My aim is to travel from the UK to Brisbane for one of my best friends' wedding. Plane travel is so environmentally damaging so I am looking for another way. I also think that by travelling over land and sea I will be able to understand our world better as I will connect with the people and landscapes and not just look at the departure board in the airport. Any tips gratefully received!! Departure date 1st September.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The end of Indonesia and out of Asia

The final 'challenge' was to get from the earthquake zone to Pekenbaru, only a 4 hour bus ride away, get a boat ticket to Pulau Batam and then a quick hop on a ferry to Singapore....easy peasy...on paper at least! In Bukuttinggi (sorry spelling awful) we discovered the es krem goreng (deep fried - like everything in this country I am surprised they are not all obese - icecream.) and also the weird pancake which was like chewy cake with sweetcorn, cheese and condensed milk - wierdly nice but filling and also bad for the waistline. So after donating some clothes and medical supplies to the earthquake appeal it was time to leave. We missed out on a trip to Lake Maninjau - the road was collapsed from the earthquake and a trip to the world's largest flower - I couldn't justify the 16km trip on a motorcycle (and apparently there was no bus which I know was a lie but I didn't have the energy to argue or work it out). I saw another tourist's photo and that was good enough, it stank a lot apparently anyway. It made me wonder if I should have tried to experience more of the wonderful nature found in Indonesia but also whether maybe it is better to leave our rare and protected environments alone and not trample on them?

So farewell to Konrad and good luck! Over the equator, hurrah, a real milestone but the journey just went from bad to worse! After changing drivers three times and all of them insisting that I should have some 'Makanan' - honestly I have not been eating that much but I am definately no waif! We set off with our chosen driver who looks about 18 through some beautiful mountain and remote countryside scenery. Then the thunderstorm starts and the landslides get ever more apparent. Strangely we pay to go through the worst bits - I guess the money goes to fixing it? The journey takes 8 hours and not 4 and when we arrive suddenly it seems they won't drop me where I was told, at a hostel where I was told I was booked in......and they don't speak English - hello quick phrasebook flicking!! Why do they all shout at once at me when they can see I can't understand?! We drive round aimlessly for a while and I am finally taken to a flashy hotel and told to stay here - no way! but at least the guy here helps and rings the hostel and checks where it is. I wasn't booked in before but I am now! So we head off again and I am put in the front seat and we are joined by the driver's friend - for assistance! yeah right! I realise what kind of help as they try to distract me and pick my pocket when changing gear! I am savvy to this now and thankfully have no pocket to pick anyway but it makes me more nervous. We finally arrive after I adamantly keep saying the name of the hostel and no to other offers of going out on the town! and they demand money for driving me about! I politely tell them to piss off and with the help of the lovely owner of Poppies Hostel in Pekenbaru they get lost. It is late so Jenny (owner's sister) accompanies me to get some food (it is not safe). I feel bad arriving so late and causing chaos so I buy her some food and drink and we have a nice chat. She is/was a missionary and has been out in the tribes spreading the word with the Orang Asli (indigineous people) who knows if they want the word of God? It sounds interesting out in the tribes and I would love to go with her and stay for a while...but not that much!

Next day early I get the first 'boat' out of there. It is actually a 3 hour drive (where I do get out to get food to great amusement as I finally find some fresh bananas and eat them!) and then a 4 hour boat trip, which left early aargh! I had a fun few hours chatting to a lady who wanted my advice on her love life..interesting. She also kept asking me about money and as usual everyone is looking at me so I feel nervous for a bit longer. She is very nice though and shares her food, translates the karaoke, tells me I have a 'sharp' nose (a good thing) and invites me to stay at hers - fun maybe but I am not hanging around any longer. When she departs her space is filled by another friendly, English speaking man who is extremely worried about me travelling alone and so when we get to Pulau Batam he takes me under his wing and gets me to the Singapore ferry safely. Here I am chatted up by the boat hand - flattering maybe - drink a can of 'Pocari Sweat' - it tasted as good as it sounds, bought some cashew nut chocolate I had been looking at for 3 weeks (nasty it turns out!) and nearly leapt aboard the Penguin Ferry to discover all sorts of previously unheard of safety devices and to discover my bag smelt like a dead rat - nice and embarrassing.

So to Singapore and so nice to know my way around, I get the MRT to a hostel and crash. I'm feeling quite unwell and so laze about for a few days until I realise this hostel is a rip off (Summer Tavern) and go free camping at East Coast Park for 3 days. By the beach and not much to do except watch the continual stream of planes flying in and out of the airport. Depressing to say the least. I have decided to take the quickest route home and am planning another boat to Europe. I just have to wait in Singapore for a while longer with no money and no enthusiasm for travelling anymore as well as the prospect of 2 weeks on a boat. I am seriously quite excited about this as I can have some space, no one will stare at me, this time there is a pool and a gym so I can get fit again , write loads of letters and digest and debate all I have seen and done. I will be spending my birthday on board which will be a bit wierd but who cares, next stop Italy!

