The following is partly gathered from old texts and pictures taken during a month long stay in the winter of 2017. The trip started with a cheap flight to Bali from where I quickly moved on to the island of Java to spend the most of my time in the country.
Now that I think of it, I can’t really get another destination in my mind where you can find the very opposite sorts of traveling trends existing in the same place. In the small island of Bali you can see the huge contrast in tourists depending on where you go. The two types and extremities of people were the trashy Australians and the overly trendy Europeans. If we Finns want to get a cheap getaway, we go to Estonia’s capital Tallinn for a weekend to get totally hammered, offence other people around, loose a liver or at least get a divorce. Australians have Bali – or more like the area of Kuta for that. Now on the other hand, you can also see extremely good-looking and fashionable, usually rich, young couples walking down the very same streets. Nature is wonderful. The reason for the rich and famous being around, is because of Bali being considered one of the trendiest exotic destinations in the world, at least according to Westerners. Obviously a lot of people really need get an ass picture from the same beach or swing where their favorite Instagram model got hers. As a person who more like hates the most touristic destinations and trends, the short schedule was the right choice for me anyway.
I did actually have a nice time hanging out and listening to Finnish industrial metal music with local metalheads in one of the pubs. Otherwise Kuta was nothing but nice with the amount of idiotic tourists, party scene and all. Flying in Bali without having any sort of an idea about the place was my first touch to backpacking and solo traveling in a more exotic destination. Back then I didn’t even know myself and what I prefer that well, but I remember feeling a little confused when not being overly excited about my arrival. Rest of the week started to seem all nicer when heading on to the laid back Canggu and the hippy Ubud. In the week on the island, I did have a nice time in general anyway.
When finally starting my way to Java, I got the cheapest and shittiest bus imaginable to Gilimanuk port. After a couple of hours on the road, it started storming and it was raining so hard that you couldn’t even properly see outside. Apparently the poor old shuttle got some damage from it’s moon landing in late the 1960’s since half of the water was leaking in. During the seven hours lasting ride, the bus got totally full, and people were even smoking inside. Nonetheless, I had a wide grin on my face the whole time as I finally got an authentic experience in Bali when being the only white guy in the bus with all the locals. The trip to all the way up Northwest in this so called “chicken bus” cost me around four euros or so, which was also a pleasant surprise after dealing with the local taxi drivers.
The ferry harbour in Gilimanuk was a one suspicious looking port at night. When walking around, asking for directions and finally finding my way to the ferry, I was definitely holding on to my wallet, phone, backpack and anal virginity. I was once again the only white guy around and happy to pay the same ridiculous half a euro for my ticket as the locals did for theirs. The further I traveled that day, the more fanciness of touristy Bali finally started to change into the real Indonesia.
From the very first moments of arriving in Banyuwangi port and wandering around the area all confused on a dark evening, everything felt way different. You could immediately feel the culture changing as starting your way on an island with a major Muslim population. One of the biggest differences was probably the few restaurants, stores, buildings and everything not looking like a huge Western set anymore. Especially when traveling in the rain season, the amount of tourists seemed quite perfect. There were whole days when I didn’t see another backpacker around or then there were only a nice little bunch of us doing the sightseeing all together. On these days and even in the most simple situations among the locals, it felt like I was finally enjoying myself.
I have to admit that from the three weeks spent on the island, I enjoyed my time in the area of Malang city the most. It could have been thanks to the great company. In there I was couchsurfing for the first on time in Indonesia and felt myself lucky for having the extremely nice hosts and three other Spanish backpackers as company for myself.
Best memory from Indonesia is definitely from Mount Bromo, which also happens to be the most touristic spot of the whole Java island. Instead of taking a tour to the volcano, we just jumped backed up from our beds one night as we spontaneously decided to see the volcano that very night. After an hour of calling, we got a random taxi driver to take us all the way up to Mount Bromo. Because of the “humble” entrance fee being around 30 times more expensive for us tourists, we sneaked in the area by climbing down to the valley from the side. After running all the way through the fog to the volcano crater, we found out that there were no other people around as other tourists must’ve been at another viewpoint.
