light gives the photos a prehistoric feel, but it’s a teensy bit different in person. If not for hundreds of tourists and twenty-four radio antennas (I counted), you could pretend you’ve traveled back a couple million years. Good luck trying. After sunrise, it’s giddy up. The hordes remount their four-wheel-drive chariots and dash across the massive ancient crater to Mt. Bromo itself for a rim job. Dismount and it’s a short climb to the volcano’s edge.Read More
I have many ideas, some of which are actually good. This day was a “good” one. I hailed a becak (pronounced beh-CHALK), a three-wheeled cycle rickshaw, and somehow conveyed my wish to cruise aimlessly around Bondowoso’s center. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. That was the idea. It worked out spectacularly well. Bondo holds little tourist interest on its own. It’s more of a means to an Ijen end, a stopover on the way to somewhere else. As such, most of the population have little contact with tourists. A mutant white dude trolling the streets for shits and giggles is a rarity to say the least. People loved it, enjoying my photofest as much as, if not more than, I did. I traded smile for smile and giggle for giggle…mostly.Read More
The view from the caldera’s edge was spectacular. Sulfur vents billowing fumes beside a turquoise lake as wind wisped smoke above the water, skimming the surface. It was not time to linger. Not then. Not there. Miners were busy carrying sulfur from the hill bottom near the water and tourists were trickling up. I hastened toward the crater’s western border and left everyone behind. I reckoned the farther I went along the rim, the less likely anyone would follow. I was right.
There was a chill from the wind lapping at my face, but this only invigorated me and was little match for the warming sun rays bombarding the scene.Read More
And then I had one of those days, one of those days that starts in one place and ends somewhere else entirely. Go with the flow. Cloud of obliviousness. That was me in “Ubud” mode. Relax and take it easy. Questions required effort. I knew I was meeting Agus. I knew I was going to his home in Bedulu. And I knew there was a ceremony he wanted me to see. As I mentioned before, Bali’s 210-day Saka calendar is jam-packed with ritual celebration. I didn’t realize I’d be witnessing the day of Galungan ceremonies commemorating the triumph of Dharma over Adharma (good versus evil) when the spirits come home on a ten-day furlough and descendants are required to lay outRead More
The streets were infused with a post-apocalyptic grimness underscored by a power outage. Packs of stray dogs helped cement the visual. They had a sinister air about them, eyeing me like an oversized chew toy. If that wasn’t unsettling enough, a young Indonesian male emerged from a dark inlet and offered to do “whatever I want” if I stayed with him. I declined. If you’re looking for the Bali from the brochure, ya sure as shit ain’t gonna see it in Kuta at 5:30 am. Weird.
The theme continued. While taking photos on the beach, a well-fed transvestite—wait…Transvestite? Cross-dresser? Transgender? Transsexual? (Please insert least offensive, most politically correct designation for a man dressed as a woman here.)Read More
He knew the deal. White asshole wants an exotic snack? C’mon down. I didn’t have to ask. He knew I was there to eat serpent. (Also, it’s the only menu item.) On the ground near the grill sat a bag full of cobras. How many? In my estimation, somewhere between a few and a shitload. Hard to tell considering how long and tangly they are. Seeing them all coiled in a bag ball wasn’t unsettling. Not at all. I’ve read he’s upgraded to a glass tank for storage. More dramatic that way, I assume. Who can resist cobra bingo?
The chef nonchalantly put on fingerless gloves and dove in for that night’s lucky winner. Nag was not amused. In fact, he was a cantankerous fucker. Who could blame him? The chef did nothing to assuage his anger. Quite the contrary.Read More
I ARRIVED IN Yogyakarta AND TOOK A LOVER. Well, no, but that makes for a better intro, does it not? Alas, such is not the case. No lovers taken. Yogya is a mere hour and forty-five minutes from Solo (Surakarta), so the trip was brief… a refreshing change. The road inevitably wears you down. Important to break things up and avoid frying your circuit board. My candle burns at both ends… and all that shit.
