May 12th, 2004
Subject: Surfing's the source, bro. It'll change your life.
Well, how are ya all? I'm fine and dandy here in Indonesia. I should clarify the last comment on my last email as I start here. I was in a bit of a funk as I sat at the internet cafe typing out the ol' journal. I find when I write while in a funk, the writing lacks a certian wit that I like it to have... that I find it usually has. Sometimes that wit isnt on tap when the computers are available,and I just didnt like what came out. But no biggie. We'll make up for it this time.
To start, a few interesting observations of Indonesia.
But back to the story,....
As I last left off, we were in Bukit Tinggi, and we are now back in Padang again, but its been a wild ride inbetween.
Dave and I had wandered in to a cool little place in Bukit Tinggi called the Apache Cafe. Real laid back place, similar to the kind you could find in Puerto Princessa. We took to it immediately. We sat down and ate and discussed the idea of doing a jungle hike. Bukit Tinggi is just on the egde of some nice dense lush jungle. A popular destintion from Bukit Tinggi is to go to Lake Maninjau, and rather than taking the 2 hour bus ride, one can take a 2 or 3 day hike through the jungle to get there. Sounded like the perfect plan. All we had to do was figure out who to have as our guide. Everyone and their mother in Bukit Tinggi offers trekking. We met a couple guides, but they were a little too exciteable for us. One guy wanted us to pay a deposit after a 5 minute conversation. At the Apache cafe, we met Andy. Super relaxed chilled out guy. We asked him about hiking in the area and he gave us a lot of good information. Over lunch we talked it over and then asked Andy if he could recommend a guide. He said he was a guide. Thats how relaxed he was. Any other guide in town would have been trying the hard sell, but he was just keen to let it work itself out. So we signed up. We figured if you're going to be hiking with someone for 3 days, liking the person is one of the most important things.
The next morning, we met up with Andy and got a van to drive us to the edge of Bukit Tinggi and drop us off at the edge of nowhere. Just a vast expanse of trees lay ahead. Andy jumped in and said "Lets go". We ducked in to a passage-way of trees one-person wide, and about 4 feet high, walking bent over. A little way in to it, the path opened up, but not by much. It was a pretty dense hike, and we were loving it. Occasionally we'd stop to check out certain fruit trees, or interesting flowers. Indonesia has the worlds largest flower - 80cm wide (2.5 feet), but none were in bloom while we were trekking. We also saw and tasted a cinnamon tree. Tree? Yep, I never had any clue where cinnamon came from. I just assumed it was somewhere like Willy Wonka land. Not from a tree. You can peel the bark and taste it! The bark is dried out and then ground up in to the stuff you put on your toast. Its amazing, coming from the western world, you can easily forget to think about where things come from. Food comes from a store, right? But really, where does it all come from?
We arrived at the house we were to spend the night at. It was only mid-day and we still had some more trekking to do, but at least we could leave the bags and wander. The owner of the house came along with us, and led us through the rest of the days trek. Going up and down amazingly steep mountainsides, and a whole bunch of river crossings. An awesome and tiring day of trekking. Dave and I got our first leech bites ever. Leeches, for those that dont know, are little slug-like things that attach themselves to your legs as you hike, then suck out the blood. Not just a drop like a mosquito, but tablespoons of it. Pretty nasty little things. And when you pick them off mid-suck, the holes they leave tend to bleed much longer than your average cut. Eew.
Dinner that night consisted of bamboo in a curry sauce -spicy of course. But who knew you could eat bamboo? I thought all bamboo was hollow. But aparently there is something inside and it can be eaten, and is quite good. It tastes like potatoes, but with a softer consistency. Served with helpings of rice, and all eaten with the hands of course.
When dinner was finished, we sat around talking and suddenly we heard a banging. Somewhat of a musical banging in the distance. We asked if we could go check it out. Andy said "We've come on a very special night. Its a celebration in the village." Oh no. I instantly had recollections of Amantani island. It was an island in Peru where I stayed with a family and they told me, "You've come on a very special night. Theres a celebration in the village." You get there and a bunch of locals are dressed up in traditional costumes, putting on the same rehearsed show they put on every night. You can tell they despise doing it by the looks in their eyes, and when the alloted time is over, they rush home. I really didnt want to go through that again. I'd rather people just said, "Now, we're going to go to a re-inactment of the rituals our ancestors did 100 years ago." I would go and admire it for what it is. But by surrounding it in lies, you steal what little remaining value it had. So, I was a little aprehenive about going to see "the big celebration".
But this was the real deal. We got there and there were 100+ people there. They rolled out sheets and we sat down and dinner was served. If this was planned event, we would not be given dinner at the house and have dinner served. And this was no small feast. More than enough food for the 100 attendees. Any village doing this everytime a couple tourists came though would be broke. Lastly, the reactions were genuine. People saying by their expressions, "Look, two tourists are joining the celebrations. How unique!". It was genuine and real and suddenly I felt a rush. Its hard to describe, but the exact opposite emotion I felt at Amantani, I felt now. We were in fact a part of a special night. We tried to ask what the celebration was for. It was held because a young boy in from the village had graduated from the college in the city, but even though that was the reason, the celebration was a celebration of the village in general. Which was true, the graduate was not placed upon any pedistals that night. He sat with the others, and in fact next to me during dinner. Andy advised us that at dinner in the families house, it was ok to sit any way you pleased, but in a formal situation such as this men must sit cross-legged and upright, and without the soles of your feet pointing at anyone. It was also rude not to eat food which was offered, so we ate some, but only a little. The graduate had a camera, and was taking photos, and we asked if we could do the same, although it just wasnt a comfortable situation doing so. We asked, they said it was ok, but all the same, we felt akward being invited to this, and then snapping off pictures as if it were a show. The graduate invited me inside the nearby building to take a photo as well. Inside sat about 30 men, all around the edge of the room, heads bowed, chanting muslim prayers. The grad motioned for me to take a photo. No way. I just couldnt point my camera in to a room of people chanting (praying?) and take a photo. I'm just not that guy. As we were standing there in the entranceway of the building refusing to take the photo despite the offers, an elderly lady took my hand and motioned for Dave and I sit down. Some of the chanters had spilled in to this entrance way as well, and I took a seat next to one of them. I sat in the same positon, legs crossed, hands clasped, head bowed, but didnt dare chant. This lasted for 15 minutes, and I can only guess it was going on for 20 minutes while we were eating. When Dave and I walked out of that building, we just kind of looked at each other and said "whoa". There wasnt much else to say, it was a truly powerful moment. Truly. In a lamp-lit room, in a village in the middle of the jungle in the midst of worshipers chanting. I cant describe the feeling much better. Woah. Later, someone told us the chants were of good luck for the graduate and for the village. Most of the men wore simple black hats. Some of them wore robes, but most wore normal clothes. The few robes were not particularly ornamental.