Monday, March 12, 2007

More about Indonesia

If you can get over the fact that in the last two weeks in Indonesia there have been fatal aircrashes, an earthquake, a landslide and a ferry setting on fire and sinking. Then there have also been less fatal but also worrying active volcanoes bubbling, typhoons, H5N1, typhoid and malaria scares. Then if you can also get over your recent dog bite (family pet and I have already had the jabs but still pretty mental looking!), attempted pickpocketing in Jakarta and the constant stream of 'Miss Miss, you want this, that, the other, where you from?' 24/7 then Indonesia is great! Phew! I am loving the place but it is so tiring. Java was a blur really. I didn't stop to do all I wanted, see volcanoes bubbling and the environment centre in the mountains because either they were inaccessible or I basically didn't have enough energy to try to tackle them alone. It is so quiet here in terms of foreigners (even in Bali and Kuta) and so some tours don't run for one person and being the only white person, a young women too, turning up in a remote hill town at 5am just was too much to contemplate. I hadn't seen more than about two white expat faces for a few days and not spoken to anyone other than an Indonesian in the same time. Then I found some nice folk at the Satia Kawan hostel in Yogjakarta and decided to stay there and chill for a while. What a cool hostel, all decorated in beautiful and funky paintings and murals by local artist kown as 'Bedhot', good value and great breakfast - banana pancakes are standard fare for western travllers here. Yogya is pretty chilled and quite arty although I am thankful I was warned about the 'Government Art Centre/Batik scam' before I went. It was nice to hang out and share stories with other travelling folk and practice a bit of Indonesian with the locals. I am loving the language, it is really not that hard and I am managing to have quite a few good conversations. The best seems to be a mix of pidgin English and 'phrase book' Indonesian. I helpfully taught a local the word for 'flour' how useful!? This was when I made the effort and took a day trip out to see Merapti, the local bubbling Gunung. Sadly it is closed for walking (due to poisonous ash and lava) and when I make it to the viewpoint the cloud has descended and covered most of the view. It is a good walk and nice to be out of the city. There aren't many people around, just a few Indonesian tourist couples snuggling up at the viewpoint and zooming past on their scooters. It is a pretty nice and quiet spot to just sit and read and chat to the inevitable stream of locals who wander by. There were some odd but nice art sculptures made by the local kids out of bamboo and old footballs and some keen gardeners who I was pleased to see were reusing old paint tins and buckets for flower pots - more reusing in Indonesia yay! (and also loads of low energy light bulbs in Indonesia too!) Due to luck or fate or whatever I met an Irish guy named Konrad in Yogya who I managed to convince to join me on a bus and boat jolly to Sumatra. He had plans to go to Sumatra but had problems with flight bookings. It was good to have a buddy to travel with - more fun, less scary etc. We are both trying to tavel very economically to so this was good to be on the same budget. We got the overnight, economy train to Jakarta. Here I managed to get a fair bit of sleep on the floor on the blanket I hired. I was only interuppted at every stop with the sounds of the walk-on hawkers calling out 'Nasi, Nasi, Nasi', 'Kopi, Kopi, Kopi' (rice and coffee) ans stomping past. After debating the option of a Pelni ship to Kijang (24 hours to an island which is part of Sumatra but very near Singapore) or a bus and ferry to Bukitinggi (80km from the recent earthquake!) we take the bus as it was leaving first and we were keen to get out of Jakarta asap. After a lot of confusion, misleading information and bad communication moments we are waiting in a bus depot somewhere in Jakarta for about 4 hours for our bus. There are some crazy dudes here and many can't help but stare at us - unnerving especially when it is twenty blokes. Finally we board and after a few hours make it to the rusty old ferry. What a laugh, upstairs there is a bar with a few 'chrome' tables and chairs and fairy lights and an electric keyboard. After a few songs from the 'demo' we finally get some real musicians and singers who are top class, gyrating, singing flat and very loud but good entertainment. Being the only two westerners on board we attract a lot of attention and I get to practice my balancing skills trying to use the squat toilet with has slippery wet tiles by it and the door doesn't shut - this becomes a common dance/stretch I do over the next 36 hours. I manage to get a good nights sleep in our super reclining seats except for the 3am wake up call where they kept saying 'Mister, Mister, Miss, Miss, Makanan, Makanan (food/meal)' we kept closing our eyes and saying no and finally our snoozing won out. The next day consisted of bumping along looking at beautiful old Dutch colonial style houses and village life, interspersed with the odd bit of ride on busking (v. common here) and some good guitar and harmonica combos. Also an interesting moment when all the 'laki-laki' (men) had to get off and walk over the bridge before the bus went over - I think I would rather have been outside the bus if it was going to snap but it seems that was the way. We also got the option of eating mouldy beans - yum and laughs everytime I try to ask for some 'pisang' (bananas) - nowhere to be found in Sumatra apparently. Also keep being half amused and half worried by the number of buses from the same company at the side of the road steaming. Luckily we were soon to join them. Only 78 km from our final destination and after 33 hrs of journey we get some smoke and all pile off. It seems the bearings have gone and after wating for nearly 5 hrs someone turns up with a wrench and some oil and after a bit of a bash all is well - could they have not found a wrench and some oil here!? we were after all in a big town. Anyway onwards and now we got to see the destruction in daylight. Quite a few crumpled buildings and loads of refugee tents set up, big stores of food and money collection points. Even my wonderfully practised phrases don't help us as we arrive in Bukuttinggi and we are dropped about 3 km from where we want to be. So we trudge along, find some food and a bed and collapse. Incidently, I am currently managing to travel on the equivalent of 10 pounds a day here for food, travel, accommodation, everything!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Depression and Happiness in Bali