My Yogya memories are spotty at best. Looking back, I should’ve taken more interest, but I guess I wasn’t feeling the vibe. The city is ruled by a monarchy, an anomaly in Indonesia. For its contribution during the revolution against the Dutch colonials, it remained under royal rule as a “thank you” by the newly formed republic.Read More
We had a delightful discussion on the proper context and usage of “Kiss my ass!” I felt a special responsibility not to corrupt Indonesia’s youth, but they were already throwing it around with reckless abandon. Guidance was my only gift and came in the form of explicit instructions for use among trusted cohorts. I tried to impart the prudence of not getting carried away. My benevolence knows no boundaries.
One boy, Bryan, asked if sex is free in America. That threw me for a loop until I realized he wanted to know if sex before marriage was customary in the good ole US of A. I told him we fuck like rabbits. No, I didn’t, but I validated the whore-like status of Americans. Pre-martial sex? Definitely a thing. Where did I stand on the issue?Read More
I can’t say I disliked the man, but I immediately questioned his hiking forte. No rain jacket. No flashlight. Dress shoes. Jeans. Jean jacket. Um, Fabio, WTF? An extra in a Broadway production of Grease? Sure. A member of the Merapi summit party? Negative. Fabio didn’t share my reservations. He was ready to crush that shit. He as much told me so in broken English on the ride to Selo. Though the language barrier was substantial, I heard a story about hiking the jungles of Sumatra and how this prepared him for Merapi. Easy. That’s what he said. Easy. Faaaaaabio…
In Selo, the rain fell and fell hard. Dogs and cats. Goats and chickens. Lions and tigers. Have I mentioned Fabio’s lack of rain gear? His killer jean jacket?Read More
What the hell is it? Temple? Stupa? Shrine? Mountain? It don’t know what the hell it is. Mostly Buddhist. Distinctly Indonesian. Hindu flaring in between. What does the name “Borobudur” signify? Who the hell knows? When was it built? Who the hell knows? Best guess? Around 800 C.E… probably. Why was it built? Who the hell knows? Why was it abandoned from 1000 C.E onwards only to be rediscovered in 1814? Who the hell knows? I like mystery in my meat.
Ideally, I would engage a flux capacitor (it’s what makes time travel possible) and travel back thirty or forty years , before Borobudur’s fame, and wander the site for days with an expert guide or enough knowledge to soak the majesty and grandeur out of it. I had to settle for a morning trot through the…Read More
First, you have to find the road to Jakarta. Shouldn’t be that hard, right? It is the largest city in Indonesia. Where can ten million people hide? Duh, just follow the signs… or not. Thing is, toll roads are off limits for two-wheeled traffic. No motorbikes allowed. (I found my Indonesian unicorn: A genuine road regulation.) All signs point to toll roads. I circled Bogor twice in search of the poor man’s trail to Jakarta. Along the way, I paused to ask directions and would inevitably be directed to the toll road, hence the circles. Oddly, screaming “Mother Fucker!” into my helmet as I swirled the drain of sanity did little to assist my plight.
Finally, I worked out a brilliant two-word index finger pantomime sure to convey my message…Read More
Things got queer (as in “odd” or “strange”) fast. Indira took a liking to me. Was it my convivial magnetism or the liquor? I’ll go with a little of both, emphasis on the latter. Either way, a slew of personal details followed, details I might not share ten minutes into a new friendship. But, then again, who the hell am I? He had two wives—one Indonesian, the other Russian. Um, ‘kay. (Polygamy is legal in Indonesia.) He just married his Russian bride two months earlier and had apparently been paying the price both literally and figuratively ever since. I asked if they lived in the same house and was given the “No fucking way!” expression posthaste.
Apparently, there was animosity between brides. (Can't imagine why.) Team Russia was a money pit and loved to quarrel…Read More
You’d think the strategy would be rock solid, but it was impossible to determine which folks were following the rules and which couldn’t give a rat’s ass. On this occasion, I apparently followed someone of the “rat’s ass” variety. (Assuming they were native to the area, of course.) He curved right, I followed. We ended up facing the opposite direction (mid-circle) stopped at a red light. This just happened to be in front of a traffic police post. I realized this when I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, two members of Jakarta’s finest strolling in my direction. I assumed fault in my neighbor, the motorist’s who’s lead I followed. Leave Johnny Tourist alone, right? Just to be safe, I went with Jedi protocols. Can’t see you if you don’t look. Can’t see you if you don’t look.Read More
There’s something to be said about just being. No camera. No packs strapped to the bike. No real destination. No need for an enhanced state of hypervigilance. Just ride. And smile. Feel the breeze on my knees. Take a breath before death. Chill without a pill before you’re over the hill.