After the prayer session, everyone went outside and mingled while the dancers got ready. They were performing a traditional dance in which about 12 men dance in a circle, wearing pants that have a large flap of material inbetween the legs. They mimic hunting poses and movements, slapping the fabric from time to time, which makes a loud snapping sound. This lasts for about 20 minutes, and then 2 people enter the circle and recite lines depicting a situation where a moral test is made of someone. It was all in Indonesian, and this is the loose translation we got from Andy. The talks last 5 mintues, then we return to 20 minute of the dancing. It was really incredible to watch, but on the 3rd round or so, we were pretty beat. The movements of the dance were 4 steps repeated over and over. While they were cool, watching it for 20 minutes was a bit much when you didnt know the meaning. Then another 20, and another 20. Finally, after an hour and a half, it ended. I was thrilled beyond belief to see it, but in some ways, happy to see it end. We had an amazingly hard day trekking, it was going on midnight, and 1 and a half hours of the 4 same steps repeated was a bit much. We had noticed a lot of the families with small children had left already, and asked if it would be rude if we left too, as it seemed people were still milling about. Andy said it would be fine, and we left as the musical portion of tonights activites began. As the music faded in to the distance as we walked away, we remarked that it was incredible that it was still going. Andy said the celebration will continue until the sun comes up. Cool!
We slept in a bit the next morning, and woke to fresh coffee. When I say fresh, I mean fresh. Indonesia is known for producing some of the worlds best coffee, and the beans are grown all over, including Sumatra. The lady of the house we were staying at picks, dries, and prepares her own beans. And what great coffee it was. The tea she served was pretty good too. Throw a few chunks of freshly dug up ginger for good measure, and you've got one heck of a good cup of ginger tea.
Dave, Andy and I set out hiking about noon. We walked though some jungle paths, and then came upon the most amazing little village. All the houses were so cool. They each seemed to take a lot of pride in their front yards, having the most ornate plants and flowers in the garden. As we were admiring the yards, I heard a sound that sounded like heavy rain on a nearby metal roof. Impossible on a sunny day like this! I turned to see that is was in fact heavy rain on the metal roof on the house to my right. 2 seconds later, we were in a downpour. The rain came that fast. We asked the owner of the house (who was sitting on the porch, peeling fruit) if we could stand under the porch for a while. They not only said yes, but got up to offer us the seats on the couch while they sat on the floor. We insisted they remain seated, and we'd stand or sit on the floor. Well, then they bought out more chairs. They were going to have us seated one way or another, Indonesian hospitality wouldnt have it any other way. A few seconds later, 3 cups of hot coffee arrived. Then some of the friut the ladies were preparing. No idea what it was, but it was bagged up and in some sort of sweet sauce. It was obviously packaged like this for sale. These ladies were sitting here making fruit to take to the market to sell, and they offered us some for free, made us coffee, and gave us their seats, simply because we got caught in the rain outside their place. Just way too nice.
After a half an hour, the rain showed no signs of letting up, sp we decided to wrap our backpacks in plastic bags and just walk in the rain. I tied mine up on the back of my walking stick and took off like a hobo. As soon as we hit the rain, we noticed something we didnt plan on. It was a cold rain. A very cold rain. We still had 3 more hours before we made it to the rest-house for the night, and 3 hours in this rain would surely leave us with a cold. Andy knew someone 15 minutes up the road and we stopped for some soup and to dry out and decide what we wanted to do. Rather than risking getting sick, we'd hike to the next town and just catch the bus to Maninjau and make it a 2 day hike rather than 3.
We got to Maninjau and arrived at the Batu C homestay. It was a tiny little place right on the lake. They had 4 units for rent. 20,000 a day ($2.50). So, for $2.50 a day, you have your own private cottage on the beach. The only thing was that the homestay was actually about 5km away from the village of Maninjau. So, in order to get there, you have to take a moped. Now, if I thought it was a harrowing ride on the bus from Bukit Tinggi going through this insane traffic, it was nothing compared to the ride on the moped. For starters, the moped is obviously going to lose a head-on fight with anything on the road. Secondly, it was raining, making visibility poor, and traction limited. Lastly, helmets are almost non-existent here. The drivers dont wear them, and they surely dont have one for their passengers. So, rain or shine, we'd zip back and forth to the village on the back of a moped weaving in and out of busses and vans at 80km/h (45mph).
When we arrived in town, the first two people we saw were Bruce and Natasha, the Australian couple we had met on the bus from Dumai (aka, the bus from hell). Turns out they were staying at a homestay in the town, and it was the same price. Dave and I planned on moving there, but just never got around to it, and ended up liking our little place as well.
Bruce said he was going to take a walk to the nearby waterfall the next day after going to the market. Sounded like a cool plan. So, the next day, I wandered out to the market to check things out, and met up with them. The market was your typical really cool small-town market. People selling all sorts of foodstuffs, as well as clothes and a few odds-and-ends. Bruce and I made plans to re-meet at 10:30 after I got Dave at the hotel.
When I arrived at the entrance to the path that led to the waterfall, I was wearing my swim shorts. Seemed like a natural thing to wear to a waterfall. I planned to jump in the water if at all possible. Bruce said that might be a bad idea as there are nettles up along the path. Nettles are these little plants that sting pretty bad. I said then I should go back and change, a 30 minute chore, while they'd have to wait. We discussed it, and as there were only a couple patches we figured if I was careful, I'd probably be alright. Well, okey-dokey.
