Crossing the Equator to Indonesia!

Friday, May 7, 2004
Our plan of taking a short ferry from Malaysia to nearby Sumatra, Indonesia was foiled for many reasons. It is actually the first time since I left to travel 2 years ago that I have had to change my plans due to safety reasons. We wanted to go to the north of the island of Sumatra called Aceh to go to the famous turtle reserve and the best surfing beach in the world, among other things. But, as it turns out, the region of Aceh is under martial law! A place with martial law and mostly Muslims just didn’t seem like the ideal holiday spot, so we skipped it.

Indonesia also changed their visa policy 3 months ago. It used to be that they were quite liberal; you could arrive for 3 months at a time and enter and enter by land, sea or air at any one of their borders. The new rule (in addition to levying a fee) is that you can stay only for one month and you "probably" have to enter and exit from the same place. I say probably because virtually NO RULES have been issued by the government, so rulings have been arbitrary and based on the mood of the border guards. We have had to follow the updates from other travelers on an internet message board. Some people have been turned down when trying to leave the country - border patrol saying that they have to go back where the came from. Others have said that they weren’t allowed into the country unless they had $2,000 in cash or traveler’s checks. Others have been denied entry if they didn’t have an onward flight.

All this considered, we decided to buy a return ticket to Jakarta, the country’s capital. Fortunately for us, a new low cost airline just started! In case you are interested, it’s called AirAsia and it’s kind of like Southwest Airlines in the US, but more like Ryan Air in Europe. It was actually cheaper to fly than take the ferry!

Between the new visa rules, the bombings in Bali last year and general unrest in certain regions, tourism here is at an all time low. Yesterday we went to Indonesia’s number one tourist destination, called the Borodur Temple. It’s ancient Buddhist temple; something like a mini Angkor Wat. We were two of 10 foreigners that visited the temple while we were there. Even the souvenir vendors have packed up and left the site! There must be hundreds and hundreds of empty stalls. The hotel we are staying in was listed as the number one recommended place in the city, and for the first night we were the only people staying. Since then, one other girl has checked in. The price we paid for the room is 25% of what is listed in the brochure. It appears to be the same all over Java, at least it was the same at Pangadaran, the now deserted beach resort in the south of the island. You can have it all to yourself if you go now!

We arrived to this Muslim country on the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday. I think he’s the one that created the religion of Islam. I don’t know much about this religion, but have learned a little. Did you know that they pray five times a day and the first time is at dawn? Most mornings that’s how we wake up here in Indonesia.

Since we arrived we have been on the island of Java - home for half of Indonesia’s 230 million people. Java is half the size of the United Kingdom and has twice the number of people. It’s packed! And, as we discovered on our first day of bus travel, not a highway in sight. Nearby large cities seem to have a few miles of toll highways, but nothing to get you from city to city. In the past week we have spent 25 hours on local buses navigating the two lane roads from Jakarta to Yogyakarta!

It’s unfortunate for the locals that the place is so deserted, but we are certainly appreciating the lower prices and always available best hotel rooms! The people have mostly been really friendly and we are really looking forward to Bali and the Komodo dragons! This afternoon we are taking a bus to a large crater that contains three volcanoes. The installment will hopefully be from the white sandy beaches of Bali!


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