The coastal road led me through a series of small villages, one picture postcard after another. Quaint and tidy with a touch of drowsy. Perfect place to dodder as the day winds down. The sun retreated, casting its orange glimmer across the rocky beaches, old stone houses, and rickety wooden harbors in one final act of rebellion. Beautiful. But, of course, I didn’t have my camera, did I? I wonder…Read More
Seeing Baby Krak requires a boat. My hostel arranged one. Low season. Solo tourist. It’s never cheap to do things alone, so the “tour” set me back sixty dollars. Normally, you’d frolic with a group. Normally, I’d be thrilled to have my own private vessel, guide included. Normally, I’m down with “normally.” Buuuut one client equals small boat. You don't want the small boat. Really, you don’t. (Boat? More like watercraft as in “arts” and “crafts.”)
Come the morning, I drove to the home of el capitan and waited patiently as preparations for our voyage ensued. I sat outside a small shop sipping coffee with my guide and three unknown Sumatrans listening to what I can only describe as Indonesian prom music from a high school “Enchantment Under the Volcano” dance…Read More
Case in point. Petrol stations were now few and far between, so mom-and-pop kiosk operations filled the void. I patronized a small roadside stand in my quest for fuel. Given the abnormality that was me, I was invited for coffee, free of charge. I sat and at once became the center of attention to four young males. A few months earlier, the scrutiny might’ve been unbearable, but I’d come along way since then. I even started to enjoy it. (This assumes the absence of perceived danger, of course.) I sipped. They stared. I smiled. They stared. I tried not to burst with awkward laughter. They stared. If all that wasn’t strange enough, there was monkey tied to a nearby tree for no obvious reason. PETA wouldn’t approve (nor did I), but it probably wasn’t the best time for a “Free Willy!” confrontation…Read More
In town, I entered a restaurant for information and lunch. On the topic of park exploration, I received the Indonesian equivalent of No way, Jose. The owner said it wasn’t possible. If I wanted in, I’d have to enter from Kota Agung. Fooey. I asked around. Same answer… repeatedly. Not possible. I sulked over a bowl of chicken and rice, and then I asked again. (As in, “Are ya sure, sure?”) Still no. Fiddlesticks.
I straddled the Phantom and began my dejection tour back to Krui. I mentally flagellated myself for the defeat but wasn’t so self-absorbed in pity that I missed the park entrance I’d failed notice on the way in. So much for situational awareness, eh gov’nah? Across the road was a ranger station…Read More
I’m not famous and likely will never be so. I’m okay with that. Besides, I’ve had enough of a taste to get the flavor of fame and stardom. In Sungai Penuh, I entered a restaurant for lunch and thought I heard a record scratch. Not five minutes after sitting down, three Indonesian teenage males surrounded me. One politely asked (in English) if he and his friends could join me. I hardly got to the “y” in “yes” before they sat.
A teenage female sitting nearby saw this as the green light, pulling up a chair next to me. She was very sweet with kind eyes and a soft smile… and hellbent on a photo. She handed her cell phone to one gent, and the session began. One photo was taken with her standing and me sitting but this didn’t cut it…Read More
I also visited the national park office for information on Mt. Kerinci, receiving another wet blanket in return. The mountain was closed due to frequent eruptions. This confirmed what Yan had told me, but I needed to hear it from the horse’s mouth. The horse beat me down like a panda in a Chinese zoo. I remember thinking, How do you close down an entire volcano?
I was mildly optimistic about park exploration, and far too excited to take the rational step of waiting another day for lickin’ chicken to work its way through my system. The morning of my departure north was something of a poopfest…Read More