We set off, and 10 minutes up get in to some patches of thick plants. I take out my towel and wrap it around my legs to fend off these nettles. I trip on the towel and slide off the path in to a patch of plants. Instantly, I feel a burning. Not just a little, but a lot. I yell to Dave ahead that I am going back, and he decides to turn around as well. As I walk, the burn and pain increase to quite a severe level. In a panic, I jump in the river and wash and scratch. This is when the real pain hits. I dont know quite how to describe how bad it was. I would say that it felt very much like someone had a hot clothes iron and placed it on my leg. I screamed. To this day, this is the second most painful thing I have EVER felt in my life (the first being a toothache in Florida one year). So, imagine someone holding this iron to your leg, then asking you to walk.
I sprinted down what was a rocky hill, not caring that with each step I nearly fell face first in to rocks. I just wanted to be back on the main road. If this plant was out there in these hills, someone down there must know the cure. Well, the people I asked said there was no cure. I didnt believe it. I thought their English wasnt good enough and they didnt understand. I took off back for my homestay, as the guys there would certainly know. It still felt as severe as when I jumped in the river and was showing no signs of letting up.
Ista was one of the guys running the homestay. I told him what happened and he just looked at me with pity. He said it happened to him once before and there is nothing you can do. No medicine, nothing. He said that the pain lasts for a day or two, then turns in to an immense itching for 1-3 weeks. He said when he got it, he wasnt able to sleep for the night. Well, if there was no medicine, I decided to ask Dave to run to the liquor store and get me some different medicine. If this was going to be that painful, I was going to kill every nerve receptor in my body or pass out trying. In the 20 minutes it took him to go and come back, I simply paced the beach and occasionally screamed like... how do I describe it, I guess like the scream someone would make if they had a hot iron on their leg.
Dave arrived back with a bottle of cheap wiskey, the only thing in town. It was gone in less than 30 minutes. I could still feel the pain, I just cared about it a lot less.
The ironic thing about my remedy is this. Part of the reason we came to Sumatra was to get away from the bars. As a traveler, social drinking is just sort of unavoidable. I know that sounds like a lame excuse, but when you meet anyone, you'll make plans to meet up later at night... at a bar. Or even if you dont, the idea of staying in a dingy cell-like hotel room is never appealing, so you go out and about, and usually to a bar. But this really only holds true for big cities and towns. When you're out in a nature-type area, it lends itself to just chilling out much more. So, we figured we'd go to Sumatra for a month, and get real in to the nature, and away from the cities and towns, and thus the bars. Up to this point, it had worked. We had about 1 beer since we arrived. Now, I was making up for lost time with a vengance.
A couple hours later, I could feel that the effects of the nettles were not wearing off. Unfortunately, the effects of the cheap wiskey were. I decided that I'd get another bottle to make it through the afternoon and night. When I got to the store, I figured the stores might be closed later, so I'd get two more to be sure. Those two were empty by 9pm, and I figured that should do the trick for the night. I'd like to apologize to my liver at this point. Buddy, I'm real sorry I had to do that to you. Speak to the leg, its his fault.
Despite my best efforts, I did not pass out. I could still feel a nagging pain under the blur of my intoxication. But I figured it might go away. I remember reading my book up until about 12:30 at night, and although I really dont remember sleeping at all, I have the recollection of waking up at 1am. In pain.
I shook my head and marvelled at this thing. It felt like... like a hot iron being placed on my leg. Still! How could something so innocent hurt so bad for so long? One would think that such an intense pain for so long would eventually make the area of the leg feel numb. Nope. I looked at my empty bottles of coke and wiskey in my room. It looked like a rough weekend at Lawn Ct.
I decided that as there was no way I was going to sleep, I'd see if I could walk the 5km to town and get one last bottle. If not, the distraction of the walk might do me some good. What else was I going to do?
As I walked through the fields of grass and rice, each blade that touched my leg felt like a whip stinging across it. It was so painful, it was almost comical at this point, if thats possible. I got to the street and started towards town. About 2km later, I found a bunch of people sitting around a table outside a shop playing some sort of gambling game similar to Majong. They looked like a rather unsavory bunch, but they were all I had at 2am. I was limping due to the leg, but made my limp more pronounced as I hobbled over. If I was going to ask to buy wiskey at 2am, I wanted them to know it was more for medicinal reasons. I asked them if they sold wiskey and they said no, but offered me a seat. I took it. 30 seconds later, the guy came out of the back with a full bottle and said "20,000 Rupiah". I didnt even question why he answered "no" the first time, I just asked if he had any coke to go with it. He gave me a coke and a glass. I mixed up a 50/50 mixture and downed it, to the amazement of those sitting around me. They asked what was wrong with the leg. I explained to them that I came in contact with "that plant that stings". They winced. The look they gave was the look that one might give if.... I guess if you told someone you put a hot iron on your leg.
These guys didnt strike me as the most law-abiding bunch of guys. Under any other circumstances, I never would have come near them. Even now, I didnt feel completely safe around them. But here I was drinking wiskey with them at 2am, practicing some Indonesian and generally talking about nonsense. I excused myself after half an hour or so, and got on back to the homestay.
The bottle was half gone by 4am when the pain finally subsided to the "really painful" level, and I fell asleep. It hurt for 15 hours! I really couldnt believe it was that long.
I woke the next day, and it hurt, but it wasnt that bad. On a positive note, the pain in the leg drowned out any sort of hangover I might have had. I didnt notice anything at all.
The next couple days I spent just hanging about the homestay. Let leg itched, but I tried not to scratch, as it brought back the burn. I wore a sleeve over it with rubber bands, which made it a bit better, and stopped me from itching it.
I later found out that contact with water will make this stuff worse. It could have been my paniced jump in to the stream that made my case of nettles a bit worse. Maybe, maybe not. But it was preventing me from going in to the lake, which I was a bit dissapoined about. I love to go swimming, and especially lake swimming. I had planned on swimming every morning, but now that was not going to happen.
