Tanjung Selor, Berau, Tantung Batu, Derawan Island back to the airport then to Balikpapan
My last post before Australia.
You may notice that this blog and the last one have seen me quite weary. I know I am so lucky to be able to be following my dreams but if anyone is considering this, be realistic, I have had some amazing highs but life is real and knocks will come wherever you are.
After a nervous wait (due to a lack of English) I took a very hot ferry to Tanjung Selor; I then managed to get a taxi minivan ride to the waterfront. I battled a bombardment of men trying to explain that because of a festival there were no buses and I would have to car-share. Not sure whether I could trust these people (sad but true) so I decided to stay at the only hotel in the area, expensive compared to my normal expenditure but I did enjoy the luxuries. They were also able to arrange a car to Berau; it turned out to be not the most pleasant of journeys as the high speed of the crazy driver and the winding roads caused the passenger next to me to keep throwing up in his plastic bag. Needless to say we both skipped lunch at the break before we put our lives back in the hands of the driver.
My arrival in Berau had a similar story, the hostel didn’t have my booking and after quite a hassle I ended up in another hotel; I could quite get used to this level of accommodation if it wasn’t for the cost! After another uncomfortable car journey, where one of the passengers ended up getting out and not continuing, I eventually arrived at my next mode of transport, sharing a speed boat to Derawan island, noted as a place of paradise and somewhere I had been very excited about visiting.
The island is so difficult to get to that it usually only caters for Indonesian tourists, so my arrival seemed to surprise everyone. I found a Homestay with a vacant room and began to plan my stay. It was then I discovered that the only ATM on the island wouldn’t accept any of my cards. I then had to make the difficult but necessary decision to head back to the mainland. After explaining on the ferry that I had no money they continued to try to sell me, guesthouse accommodation, boat trips and even a scooter. The guy on the ferry thought it was hilarious that I had spent only one hour on the island; on the other hand I did not see the funny side at all as it had taken the best part of a week to get there. Arriving back on the mainland my luck was not about to change as the ATM’s still wouldn’t accept my cards and panic was beginning to set in. Many messages were sent home to the family and contacts made to banks etc. but still no money. Deciding enough was enough I made my way to the airport, yet again trying to sleep in any available space but receiving many mosquito bites I had to move on. I chatted to a lovely lady waiting for her sailor husband; we had an awkward photo before I found the prayer room, sleeping on a prayer mat wrapped in my mosquito net before being woken by a janitor trying to clean.
Again I tried all the ATM’s but still no money and now no Wi-Fi either!!! I tried exchanging some Malaysian ringgits but nobody would, I asked a German lady could she help me but she was useless and probably didn’t believe my situation. Eventually two local women with average English helped me to buy a plane ticket on my credit card to Baklipapan at double the cost than I should have paid but by this time it was an emergency.
I was obviously not in the best of moods and so my patience was running out as I was greeted by the annoying taxi drivers, the ride to the guesthouse, and then having to actually get a scooter to my room which turned out to be 2 rooms shared by 10 guys and yet again no Wi-Fi. I spent the next few hours searching the city for internet access, eventually managing to camp out in a McDonalds, buying the cheapest item on the menu so I wouldn’t get chucked out (looking very much like a homeless guy I had one encountered in Canada). It took a further 3 days to discover my banking problems had been caused by an app update. With access to money I quickly booked a flight to Jakarta hoping that the capital city would hopefully afford me a little access to civilisation.
After all the stress of the money, travelling and probably eating a dodgy microwave meal it wasn’t surprising that I fell ill. Thankfully a good sleep helped and the following day I was able to get on with some exploring: a mosque, a free tourist bus to Kota which was full of colonial architecture and more markets. I met a local man who was trying to improve his English so he could keep his temporary bar job, he was afraid he would lose it so I tried to help with the little time we had together; I tried to find him later on Facebook but wasn’t able to.
Next day I was going to Gambit to catch a train to the volcanoes and hoping that life would calm down a bit and I would begin to recover from the sickness.
