Thursday, April 28, 2011

Indonesia Stew

Given its proximity to two active volcanoes and its tendency to be earthquake-ridden, Yogyakarta was a city with a warm, positive outlook. Lounging about on benches, motorbikes, and rickshaws, the people were all smiles and hellos. So, after seeing the requisite temples, we decided to hang around and enjoy the atmosphere. The people were friendly. There were three book stores, and several restaurants had chess boards. Our guesthouse had a balcony and cheap beer; cigarettes were less than a dollar. What more could we ask for?

Periodically throughout the day the Islamic call to prayer would rise above the rooftops, a cacophony coming from a hundred places, beautiful and syncopated, washing over the buildings. In the afternoons came the rain, like bowls of water being poured over the head of the city, squelching the midday heat. Geckos clung to walls, searching for insect snacks. Indonesians sprawled in the heat.

We lounged on the guesthouse balcony, reading or napping, cigarette smoke circling lazily above us.  I traded for more books and used toothpicks as makeshift bobbypins when the heat became stifling. Win and Mikal played chess for hours with the rickshaw drivers who lazily attempted to lure passengers. All in all, it was three days completely lacking in productivity: just the break we needed in the middle of all that traveling. 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Getting There, Bali Style

The first step in planning any proper Balinese outing is letting the boys pick something around town that they think sounds cool. If it includes the words “elaborate,” “cliff carving,” and “25 meters,” they’ll probably pick that one, but only because very few temples in the Lonely Planet include the words “video games,” “beer,” and “boobs.”

In the morning, enjoy a breakfast of fruit salad and a bizarre pyramid-shaped banana sandwich. The freakishly large ants will wait until you finish before starting in on the leftovers, but the sugar bowl is probably full of their dead friends. Also, you will be interrupted frequently by the where-you-go-today call of the local guesthouse proprietor trying to sell you any and everything they can. Sneak out of the temple-style guesthouse when he isn’t looking in order to avoid more hassle. 

Next, find a row of parked motorbikes covered in half-asleep Indonesians. Equally willing to do anything for money, one of them will gladly rent you a motorbike for the day for less than $2.50 for the day, or at least call a friend who will. As a side note, Asians have mastered the art of sleeping on a parked motorbike; unless you want to domino a row of parked motos, I wouldn't recommend trying it.

Also, they will show you and your friends how to ride a manual, give you helmets, and include bribe money with the license in case you are pulled over. This shouldn’t happen as long as you stay on the right (left) side of the road, they tell you, but if it does, you don’t speak English. 

Now you’ll want to get directions. This consists of getting the correct pronunciation of the place you’re going and the most descriptive directions you’ll get all day – “Petrol station. Turn left.”

Staying to the far left, you’ll want to dodge pedestrians, randomly parked vehicles, numerous potholes, and a handful of hippies/yuppies wielding yoga mats. When passing anyone going slower than you, keep in mind that there are no solid/broken line rules; passing is always acceptable, and the bigger vehicle has the right of way, always.

After you go to the petrol station and turn left, you’ll drive for a while without seeing any signs for where you are trying to go. Then you’ll come to a three-way stop.  Hoping you haven’t passed it and armed with correct pronunciation, ask directions. You’ll want to ignore the person who offers to lead you there in exchange for money. Go in whichever direction the person points, in this case, right. You get the feeling that they might as well be pointing up.

Come to yet another fork in the road. Pull over into a parking lot to ask for directions. The first group of women will not know, but they will still offer to lead you there for money anyway. Go in the direction a shop owner points, back the way you came.

A little ways farther, you stop for gas and maybe more directions. You accidentally give them a 1000 rupiah bill instead of a 10000. When that doesn’t work, you should pay them properly while wearing your sheepish I’m-a-silly-tourist grin. Directional requests will probably be met with shrugging.

Pull back into traffic, but when the road curves, try staying straight to go on a residential road. Ask for directions. Follow the pointing finger to the left. Dodge chickens. Ask for directions again, but this time let one of the boys ask for the wrong temple, that’ll confuse ‘em. Keep going left. Start guessing which way to go.

At this point you should just pull over for a cigarette and a home-grown trek through the jungle. And by jungle, I mean community water spigot and trash pile in the jungle. Did I mention you won’t realize that until you’ve walked down about a hundred steps? Whew, what a cigarette break. But past the trash pile and beyond a trash waterfall there’s a river. It would be picturesque if not for the mosquitoes and how sweaty you all are.

Remount motorbikes. Careful, the seat is hot and the helmet feels suffocating. But, drive for three minutes, up and over a couple hills, and at the edge of this residential neighborhood you will find the point of interest you’ve been looking for. You will pay to park, accidentally doing so in the sun, and then pay twice as much as you thought to get in, but you’ve made it.

When you see that the cliff-side carvings are not as elaborate as all the Hindu temples and that they are 25 meters long, not tall, the boys will be extremely surprised. The male system of listening to only keywords has failed. But, hey, at least they did all the driving.

On the way back into town, you will make a minimum of three more wrong turns, driving many kilometers out of the way. This will not be your fault, since you have no way to communicate with the other motorbike and are therefore stuck following them in the wrong direction. However, you are all veterans of the Indonesian direction-giving system. On the way, you might even find burritos, just be sure to ditch the motorbikes before starting in on a pitcher of sangria.