A couple nights after my nettles experience, as I lay in bed, sort of half asleep, I hear a rusltling noise. I ignore it. I hear it again, and I jump up as it sounds like its under my pillow. As I jump up, I realize its a drop of water in my ear - you know this sound it makes as you shake your head around. I tilted my head to one side, and jumped up and down. It didnt come out. I stuck a Q-tip way in there, it didnt soak it up. I tilted my head, stuck in my little finger and jiggled it with all my might. Finally, I could feel the drop of water roll out down my finger and on to my arm. It was about then that I realized I hadn't been swimming in a few days, and had no reason to have water lodged in my ear. I feared the worst. If it wasnt water, it could be blood or brain ooze. I was scared to see what liquid was seeping out of my head, and slowly turned my arm to see. Oh my. There he was. An ugly black bug. Alive. Perhaps a little ticked off that he found a nice comfy ear to nest in and I kicked him out, but he was alive. I shook him off with a quick "waaa!" of fright and then just kind of stood there shaking off the chills. I had a bug deep, deep in my ear. Eew.
Despite leeches, nettles and a bug sleeping in my brain, I was still enjoying Lake Maninjau. That sounds hard to believe, but I was. It was a real relaxing place, so it was hard to get upset about much.
When we were on our jungle hike, Andy had taken us to the top of a mountain where people did paragliding from. Its like hangligding, where you jump off a mountain and float down, but you use a parachute instead. Sounded like fun, so we asked Andy if he could set us up with the guys who did the jumping.
Andy did, and one sunny morning the guys came to pick us up and take us up to the mountain and give us lessons before we jumped.
Paragliding, like skydiving, is one of those sports where the first few times you do it, you jump tandem, meaning that you're strapped to the front of a professional who's jumped thousands of times. This person guides you, then lands you safely. If you like it enough, you get more instruction and then go on your own once you've got a feel for things. We got up to the top of the mountain, and the winds werent good. The ideal conditions are when the winds come off the lake, and then go up the side of the mountain. The paraglider will jump in to this stream, which will then lift them up, or at least provide enough lift for them to get down slowly. We had to wait until about noon before the winds were in our favor. I had said Dave could jump first, and so he did. Perfect liftoff, perfect jump, perfect weather, and a nice ride all the way down.
Unfortunately, there was only one parachute capable of carrying 2 people, and only one person qualified to take tandem jumper, which meant that I'd have to wait about 2 hours for them to return. They got back up the mountain, set up the gear and I got ready to go. Then, within about 30 seconds, the whole mountain became engulfed in a cloud. It was almost as if it was a sign. I waited there, standing, with the harness on for about an hour, and the clouds didnt let up. Then we unhooked and sat and waited and talked to a Sweedish guy who was also there paragliding, but had been doing the sport for 5 years. He asked if we knew another term for paragliding? Answer: Parawaiting.
So, after a day of parawaiting, we decided to call it quits and come back tomorrow. I was prepared this time. I brought my book, my hammock, my music... all sorts of time wasters. However, we got to the top and the wind was perfect. Someone shouted "come on, you're going", and 5 minutes later, I was in the air. It really was a neat sensation. You basically run off a mountaintop, and then your feet are dangling in the air. Way cool. We landed in a rice field, and I skidded on.... you guess it, the part of my leg with the nettles. It felt like... well, like a hot iron was placed on it. But this time it only lasted 30 seconds or so, then subsided back in to the itch. However, I think the instructor though he broke my leg when we landed by the noise I made. I explained and he understood.
Our last day in Maninjau, we decided to rent mountain bikes and ride around the lake. Its 70km (50miles) to go full circle. We decided to go for it. We actually made it in good time (3.5 hours) considering the hills and the stops for food, and considering 50% of it was unpaved, which we didnt know before setting out.
We didnt really want to leave Maninjau, but we were out of cash and there was no ATM in the town, so we caught the bus back to Bukit Tinggi.
Dave and I had decided that we really wanted to get in some good surfing while we were here in Indonesia, and figured Andy could recommend some good spots. There are the Mentawai islands nearby that have some of the worlds best surfing, but for starters, neither of us are that good, and they're also rather hard to get to. But the rest of the beaches on Sumatra have good waves, so we figured we'd take the best one and go for it.
Crazy monkey guy of Bukit Tinggi
While in the Apache cafe, we met another traveler named Mel, who was on her way back home to Germany from New Zealand. She didnt have firm plans but wanted to do some surfing, so she decided to come along with Dave and I to the beach. Andy also surprised us by saying he waned to come along. He had been our guide for the jungle hike, but we considered him a freind as well. But we were pleasantly surprised that he wanted to join us on our little trip.
Andy suggested going to Uncle Jacks Homestay, right on a beach just 20 minutes north of Padang. We could rent boards in Padang, stay at Uncle Jacks, then in the morning, we'd just have to walk 1km up the beach to get to where the good surf was. Sounds like a grand plan. We went to Uncle Jacks and checked in and it was an incredible place. Nice little rooms right on the beach. We fell asleep to the sound of waves.
The next morning, we went to the surf shop in Padang to rent boards. The surf shop was located on a small beach right on the edge of Padang. We got there to find 8 or so surfers sitting in there, looking at the waves, but not surfing. They said the waves werent good enough, but were hopeful that they would be better by the afternoon. We told them that we were staying at Uncle Jacks and planned on surfing there today anyway. They said it was bad there now too. The only place that had good surf right now was Air Manis (co-incidentally, the beach we stayed at last time). They said if we wanted to make a trip out there, they'd drive us if we paid for gas. We agreed. Then something was said in Indonesian, and I'm not sure what it was, but I think it was something along the lines of "Hey, grab your boards guys, we're going to Air Manis, the tourists are paying for gas." Because we got in the truck to find a bunch of extra boards and extra surfers. Which was more than cool with me, in fact preferred. I mean, here we were, in Indonesia, crammed in to a truck which was gutted for the sole purpose of transporting boards and surfers to the beaches, with a bunch of cool local surfer dudes.
We parked the truck on the edge of the beach, everyone jumped out, grabbed their respective boards and headed for the water. The waves were perfect. They werent too big (good for us beginners), but not too small so we couldnt practice on them. Very rideable little a-frames, so we could break to either side.
I caught a total of 6 waves that day.