I can say with certainty that the dipshit craziest thing I’ve ever done, is definitely the decision to keep on walking around the second half of the crater. The path was getting more and more narrow until at some points there was nothing to even step on. A couple of times we had to get down and climb a few steps sideways.
There are no pictures of the nastiest spots, since I was too busy trying not to stumble and fall to an active volcano. Needless to stay, a lot of psyching had to be done on that hike. After making it back to the safer spots, the victorious feeling was nothing like ever experienced before. Even so, that is something that I’ll try NEVER AGAIN.
The capital city of Indonesia was such an experience that I think it deserves it’s own headline. Up to this date, it probably takes the first place among the list of places I never want to live in. The two days I spent there, were enough to sum up the following.
Alright folks, let’s start with some statistics. If the city’s population of over 10 million people doesn’t sound too bad just yet, do consider that Jakarta’s metropolitan area with it’s insane over 31 million residents makes it the third largest area by population after metropolitan areas of Tokyo and Shanghai. So believe me, there is just tons and tons of people in there.
What made this even crazier, was that back in 2017, Jakarta didn’t have a metro system yet as even the MRT network was still under construction. And apparently only about 20% of the people use public transportation in the city. Now close your eyes for a second and imagine all those millions of people moving around using only overground public transportation and their own cars and motorbikes. What do we get? The worst traffic jams in the world. I can remember hearing stories about other backpackers missing their flights due to traffic so I started my own ~10km journey about five hours before the boarding time. Even so, after being stuck in traffic all the day, I made it just in time to my flight by running and passing people in lanes even at the airport.
It was already absolutely terrible to get around in the city. Having tons of protesters showing up and blocking up all the streets that day made the situation even worse. I can remember seeing people waving those flags even when riding motorbikes. For some it might have looked like the opposite, but they were actually protesting against religious extremists if I understood this correctly. Or well, might have been against their Christian governor as well.
Jakarta turned out to be first metropolitan area that had barely any international people hanging around. Even in the more touristic spots like the old town I couldn’t really see more than a couple of other Westerners who were most likely expats. Not that it would be a bad thing but it sure seemed interesting as I was used to the idea of capital cities being more or less international.
I think we can finally get in to the real crazy part of the city. This one night, suddenly a group of about 20-30 police vehicles drove across the city centre with the lights on. There were at least a dozen of buses followed by trucks, some of which dragging most likely some heavy machinery on their trailers. In total there were three of those big kind of lines of police vehicles passing us in half an hour. The fun part is that when having all this happening right before your eyes, the techno music goes on in lounge bars and nobody even pays attention on the happening. My local couchsurfing friends thought I was just excited about policemen like a child when asking so many questions about the incident. Apparently the locals see that kind of operations every now and then without ever hearing a word of what kind of a mafia war or terrorist operation is going on.
It didn’t take me long to understand that there’s a crazy amount of organized crime and other chaos in Jakarta. I even got a personal experience from that part when having my bank card skimmed at an ATM. A few days earlier when being already in Malaysia myself, somebody emptied my bank account from about 1200 euros. I never kept much money on my account just in case something like this happens but of course all this was around the day when the tax returns came. Jakarta’s head police office never even picked up any of the bombarded phone calls. I assume they were dealing with more important stuff, while some bandit chief was snorting cocaine from luxury prostitute’s butt cheeks with my gadzillion rupies.
Even though I personally ended up having shit in my hands, I can advice some adventurous souls to do Jakarta even once for the experience if they are around anyway. Just remember to warm up with the idea.
Now to finally sum up the summary, I have to clarify that I still claim Java island to be one of my favourite destinations in the world. One of the main factors is the people. Despite seeing plenty of destinations afterwards, there are not that many places where I have been treated more nicely or with more excitement. Every Westerner really is a superstar there so sometimes the attention may even feel like it’s too much. Otherwise there are amazing volcanoes and waterfalls to be discovered, pleasant climate and the enjoyable Asian organized chaos happening. Even in Jakarta I got to get something out of my stay when being shown around by locals. There’s probably something tied to luck, timing and personal growth that made the country so great for me. I’m quite sure the trip may have been good even if it happened in some other time in my life.