I arrived in Bandung in the pouring rain; it usually lasts for about an hour and is quite funny that all the scooters stop either to dive for cover or to don ponchos. I stayed overnight at the hostel before heading out for the volcano the following day. The journey involved 3 mini-vans, where one tried to charge me a private hire charge! A final free lift got me to the volcano only to be slightly disappointed, some parts interesting but not worth the money as I couldn’t see much more than a spring. There was a random tunnel but turned out to be quite scary so turned back.
I had set off feeling OK ish but I think the stress of the last few weeks were catching up with me and I was ill again for the next few days. Feeling a bit human I carried on exploring by taking a bike tour of South Bandung; visiting a man-made lake with a heart island in the middle and a restaurant shaped like a boat, a tea plantation and Kawah a famous volcanic light blue lake of corrosive water due to its high sulphur content.
The next day I was up at 6am to catch the train to Yogyakarta about 5 hours away but a good choice as it was much more interesting than I had imagined! It was while I was there that I had another panic as I realised that my visa ran out before my pre-booked flight to Perth. I ended up having to alter my flight which incurred an extra charge and also shortened the time I thought I had to finish Indonesia. Panic over I hired a scooter to see the Buddhist Temples of Borobudur Ruins, a maritime Museum and the Hindu temples of Prambanan. The end of the day left me with a decision to make – do I go to Malang for Mount Bromo or to Bali. Weighing up the weather, my weariness due to still not being completely well I decided to head to Bali , where as a more tourist destination I may find it a bit easier. The journey took me a further 24 hours with more problems of broken tickets machines not enough room on a bus etc etc.
I eventually arrived in Denpasar exhausted but thankful of the better weather.
My hope of finding it easier in Bali was short lived as most of the next 2 weeks were spent in bed feeling really ill. I am not sure what the problem was but I think exhaustion had set in, made worse by a long sleepless train journey and a trail around the city finding accommodation.
It was at this point that I wondered whether it was all worth it. The challenges I had experienced since arriving in Indonesia had broken me and if I had not had my flight to Perth booked I think I would have come home.
After long chats with the family and lots of rest my final days in Indonesia improved. I rented a scooter to visit the beautiful rice paddies and another volcano which turned out further than I had thought but worth it this time. I rode around taking in the sites and trying to immerse myself again in this way of life, realising that within days I would be in an English speaking country for the first time in 9 months. There are some things I won’t miss though, such as being hounded by a woman trying to get me to buy a shawl for 150 rupiah that she managed to reduce to 50 before finally realising I really wouldn’t be making a purchase.
This area of Bali was quite affluent with many people wearing traditional Buddhist costumes whereas the rest of Indonesia had seemed to very much follow a Muslim culture.
Another day I explored the south west beaches including the beautiful Balangan Beach and onward to a very picturesque cove where lots of wedding photos are taken. Further along I enjoyed watching the surfers battle the great waves and came across a Ripcurl Surfing Competition which made for a great atmosphere and cool insight in to that culture – everyone having fun looking cool and trendy; not quite the look I was sporting at the time, mine being more homeless tramp!!!
Although Kuta boasts some of the best beaches in Bali the amount of commercialism and tourists doesn’t make it my favourite place. However, I did swim at sunset and joined a group from the Turtle Center releasing baby turtles to their natural habitat. I wasn’t sure how I felt about this human intervention but understand that the program aims to protect the eggs and increase hatching and survival rates.
For my final evening I went out with guys from the hostel for tea and two of us treated ourselves to a back massage – very enjoyable and I’m sure the last one I will get for £3.
Up at 4am to meet a French girl and walk to the airport together. I had done a reccy previously and as she was quite nervous we decided to go together. Thankfully no major problems apart from the fact that I’d arrived in Indonesia on the 5th July and leaving on the 4th August meant that they decided I had overstayed by a day so was fined and delayed. I was worried I would miss my flight but at last I was on my way to Australia!!!