2. I had a much longer ride, riding the wash almost to the shore.
3. On this one, I had my first drop-in, where you teeter on the top of the wave, then feel the rush as you race down the face of the wave, picking up a lot of speed.
4. I actually turned the board side to side.
5 and 6. Another 2 good waves.
In between all of these, I had a lot of fumbled attempts, and a couple good wipeouts that I'm sure would have looked great if caught on film.
We really enjoyed surfing Air Manis, and decided we'd come back the next day and check in to Papa Chilis homestay, where we stayed the last time. We went over to see Mama Chili who runs the homestay and drop off the boards and let her know we would be coming back tomorrow. Elation doesnt come close to describing the look on her face when she saw us. She greeted us with hugs and smiles and told us she'd cook up some good meals for us tomorrow.
To be honest, I was maybe as excited about going back to Mama Chilis (as we were now calling it - Papa Chili was no where to be found) as I was about surfing. Its hard to describe this lady. Shes kind of like The Oracle from The Matrix. If you broke a vase, she'd say "No prob-blem" in her typical way. Everything was no prob-blem. She is just the nicest lady, always smiling, always happy and laughing. And always trying to feed us. If shes not asking you to eat, shes asking you to eat more. :) At any time of day or night, there is water availble (which is rare for these parts), coffee available, and fresh rice in the cooker. Its all just help-yourself kind of service. And the meals that she cooks are just awesome too. I would almost list Mama Chili as a reason to come visit Indonesia. I'm amazed that through word of mouth alone, the place isnt world famous. It should be. World Famous Mama Chili's Homestay. Even has a nice ring to it, dont you think?
We spent the next 4 days hanging and surfing Air Manis beach. We had a little routine, where we'd get up early, eat, catch the morning swell at high tide, come back for lunch, nap for 3 hours, go back out and catch the afternoon swell at high tide, chill on the beach for sunset, then head back for dinner, and spend the rest of the night talking and copying each others music on MiniDisc.
There really were hardly any other surfers there. All of the good surfers go to the Mentawai Islands for the pro-level surfing. So that leaves these beaches to us. Beaches where, anywhere else in the world, would be considered very good surfing beaches. On any given day, there were maybe 6-8 other guys in the water with us. Except Sunday. Sunday, they came out in droves. Maybe 25+ people in the water. It made for some tricky situations. I remember when I was surfing with Drea in California. I asked how you know who has the right to surf each wave that comes in? Do you take turns or what? She said that whoever is on top of the wave has the right to it. She explained it, and it still didnt make sense, becuase I just wasnt familiar with the whole thing. But now I get it. And although I get it, and I see who has the right to a wave, I still accidentally began to drop in on a couple peoples waves before I realized, causing them to stop their ride. In most places, this could get you a flurry of angry comments, but the locals here apologize for it. They have no reason to, I should be apologizing, and I do, but they waive it off and say its nothing. Just amazingly cool people.
We hated to leave Mama Chilis, but we had other things on our adjenda that need tending to. If I havent convinced you enough to go Mama Chilis, I should add that it came to $4 a day for the room, including 3 meals and all the coffee and water you can drink. World Famous Mama Chilis, check it out!!
So, but now we're back in Padang, getting ready to head to Jakarta. It turns out my dad will be there on business, so I'll get to spend some time with him, and Dave and I may be parting ways. It depends on a few factors. We both have semi-solid plans for the next few weeks, but neither of us know exactly what we're doing yet. We've got a little bit of fun planned for Jakarta. I'll keep that until next time.
Hope all is well with you,
May 12th, 2004
Current Location - Kuala Lumpur
I was about to send this story to the list right after it happened. It happened just hours after I sent the last journal entry, and I have saved it until now. Its a doozie.
My first day back in Padang, I found an internet cafe on Veteran Road. (In Indonesia, "road" is Jalan. Hence, its "Jalan Veteran") The connection there was slow. So, in the afternoon, I went walking around town looking for another internet cafe. I couldnt find one, but surmised that in my walking I had done almost a complete circle and reckoned I was somewhere in the vicinity of Jalan Veteran again and would go back to the slow internet cafe. I asked a couple kids where Jalan Veteran was. Jalan is also the word for "walking" but only when said a little differently. In any case, these kids had no idea what I was asking for, probably because I was pronouncing Jalan wrong. As I was asking them for directions, this girl comes up and says in English "May I be of help to you?". I tell her I am looking for Jalan Veteran and she says she can walk me there. She asks what I am looking for and I tell her I am going to the internet cafe. She tells me she was headed to the internet as well, and that there are 3 cafes in the other direction, one of which might be faster. During the 30 minute walk, she tells me that she is in college, studying English, and is happy to have someone to practice with. I am happy to have someone walk me to the internet cafe- fair trade.
We reach the internet cafe and she tells the clerk we need a computer, then goes over to one and motions for me to join. I tell her that I really need my own computer, I thank her for the directions and sit and begin to type. Half an hour later, she is finished and sits behind me. I ask if she is done and she says she is. I say it was nice to meet you, but I will be a while, so please dont wait. She says she will wait. I say I am typing a journal, and will be 2-3 more hours. She says she will wait. I tell her I dont want her to wait. She says she wants to talk more, and would like to wait or come back when I am done. I tell her perhaps we should meet for something to eat later and we can talk then. She agrees, and I give her my phone number. As she is leaving, she asks if she can take a photo of me later. No problem. I have become used to complete strangers walking up and taking photos with me. This is a person who I have walked and talked with for 30 minutes, so I see no problem in agreeing to have a photo taken.
Not that its of much consequence to the story, but I shall point out at this point, the girl is in no way my type. Looks wise, no. Age wise, no (shes in her teens). And religion wise, no. Muslim, meaning they dont really date. You're long time friends, then you marry, thats the deal. But all that aside, I considered this just a tutor-student type of thing.
So, we meet at the bank at 7pm for dinner. She asks if I'd like to take the photo now. Sure. I thought the camera would be in her bag. It wasnt, and we start walking. Was this a ploy to get me to her house, or were we going to a friends place with a camera?