I have to say I am now sure that flying is the most souless and crap experiences maybe I am biased but.... After crying my way to the airport on the shuttle bus (which I am pleased to say was full!) and being invited to go to Noosa on holiday instead with a pisshead whose wife had just dumped him - tempting! I brave the airport. I have not had any security checks to speak of all trip, only one small glance in my bag when I arrived in Australia, so perhaps I was a bit naive but carrying matches and a fork in my luggage as well as trying to photograph the planes 'Security!' were not too clever! They let me through though to sit in the departure lounge - bad lights, uncomfortable chairs, expensive food, no one talking except the obligatory loud and crass tourists! We finally board and I am scared silly (did I mention I am actually terrified of flying too!) luckily I got some disgusting food to take my attention for a while as the lady next to me clutches her rosary beads - crikey! I have to admit the view as leave is particularly beautiful and I have a bit of time to reflect on my wonderful Australian adventures and all the wonderful folk I have met - so then I cry a bit more! It is raining as we arrive in Denpasar, Bali which is apt. It was such a rushed decision in the end that I only have the plane journey to plan my next move. I decide to find the nearest, quietest, cheapest place to chill and reflect for a few days. This takes me to Legian (near Kuta of surfers and bombs!) and I am thrust back into Asia with a jolt as we are back to 'you want transport?' 'sunglasses 1 dollar' etc... I can't cope with it so I stick with sleeping and mooching in the pool at the beautiful Adys Inn hostel, which is highly recommended. Slowly I get back into the swing of this adventuring lark - I learn a few words of Bahasa Indonesian it is quite easy really. I try the speciality Gado Gado (steamed veg and peanut sauce and cracker!) and try not to get too pissed off with the hawkers. Legian and Kuta really are a bit gross and touristy so I head to Ubud in the hills. Here I find a mecca for alternative folk, with THREE organic cafes, Bali Buddha, Kafe and Sari Organik, an organic food shop (parmesan pasty anyone!) an organic flower shop, organic soap shop and two organic markets! Wow. Mostly they are set up and patronised by 'ex-pats' and tourists but most of the staff are local and there is a seachange within the area forwards to a sustainable community. I met some of the people who are pioneering these businesses and am inspired by their enthusiasm. One particularly exciting project is the Sari Organik experimentation and education centre and cafe (bubbling liquid manure - Peter Harper eat your heart out!) out in the serenely peaceful rice paddy fields. I was lucky to get the guided tour by Oded and was especially excited about his heritage rice seed experiments! I wish him luck with his project - I think he needs help if anyone is interested. I am delighted to see there is recycling and water bottle refilling service here too. I also attended the Kecak performance which was mainly based on the Ramayana and an amazingly musical performance with no instruments but the voice. Onwards to Lovina pretty quiet and there is a desperation in some locals to sell you anything and I feel awkward, I can't buy everything! I try to wait and ponder as I know that in each destination the initial uncertainty has always been replaced with something good or positive. Sadly I end up giving up, after chatting to a few nice locals, and decide to get the bus to Java. What a bad idea that was. After a local freaked me out totally by saying I was going to drown if I get the boat today, begging me to stay and he will pay for my ticket I don't know what to do. I can't change the ticket and the weather looks ok and it is only 30 mins so I go for it, but in my worried state I end up getting bitten by a dog!! I freak even more about rabies but as no one can speak English I just get on with it and cry and worry all the way to Yogjakarta in Java. Here I see a doctor who thinks I am fine and there is no foaming at the mouth so I am quite positive. One of my scariest moments and interesting to think about whether to listen to local advice or not and also going with your instincts.......