Sunday, October 25, 2009

Cyclo-Volcano Trip

Well, a few things have happened in the last week but rather than tediously going through them one by one I thought I'd just describe one day - yesterday. This day involved losing mosquito repellent and meeting someone from close to home at the top of a volcano.

I awoke late in the morning in the town of Ubud still thoroughly absorbed in the awesome book I'm reading, 'Anathem' by Neal Stevenson (it's similar to Harry Potter but with celestial mechanics instead of magic). So I grabbed it after breakfast with the intention of reading it by the pool for the day. However, just as I did this I noticed a mosquito - this insect would have consequences for me (in a causality-type-way, not a malaria-type-way).

I tried to find my mosquito repellent I had bought at great expense back home, but after a thorough search and extreme annoyance I came to the conclusion that I'd left it at the hotel in Kuta. After getting nothing out of calling the hotel I decided I needed to rent a motor-bike (I'd probably be able to figure out how to ride it if my life depended on it) and ride back to Kuta to get it and so negotiated a reasonable price for one and packed my bag... but there was the repellent! Hiding in my day pack with my suncream! So, still in the mood for an expedition, I swapped the motorbike for a pushbike for a Single Day Cycle Tour (or 'bike ride') and headed off in a random direction (north).

Traveling consistently uphill I passed a few villages, the odd Hindu temple, great views of the volcano Gunung Agung and some amazing rice paddy encarved valleys that stretched down to the sea. I would have taken some photos, but it never occurred to me to bring a camera. Occasionally someone passing me would give me a look that said, "You're weird", so I would give them a look back that said, "I'm weird?! You're the one balancing your whole family and three metres of live chickens on a single motor scooter!", which shut them up.

After riding uphill without knowing where I was going for about three hours I could see that I was getting to the top of something. Suddenly, I realised what I was the top of: the rim of a spectacularly massive volcano. There were several small towns perched at the top of the rim, and a couple even at the bottom of the caldera, narrowly missed by a recent PYROCLASTIC FLOW (keen followers of my life and times will recall that this is my favourite mode of death), which had exploded from a secondary volcano inside the caldera of the first. Getting out my GPS I discovered I'd climbed 1200 vertical metres from Ubud over about 30kms.

Sitting down at a local eatery cantilevered over the rim of this vast volcano I bumped into a blonde-haired guy speaking animated Indonesian to the proprietor. As it turned out, he did an Arts degree at Melbourne Uni, like me, and actually lives about 100m from my old house in Port Melbourne, on Pickle Street (he was working for an NGO in Ubud over here), so we exchanged numbers the better to catch up for beers later.

My hurtle down the mountain (taking a wildly different route) was everything I'd hoped it would be on the way up. I flew around bamboo enshrouded corners and overtook motorbikes as the oval shape of my back wheel caused the bike's vertical oscillations to weave in and out of the resonant frequency of my own body. Going past I watched farmers cut the rice with large sickles (I'd previously assumed they were only used for Communism). Every now and then I'd have to stop at an intersection and yell, "Ubud!" and follow the hand gestures.

Back in Ubud, on the other side of the island to Kintamani, as I later discovered it was called, I tried to arrange through the hotel a guide for a trek the next day up the 3km high Gunung Agung, but found that there was a minimum of two people for the trip (this place is too pro-couples I reckon). So I called up Lindsay, the Melbournian, who couldn't come on the trek but helped me hit the local food and drink scene instead.

After a quick road-side meal Lindsay introduced me to some Ubudian friends of his (who were mainly interested in arranging times for me to teach them English), then we beersed it up at my hotel. Interestingly, more out of momentum than absent-mindedness, we both managed to plant our feet on a step containing a coiled and hostile looking snake going down the hillside stairway to my room.

Lindsay had to work in the morning so I got back into Anathem until late in the night, savouring the fact that I didn't have to get up at 3am for the trek (which was also good because it was pissing down with rain all night).

I'm still waiting indefinitely at the hotel for someone else to go on this trek, but it occurs to me that it's in the hotel's interest to keep me here indefinitely so I'll try to find some way of bypassing them.

Until next time!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Airport Dramas

So rather than sending out all this info to everyone in email format, I thought I'd start up a blog so people can read it if they're interested and get on with their lives if they're looking forward to hearing it over a few beers when I get back (although I will have forgotten everything by then). After all, this is what blogs are supposed to be for aren't they?

Anyway, in this episode I get to the airport only to discover that I do not satisfy my own visa requirements and spend the remaining hour before my flight departs shuttling between the check-in desks and an internet cafe buying a new onward ticket and having it printed for me by the officials upstairs. Luckily I make it on the plane in time with whole minutes to spare.

Okay, so my folks give me a hug and two manly handshakes at the airport to bid me farewell (but quick ones because they were stopped at the 2 minute drop-off area) and I waltzed nonchalantly into the check-in queue for Pacific Blue's Denpasar-bound flight.

Soon I reached the counter and handed over my passport and ticket print-out - but the check-in chick (who I learned later was called Erin) still insisted I present her with my 'itinerary'. Apparently I needed a print-out of my onward flight in order to enter the fine nation of Indonesia to prove that I had plans to leave - despite me already being in possession of a two month visa.