At this point, I need to ask why she needs a photo. All these strangers taking photos, I had to know why. She tells me, "So when you go back to your country, I can remember you forever." Oh my. Then she says "There it is!", and points to....
...the portrait studio. Yes, my friend of (now) 45 minutes and I were going to go to the studio to have portraits made. I havent done this since I dated Nicole Brelsford in 10th grade. I had a hard time containing my laughter. We walk in to the back room and she fixes her headscarf and the photographer asks me to pick out a background. A background? Oh my. I wanted to go with the faux-beach scene with the plastic palms, but she wasnt having it. We went with the pastel-80's background. As we're standing there, its obvious that I am a good foot taller than her, so I am asked to sit on the stool. The photographer comes up, makes me put one leg up on the other, and positions my hands in cool-guy-mode. Then she comes in behind me and puts her hands on my shoulders. I can barely contain my laughter at this point.
One shot. Thats all they took. I am posed like Ralph Macchio circa 1982. My hair is a mess as I had just woken up to go to "dinner". I girl whos name I dont know is behind me pretending to be my girlfriend, donned in a Muslim headscarf, posed like we're highschool sweethearts. The backdrop is dude, like totally 80's. And we will never see it.....
The photo was ready Friday afternoon. I left Friday morning. Shucks.
Dave was doing some things in Bukit Tinggi, so I was left to entertain myself. I had no shortage of offers. It was impossible to walk to the store and back without everyone calling me over asking me to sit with them. At one point, I almost felt it was too much. It began to get annoying.
The manager at my hotel, Fiatra, was about my age and unlike the rest of the people on the street, he had me as a captive audience when he blocked the entrance to the hotel. He would always catch me coming or going and corner me in to conversations. He was a really nice guy who even invited me to his moms house for dinner one night. As kind as that was, I was seriously just looking for some down-time and chill out. However, the one night he asked me if I was doing anything for the next hour. Well, he had me, no, I wasnt. He asked if I wanted to go on jalan-jalan soree. Jalan means walk, jalan-jalan means wander around, soree means evening. An evening wander-around. Sure!
Normally, getting in to traffic here is something I only do if absolutley necessary. But here I was getting on the back of a moped to dart through rush hour traffic just for fun. Yikes. But he did give me a helmet. Aparently, helmets are required by law in city-centers. When we reached the city limits, Fiatra would tell me I could take it off now. He'd tell me 4 or 5 times depsite my saying "Its ok, I'd rather keep it on". It was a cheap-o helmet that offered less protection than your average baseball hat, but it gave the illusion of saftey.
We drove around and visited his sister, mom and dad, psychic uncle, and his girlfriend. Meeting his girlfriend was kind of strange. He kept asking me "Do you think she's pretty?", right in front of her. And she spoke perfect English. That was weird. And when we arrived, he made her put on a long sleeve shirt, as its impolite for girls to show their arms in the company of strange men.
On the way home, he asked me if I liked goreng. Goreng is the Indonesian word for fried, and refers to any type of fried food. I said I did. Language barriers can present certain problems. There are no tenses in the Indonesian language (no future, no past, no present. EG: "Did you go to the store?" is said the same as "Are you going to the store?", you would just need to add the word "before" or "after" to your sentence. Get it?) Because of this lack of tenses, most Indonesians have trouble relating it to English. So, when Fiatra asked "Do you like goreng?", he was actually asking "Would you like goreng?", and I replied "Yes, a lot". But I had just eaten. When he stopped and bought a whole bunch of fried food I still didnt put it together. I thought it was for him. When we got back to the hotel, he proudly laid it on a plate and offered it to me. He looked confused when I said I wasnt hungry. It wasnt until later on in the night after similiar mix-ups did I piece it all together.
Dave returned to meet me in Padang and the two of us caught a flight to Jakarta on Friday morning for one specific reason which I shall get in to in a minute. When we got on the plane, I couldnt believe our luck. We got the emergency row, and we didnt even ask for it. In fact, I am somewhat convinced the lady gave it to us on purpose. The people in the seats near us were not the people at the check in around the same time. Oh, thank you. For the reasons I hate the people who gave me the bad bus seats, I love this lady who gave me the good plane seats.
We got in to Jakarta and booked in to a cheap hotel which was actually the one of the more expensive I've seen in asia so far at $24/night for a double.... oh wait, nevermind, the Manila Diamond was way beyond that. :) But Jakarta is more expensive than most cities here in Asia.
That night we went out to a cool club called BC Club. A small, ritzy, upscale place you could only find in a major city. It was cool, but Dave and I both felt colds coming on and called it an early night. Especially with what we had planned for the next day.
Since I met Dave 3 months ago, he has been saying that he's always wanted to try skydiving. I started skydiving in college, but have probably only done 20 jumps since that time. Dave kept asking me about what it was like and insisting that if we found a place in Asia that we'd have to do it. I agreed, but it looked like everywhere was closed. Manila, Singapore, Thailand... all skydive centers had been shut down. Only Jakarta remained, and it looked expensive to get there and they jumped infrequently and spur-of-the-moment, so we figured it would never happen. Just as we entered Sumatera we got an email from Edy of the Skydive center that they'd be jumping on the 15th. Tickets to Jakarta from Sumatera seemed cheap so we went for it!
Our ride to the drop zone was supposed to pick us up at our hotel at 10am. We had gone out for breakfast at 8am, and I went back to shower at 9am and Dave went to the travel agency. As I walked up to the hotel a guy came up and said "Hello, How are you?" I get this 100+ times a day. I figured this guy wanted to sell me something. I rudely walked past and just said "Hi". He then said "Are you deaf?". I thought to myself "No, I'm not deaf, I'm just ignoring you", but I didnt say it aloud. As I kept walking, I thought that was a very odd thing to ask me. It wasnt until I got to the door of my hotel, that I turned around and asked the guy, "Did you just ask me, 'Are you Dave?' ". He said in his Indonesian accent, "Yes, are you Deavf?". Um, No, I'm not Dave, but I'm Rick, the other half of the people you're looking for.
We got to the drop zone, and had to wait an agonizing 3 hours for the pilot and jumpmaster to arrive. A 3 hour wait is no big thing, but when you have adrenalin running through you like mad, it tends to make a wait more agonizing.
