Greetings from Indonesia!

Sunday, May 23, 2004
In my last newsletter we were about to board a bus to go visit a giant volcano and crater. The bus was scheduled to arrive at our destination at 2 in the morning… but upon further inspection of our guidebook and lengthy discussions with our Indonesian friend in the row in front of us… we decided not to go. Like many places here, it is not really safe. It’s not an unusual situation, but the bus station is known for being really shifty and we were going to have to wait there until daylight, since that is when the first bus departed to the gunung (volcano). Lucky for us, the bus was headed to Bali, and as it turns out – so were we! As soon as we got to Denpasar’s bus station (Bali’s capital) we took another bus out to the port town. We decided to spend the night there since we had already racked up about 20 hours of traveling time.

In my first newsletter I mentioned that most people had been really nice and very helpful – but unfortunately that was because we were in relatively non-touristy areas. Since then people have done nothing but harass us… trying to sell us everything under the sun… and in Indonesia everything IS under the sun! It was so bad a couple of times that they wouldn’t even tell us which bus was the public bus that we wanted. Nothing was really posted with signs, so we were at their mercy, and they like to charge about a billion times the going rate to tourists. Once we paid a negotiated fare and the other time we just didn’t go!

One of the major reasons we came to Indonesia was to see the Komodo Dragons – the largest monitor lizard in the world. But, keeping in mind some of the transportation issues that we have been having… it seemed like a nightmare to spend 3 days getting somewhere, only to spend two days there. Also, they discontinued the ferry service we were going to have to use for the last leg of the trip… so you have to go fours hours PAST the island and the charter a boat to take you BACK to visit Komodo… and then reverse the trip!

While on the first leg of the three day trip, it just didn’t seem worth going to Komodo, so we abandoned our trip and decided to go to a place called the Gili Islands… and the best part was – we were almost there!

That was an absolutely fantastic decision! We spent 10 nights because we liked it so much. It was like a vacation from traveling! Carla – it was like our trip to Club Med Tahiti last year… except the hotel cost three dollars a night! And, despite the fact that you can walk around the island in less than two hours (including time for two swim breaks and one beverage break) there are great restaurants and a good nightlife. Almost all of the restaurants and bars are all located one little part of the island and the rest is virtually empty except for the village in the center. Other than the tourists only one hundred people live there.

There are no motorized vehicles on the island. There’s not a moped to be found! No engine revving and no fumes. All travel around the island is done by bicycle or horse and buggy (even the trash removal). It’s hardly considered an inconvenience, given that there is only one dirt road around the perimeter anyway! There are also no dogs. This has lead to the proliferation of many, many cats. Apparently, it is considered good luck to feed the cats. No one claims actual ownership of the cats, but they are all very well fed and groomed. A cute little kitten curled up in Rob’s lap one night while we were watching a movie at a bar. That bar was great – they had these Japanese like floor cushions in a semi-private setting with your own TV and DVD player. You could choose from the couple hundred titles they had. Not only are there no vehicles or dogs - there are also no police on the island. Had I been an avid drug user, I would have anticipated the plethora of available drugs on the island… but I’m not, so it never occurred to me! I have never been offered so many drugs in my whole life.

Random Things About Indonesia...

  1. Most Indonesians learn to make kites when they are children.
  2. On buses in Java a group of “professional” musicians will generally climb aboard to play two or three songs and then most passengers will give them a few rupiah. One band included an instrument (worn like a harmonica in front of his mouth) that was a comb nailed to a piece of board.
  3. Tourism has dropped since the World Trade Center bombings in New York, and then dropped even more when the bomb exploded in Bali in 2002. The level of visitors has fallen 75% of what it used to be. I hear that the numbers are headed back up again, but after the visa changes, who can tell!
  4. We met a guy on a ferry whose brother works for the United Nations in Indonesia. His job relates to education and he visits different islands doing whatever he does. The government places education so low on their list of priorities that the UN has to pay the government every time they hold a meeting with them. Also, the UN bought thousands of books to give to schools and they are currently sitting in warehouses unused. The government doesn’t wan to waste their resources distributing them… they say that if the teachers want them, they can come pick them up on their own. But, most teachers don’t know about the books and if they do, they can’t afford to come and get them in the capital city.
  5. In Bali, the beach town of Candidasa was very up and coming and had a beautiful coral reef. So, they started building some big hotels there so they could accommodate more people. In order to get limestone for the concrete to build the new buildings they tore up the coral reef – which contains limestone. The reef acted as a barrier to prevent beach erosion. Without the reef, the beach disappeared. Now there’s no reef and no beach! Apparently they have constructed some large concrete barriers in the water to build the beach back up. I wonder if they used coral for that concrete…
  6. They are Hindu in Bali and make constant offerings of these tiny little banana leaf trays filled with rice, flowers and miscellaneous biodegradable pretty looking stuff. They put them in every doorway, at the crossing of every street, and lots of other places. You have to be careful where you step!
Regards, Alison


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