As it happened, I had arranged a $25 flight between Medan and Penang (in Malaysia) for the day before my visa was due to expire on the 20th of December as that was the only way the Indonesian consulate would allow me to get a visa. I just had to print it out.

"There are no printers at any of the internet cafes in the airport" I was told by Erin. "But we still have time for you to email your itinerary to me and I can print it out on my computer upstairs", she offered.

Racing over to the computers I inserted my last Australian dollar and frantically searched for and forwarded on my itinerary from AirAsia in the 10 minute interval allotted to me for my money.

With only an hour by now until my flight I was getting nervous as it took 20 minutes for Erin to return with the print-out (the computers had crashed).

But wait! What's this on your visa?! What is this date 30/11/09 in the corner, far away from the emboldened "Visa valid for 60 days from arrival"? Why is your flight booked for the 20th of December???

Well I hadn't seen that date buried in amongst the small script numbers and Indonesian words at the edges of the visa, and nor was I expecting to find it as I had filled out the form for my visa over a month ago very clearly specifying that I was staying until the 20th of December and even including the mandatory print-out of my flight out on that date - and even called the consulate to confirm that such a visa would be provided.

But no - if I was to enter the country in any capacity other than indefinitely detained illegal immigrant (sorry, Irregular Arrival) then I must have a printed flight itinerary for before the 30th of November... and the plane was due to leave in 40 minutes.

By now tensions were rising and I could feel my cheeks reddening with frustration and the possibility of having to make the call to my folks asking them to pick me up from the airport and let me stay for a few more weeks. We discussed the possibility of buying a $2000 fully refundable Pacific Blue ticket home so I could get in the country and then get the money back. In the end I decided to go back to the internet cafe and try to change my AirAsia flight date.

'Borrowing' $1 from a kind check-in staff member I went online again for another 10 minutes to change the flight - but friggin' oath, I could not remember the password I had invented months ago for that website and I locked myself out of it trying.

Restarting the browser did the trick, but then I had to create a whole new account which I kept stuffing up due to wobbly fingers. Then I had to select a new flight - the 29th of November - and pay for it. Unfortunately, half way through entering my credit card details, a sign popped up informing me that I had 60 seconds left on the terminal.

Typing furiously I finally got the end of payment - but it was still processing as the counter ticked down to 7 seconds left... and I still had to get into my Gmail account and email the itinerary back to Erin... and since I only had 25 minutes until my flight, this was pretty much my only chance!

In desperation and 5 seconds to go I turned to the guy sitting next to me, "Do you have $1? It's pretty urgent", I asked. Amazingly he produced the dollar instantly allowing me to insert it in the slot about three quarters of my way through the final second on the machine before it wiped everything. I waited a couple of minutes for the itinerary to appear in my inbox and then forwarded it onto Erin.

Much quicker this time she appeared from upstairs with the printout, while I was checked in in parallel with another check-in chick (after she had signed the form saying I was legally allowed in the country while hovering around me at the internet cafe in the final minutes). I plonked my luggage not on the conveyor belt as there was not enough time for it to reach the plane but on the trolley with the pilot's luggage (meaning I could have got away with more than 20 kgs if I'd known about this in advance). I was then very briskly escorted past all the queues of customs and metal detection through the secret 'flight attendant route' and straight onto the plane where we took off right on time.

So I guess that's why they say we're supposed to get to the airport 90 minutes before our flight departure.

Anyway, the reason my visa said I had to be out by the 30th of November rather than the 20th of December as I had specified was probably because I later re-read the term, "Visa must be used within 90 days of issue". I had interpreted that as meaning I had 90 days from the 30th August to get into Indonesia ("use" the visa), but no, I had 90 days to use the visa... and then finish using it - ie. the 30 of November. You'd think they'd alert me to this when I was applying for it. And there I was thinking I was being organised by getting it early, when really every day I might have delayed in applying for the visa would mean an extra day in the country.

It kind of reminds me of the time I was installing the Ubuntu operating system and it asked me if I wanted to use "The whole disc". "Of course I want to be able to use the whole disc!", I'd exclaimed. "Why would I want to limit my access to only some of the disc?!" But, inevitably, Ubuntu then went on to wipe my entire 350GB hard drive forcing me to spend the next year slowly accumulating all the movies, music, photos and documents I had lost in the purge. Maybe I need language lessons in English.

Anyway, this whole saga means I miss out on 3 weeks of travel in Indonesia, which rules out my planned trip to Lombok to climb Mt Rinjani, and means I'll have to be pretty swift in my travels through Java and Sumatra, rather than taking it easy as I would have hoped. There's no way of extending my visa.

So yeah, pretty long description - they won't all by like this. And a post pretty soon after I arrived. I just wanted to share this tale with you while it was still fresh in my mind.

I'm staying in Kuta, Bali now. I've got a nice room and the hotel has a pool. Things are pretty normal here really, I don't feel overwhelmed, freaked out or even that things are other than they should be and always have been. I guess Bali is not really the place for culture shock or the realisation of being on my own. I'll let you know how I go in Java.

Not sure what I'll do today. Might just wander around for a bit and read a book.