Once our jumpmaster arrived, he said that he could only take one of us up at a time. We had to go 'tandem' and he had only one chute able to support 2 people. Just like the paragliding. So I said Dave could go first. If the weather turned bad, it wouldnt matter as much to me as I had jumped before. So he went first.
I have never seen anyone so thrilled about anything in my life. When Dave landed it was like his world had changed. He laid on the ground looking up at the sky just shouting all sorts of things in excitement.
Luckily, the weather held out for my jump too, although some clouds were moving in. On the way up, I asked what would happen if someone jumped through the clouds. The instructor said nothing happened, but for first-timers they usually dont do it, as you get a sense of how fast you're really going and it freaks some people out if its their first time. Being as I had done a few jumps, he said we could try it. Cool.
I always sort of 'fog out' when I skydive. I remember the whole thing, but dont remember being exited or scared or relaxed. I dont remember any emotions. Well, maybe a few, but not the rush some people get. This time was a bit different.
For reasons I cant explain, I was much more aware during every part of this jump. Getting out of a plane at 10,000 feet should be a bit scarry. Oddly, its not. You just sort of "go automatic" and get out. But this time I was feeling the rush. Then you have 30 seconds of free-fall before the chute opens. You will reach about 120mph or so. Faster or slower depending on weight. Thats your rate of speed falling toward the earth. Odd thought.
In any case, the other times I had jumped had been in Pennsylvania and Virginia. Flat places where you just jump over fields. We were jumping over fields now, but fields surrounded by mountains and volcanos. Its amazing what a difference that makes. When you can look at the skyline and judge how fast you're falling by the mountains around you, it packs an extra punch.
Bam! After 30 seconds of freefall the chute opened just fine and we were ready to float down the next 3 minutes. My instructor took off my goggles, and said we could go through the clouds. He gave me the controls and told me to steer in to the edge of the clouds, spiraling in and out of them. Have you ever been in a plane going through those neat fluffy clouds and wanted to jump in to them? Well, its as cool as you think it would be. :) Its not puffy and you cant bounce off them like that bear in the toilet paper commercial, but its still pretty darned cool. You come to a big fluffy mass, then whoosh!, you're inside it, then whoosh!, you're back out of it. In, out, in, out. This is a big no-no in the US. Federal regulations state quite correctly there could be a plane in those clouds, dont go in them. In Indonesia, I guess they figure its safer than the highways, so go for it.
As we went back to our hotel, we asked some people if they knew of any good bars for tonight. They said that there was a beach party down at Ancor beach. Sounded like the perfect plan, so we headed there.
The first weird thing was that Ancor Beach was located inside some sort of mega-complex which included the beach, an amusment park, and SeaWorld. What kind of beach was this, and what kind of party? We had to pay 8000Rp each, which seeing as we each brought 150,000Rp wasnt too bad. 142,000 would last a long night. We hit the first turn and I saw signs that said "Cream Party ---> This way". With the Cream logo! I was instantly mega-excited. Cream is one of the premier UK party promoters. They have the best DJs signed up all over the world, and are renowned for throwing some of the best parties anywhere. They also have an incredible reputation for having the most cutting-edge lighting and AV displays to complement their gigs. I have seen Cream parties in New York, London, Ibiza, Catagena, and now Jakarta! Yeah, I was psyched!
The only downer came when we bought the tickets. 100,000Rp and no ATM in sight. For an ATM, we'd have to go way out of the complex, pay about 10,000Rp in taxi and re-pay the entrance, and it might take 30 minutes. Or we live off 40,000 each for the night. We went in and decided to play it out.
(Some of these files appear to have been corrupted. I will re-load them later)
We walked in and they were playing one of my favorirte Underworld tracks (Pearls Girl) and I just went nuts. I ran right to the dance floor and began to git jiggy wit it. I was still all pumped from the adrenalin of the best skydive I've ever had, and just let it all out on the dance floor. The mood reminded me so much of the old school Buzz days back with Darren and the Monkey Crew. The dancing reminded me of clubbing in London with Craig and Oggy where we'd just dance non-stop for hours until the sweat condensed on the ceiling and it rained inside. Too many good vibes and memories running through me to even care that I could only afford one drink at 35,000Rp. The bottled water was an outrageous 20,000Rp (normally 1,500Rp on the street), but I bought 2 anyway. We ended up staying until 5 am and drinking only 2 waters each. I had enough small bills in my pocket to buy a 3rd water and Dave had cound only scrounge 10,000Rp from his pockets. He asked if they could just sell him a bottle of water for 10,000Rp. They poured out half of it and sold him the rest for 10,000Rp. Cheap bastards.
True to Creams reputation, the lights and visuals were amazing. A wild video show went on using about 12 screens of various sizes. About 10-15 lazers were used. At one point, a wall of water shot up between the DJ and the audience and the lazers shown through the mist and spray. Each laser reflected off each drop causing the neatest effect. The water tricks then went in to fountains, then in to drips coming from above. Amazing!
Now, I had said that there was only one reason we booked our ticket to Jakarta, which was true at the time. But just a couple days after we booked it, my Dad emailed me and said he was going to be in Jakarta the 16th through the 18th, and asked if I'd be near there. A rather amazing co-incidence, but also one that I thought might be bound to happen. My dad works in the Asia-Pacific region for his company, and travels to these parts somewhat regularly, so I thought we might get to meet up, but this was especially good luck. Especially seeing as my visa runs out on the 19th.
Dad got in Sunday and came by our hotel about 3pm. It was really good to see him. A lot of the feelings I had last month about missing home were made a bit easier by being able to see him and catch up.
I introduced my Dad to Dave. Throughout the past 3 months of traveling, Dave and I have talked a lot about our families, and I have come to feel like I almost know Daves parents personnaly, and vice versa. And through the list, my Dad has gotten to feel like he knows Dave, so its neat to be able to introduce the two.
