Tuesday, November 24, 2009

To Sumatra!

I spent the next couple of days in Yogyakarta recovering from the all-night hike conquering Merapi (and the excessive partying), sleeping for 14 hours in one day. 'Conquering' Merapi. It kind of sounds a bit exaggerated to me. Really if you wanted to demonstrate hegemony over a mountain you should have to completely dismantle it into its component energy and then reconstitute it exactly as it was except one metre to the left - using only a particle accelerator hooked up to an exercise bike. Or if you really wanted a challenge you could undo every joule and second of the universe and then restart it from the beginning under the same initial conditions that allowed the mountain to exist in the first place, this time using nothing but a bench press and an electric toaster. Anyway, we went up and down the outside of it.

After I'd regained my former energies I jumped on the train and headed for 'Java's Premier Beach Resort' of Pangandaran. Trains are by far the best way of getting around over here. I spent my time on this one listening to my favourite train-riding songs on my ipod, like MIA's 'Paper Planes' and Ben Folds Five's 'Jesusland' (or 'Mohammadland' as I translate it here - quietly), while hanging out the door high-fiving the banana leaves as they shot past. This train kept the same grade as it spanned seemingly unspannable valleys and punched tunnels through kilometres of rock.

Soon I arrived at the beach town which had the misfortune to suffer from a terrorist attack in 2006, then, just as it was recovering from that, was hit by a tsunami in the same year. Hardly any of the hotels were very occupied, all offering unreasonably large discounts and many of the town's structures lacked habitation on their lower floors. Still it had a good, if post-apocalyptic, feel to it. I hired a bike and rode around the various beaches and the national park, and went snorkeling and things. It even had a huge 1950's sci-fi section at the bookshop that made me so giddy with excitement it undermined my negotiating position.

I then took myself off to Java's second biggest city of Bandung where the rainy season had hit hard. I spent a lot of time sitting under a piece of corrugated iron on a rooftop garden eating mangoes. But the real reason I went there was because I noticed that there was a partly accessible geohash there that day which I spent an afternoon chasing after on a motorbike (and getting stopped by the cops for riding the wrong way down a one-way street).

Now, a lot of people are asking me how I'm going with this traveling thing. The answer is that I'm pretty happy, but I often worry that I'm not traveling at my maximum efficiency. Either I'm not enduring the greatest number of tourist attractions per second that I could be, or I'm not fathoming the deepest recesses of the local culture that I can get away with without incurring a Fatwa, or - and this is the worst one - that the intensity of my relaxation is not extreme enough.

So in the view to give myself a bit more time I tried to get my visa for Indonesia extended. Kindly, my hotel provided me with a free car and driver for help in the negotiations (also having an eye to extend my stay at the hotel, no doubt), but as I waltzed up to the counter of the Immigration Department they stared at my passport and burst into laughter. Now I realise the true nature of the visa I had got from the Indonesian consulate in Melbourne, which caused the Airport Dramas in Episode One. There was a texta line struck through the visa, and on the opposite page there was a faint stamp with the date from which the visa was valid and the words '60 Days' written in pen inside it. I must have seen that subconsciously when I thought everything was okay, and the Virgin check-in staff clearly missed it, seeing only the date 30/11/2009 and getting me to buy a whole new, and unnecessary, flight. I've now sent an email to Erin, the check-in chick, explaining the error. And worst of all I now have to abandon my withering opinions of Indonesian Bureaucracy and unlearn all my lessons about paying attention to what's going on.

And so I decided to celebrate by seeing that movie '2012' - both one of the stupidest and most awesome movies I've seen. It had buildings crashing into other buildings, elevated freeway spans tumbling from their piers and pyroclastic flows - so something for everyone. The best part was when the audience screamed 'Tsunami!' when that phenomenon appeared on screen.

The rest of my time in Bandung I spent hanging out with the Indonesian head of Microfinancing, my hotel's funky manager, two independently traveling Dutch girls and two Icelandic girls (with whom I visited yet another bubbling volcano and hot spring, old hat for the Icelanders). My final night I spent in the same manner as that of Yogya - beating a Dutch psychologist in a game of pool.

My final stop before Sumatra was Jakarta - a not very impressive city in which my main activity was discovering the true extent of my sunk-cost obsession: after two hours waiting for my suburban train to travel the single stop to my home station I could hardly give up and take the express buses continuously following the same route - damn it, then all that time would be wasted!

I leave you on the doorstep of Sumatra. I've heard a lot of tales from other travelers warning me of bandits dropping from overhanging trees with machetes, slicing up tourists limb from limb to get at the gooey money inside, "And that's if you can out-run the tsunamis", so I'll keep you posted.


  1. If that's how you'd prefer to 'conquer a mountain', what do you think it should mean to 'do Indonesia'?

    What are the mangoes like over there? Have you discovered any new tropical fruits? Can you post some food photos?

    Great post, by the way!

  2. 'Doing Indonesia' would probably involve creating an exact duplicate at the atomic level - but comprised entirely out of anti-matter. Then slowly bringing the original and the duplicate Indonesias together...

  3. Felix i am enjoying the blog very much, except for the sci fi aspects, which i am prepared to overlook in the short term.
    Meanwhile, can you outline the overall plan? Is Europe on your path?

  4. Oh Felix,
    That was the best one yet. I laughed out loud several times. Our Merapi was on west coast of Sumatra (near BukittTinggi as I said )though Sandy says you are staying east. Pete and I VERY interested in Sumatran exploits. keep posting
    x r
    ps antichinus is a switched-on dude. I like him or her

  5. Wht's wrong with giving up your withering opinions about the Indonesian bureaucracy?

  6. Enjoying the read very much Felix - don't stop!
    Great entertainment for an old lady. see you in the distant future I guess. Grandma

  7. Hey Felix. Really good news about the visa. Hope you wrote a suitably 'I told you so' email to Erin the check-in-chick! I shake my tiny fist for you.