We had a nice dinner and then headed to a pool hall, and shot a few games until about 10pm. Dad had a bit of jetlag still and some preparing for work, as well as.... work. Unlike Dave and I, he had to get up in the morning. :) So Dave and I headed out to a place called Staduim that Nina in Singapore had told us about. Its a club in downtown Jakarta that opens up Thursday night and stays open until Monday morning. We had to see what kind of crowd would be there on a Sunday night. Well, it was packed. The club was very well done-up, in a roman style ball room, another incredible light/lazer display, and a huge dance area. We called it quits at about 1am, just too worn out from the night before.
Dave left for Thailand Monday morning and I stuck around Jakarta to spend more time with my Dad and to see if I could get a visa extension so I could go to Bali and visit a friend there.
The next 2 nights, my Dad and I went out to dinner and we spent the nights talking over beers. At one point, Dad came over to my hotel to bring some things by and to check the place out. That had a neat feel to it. When you move out of your parents house, and you have them over for the first time, its a neat sensation. You get to say "this is where I live", and show them. The same was true of this, in a way. For the past 2 years (almost) I have lived out of a bag, in cheap hotels, and in the resturants and bars on the sidestreets of strange cities. My Dad has been to a lot of these cities, but as a business traveler, and although he's able to get off the beaten path sometimes, for the most part, the people he is there meeting take him to the nicer places. This was sort of my chance to say, "Hey, check out where I live."
All in all, it was just fantastic to see him and catch up with him. We email frequently, and talk somewhat regularly, but it just isnt the same as spending a night talking over some beers. He's in Asia for the next few weeks, so he may pop up on another journal or two.
Indonesia has just implemented some new visa laws in February 2004. 30 days, non extendable. You enter, you get a 30 day visa and then if you want to extend it, you have to leave and come back. Thailand is like that too, but Thailand has a neighboring country you can get to in several hours and the trip costs you a few bucks. Indonesia is a set of islands. To get out and back will cost about $140 for a roundtrip flight to the nearest city (Kuala Lumpur) then $25 for the new visa, then figure taxi to and fro the airport will cost about $10. Thats $175. Thats an expensive way to renew a visa. And this doesnt make sense to me. I figure I have spent $700-$800 in the month I have been here. Thats $800 tourism bucks! If you let me renew my visa, you get another $25. Then you will probably get another $800 from me over the next month. But if you make me leave, I will probably not come back. Silly folks. I had heard that the immigration people in Bali could be bribed, and that doing so was quite a common practice. The figure I had heard was $100 to renew a visa by bribery, but that was from before February when 90 day visas were possible and the laws were not so strict. I didnt know if it had changed or if it could be done in Jakarta, but if it could, I would pay the $100 and then go see Drea who is traveling Bali now. Well, I found out that it wasnt possible in Jakarta, and if I wanted to try to risk it in Bali, it might not work with the new laws, and if it did, Drea said the bribe amount was up to $175. Figures! - wonder where they got that number from? It was too much to risk, especially since my visa would run out the day I went to Bali and I'd be under the gun to get it done fast.
So I booked my ticket to KL. It was hard knowing a good friend was so close by and I wouldnt get to see her because of some paperwork.
Because I waited to make this decision, I had to book my ticket rather last-minute. Tickets to KL were $70 if you bought early. They sold the cheap seats first, then the higher priced ones. The longer you wait, the higher the cost. The charge for over-staying your visa is $20 a day. Depending on the amount of the ticket increase, I'd decide which date I'd leave. They only had the $70 tickets for Friday (that would mean $40 visa fines). I asked how much the Thursday one was. The lady said, its much more expensive sir, its $75. $75!?!? How much is the one tomorrow? Well, thats at the most expensive rate, its $78. Ok, I'll splurge and take the $78 ticket, thus leaving tomorrow.
Wednesday morning, I went to find the US embassy to get some extra pages put in my passport. When you run out of room for new stamps, you can go to the US embassy and they glue in 20 more blank pages. My Dad is the only person I know who had to have this done twice to the same passport. It was about a half an inch thick.
I was too scared to enter my own embassy. I walked down the street I knew it was on, and suddenly saw a bunch of protesters on the street in front of a building. That must be it, I thought. No, that was the Indonesian Government building. I kept walking looking for that reassuring American flag. I couldnt see it behind the jungle of armor in front of the building. Picture this. There is a 9 foot iron fence with points atop. Along that is razor-wire, the stuff thats deadlier than barbed wire. Rather than poke you, it will slice you open. Rolled in 4-foot coils along the top of the fence. Then armed guards along the wall at about 10-meter intervals, armed with machine guns. The embassy sits on a 4-lane one-way road. 2 of the nearest lanes were barricaded off, so traffic had to file down to 2 lanes. Supposedly, this stops someone from parking a truck there loaded with explosives, although the actual embassy building sits way way back from the iron fence, so its not really doing anything but causing major traffic jams. But this barricade is formed by a 3 foot high solid concrete wallplaced in the middle of the road, and just behind that are 3 rolls of the razor wire, making a wall of razor wire about 5 feet high by 5 feet deep. Around the edges, more razor wire, intertwinded with barbed wire and more armed guards. Holy crap! Do you think someone inside that embassy gets the idea we're hated in Indonesia? I wasnt about to be seen walking out of that place, unarmed and without bulletproof armor. Perhaps we should leave Iraq and apologize?
I went to the airport and checked in to my flight. I checked in early and could have asked for the emergency row, but forgot. Oh well, seat 2A. No way its an exit row, but its near the front which is a more comfortable ride. I went to get on the plane and noticed the first 2 rows were first class seats. What the !??! I remembered the lady at the ticket agent saying "those are the most expensive tickets." You mean for 8 bucks I get first class seats?? Why didnt someone tell me this months ago? Ahhh, time to stretch out.....
I got a real neat treat and got to see a lightning storm from above while on the plane. I landed in KL and checked in to the same hostel I stayed at before. I've been reveling in the high-speed internet here, getting all sorts of things done that I have been putting off for months.
I will be here for just another few hours, then I will head to Thailand and theres a good chance I will meet up with Dave yet again for his final couple of weeks in Asia. Theres also a chance that Drea may be able to make it out there too, so the missed connection in Bali might not be a total loss. And then theres Dad bouncing around the place and I will likely be meeting up with him somewhere, so who knows where I'll be in the coming days.