Friday, November 5, 2010

Two Ways out of Indonesia

The Sightseeing Way with Ania and T

Backpacking Rite of Passage Fulfilled with Ange

Indonesia was a blast. A concentrated blast. T and I climbed Mount Rinjani, where I learned that trekking is my vacation “thing” and was lucky that everyone else was too tired to push me off the mountain as I sang and scampered joyfully up the tough climb. Then we met up with Ania post-LSAT writing on Gili T, aka paradise. Some of the greatest days of my life were literally spent in Indonesia!

That being said, I nearly cried with happiness upon my arrival in Singapore.

The girls and I split up in Ubud. My camera passed away on Rinjani, so all I have is my account written mainly in the Singapore train station. Frankly, the way I was looking by the end of this trip, we're all lucky that I didn't have a video camera to document it.

After my one miserable night in Sanur, I hightailed it to the airport in Denpasar, Bali, arriving before noon. I had to wait until 10:15 pm the following day for which I blame Eat, Pray, Love. Trying to budget and without the girls to force me to be a reasonable human being, I decided to tough it out overnight in the airport.

I will not bore you with the details of my 34 hours in Denpasar but to give you the general idea:

Step 1: Sneak in. To get into the airport, you have to have your ticket checked at least once, if not twice. They don't let people in 34 hours before their flights. I shoved myself in the middle of a large group of Australian tourists (who had shoulder bags, blond hair, sunburns and great outfits in contrast to my giant Indonesian cotton fisherman's pants, massive backpack and brown skin), posing as the weird Indonesian hippie friend. True to form, the security guards glanced over the first few tickets and let the rest of us in. Score!

Step 2: Be bored.

Step 3: Sleep in the check in area. Move to sleep in waiting area/food court.

Step 4: Wake up because of a cockroach running over my leg. (My Guatemalan friends would be proud -I didn't even scream! That thing was barely the length of my big toe. Tiny.)

Step 5: Wake up because of a cockroach running over my back. (This time I did jump.)

Step 6: Wake up because of a mouse running over my back. (May have screamed a little.)

Step 7: Woken up by screaming Indonesians. Rat running around the waiting area/food court. Indonesian dude with a broom trying hopelessly to kill said rat. Move to check in area.

Step 8: Sleep in check in area. Get woken up at 2:15 am by a security guard who kicks me out of the building.

Step 9: Get kicked off the tile floor outside of the airport. Gestured towards some chairs for a closed  restaurant. “Sleep” sitting in a wooden chair, in the rain, covered in mosquitoes, until 6 am.

I didn't reenter the airport proper until the following afternoon. I found the only wireless internet in the area at a Starbucks across the road and broke a sacred backpacker rule by spending the day there. I got a lot of planning done and touched base with people back home (Hi Ber, Natalie, Health, Emanuele and Dad!). A quick bath using hand soap in the 1 person washroom was very necessary and surprisingly refreshing. (Do I win some backpacker points back now?)

Back in the airport, I managed to nap a bit more. Fortunately Rinjani added lots of muscly cushion to my “already mistaken for Brazilian” behind, so sleep sitting down on tile has not been as bad as it could be.

Ania had managed to book my next flight online for me from Ubud (thank you text messaging!) so I knew I would have one night to spend in Jakarta before my flight to Singapore. I arrived at 11:30 pm in Jakarta, 12 hours ahead of my flight to Singapore, and managed about 2 hours of sleep in the baggage area. Security then kicked me out to sleep on a bench outside while they were closed. I awoke at 5 am to dozens of mosquito bites all over my neck.

The Singapore airport was a whole other world. When I arrived, I remember thinking “I could live here”. Potable water and free candy all over the place? You could survive in that place for like a week with no money. From now on, I suspect I will be judging airports based on their livability. 

From the airport, I took the MRT to the closest station near the train station. Oh a public transit system that works! There is a $500 (Singapore dollars) fine for eating or drinking on it, though. For all of its faults, at least the TTC lets me spill coffee all over myself on a regular basis.

The online reservation system to get tickets to Kuala Lumpur was down, so I had opted to buy my train ticket in person. How many people could seriously want to take an overnight train to Malaysia? Apparently enough. At this point, I had not showered in 3 days and was exhausted from my adventures in Indonesian airports. I bought a ticket for 8am the following day. After catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I realized I had actually begun to look like my passport photo. I resolved to actually sleep inside and on a designated sleeping surface that night.
it really is that bad
 I had decided months ago that I would spend no time in Singapore because it's expensive and all of its “charm” sounds exactly like Toronto. Upon further, albeit limited, exploration in my one afternoon in town, I was right. Except the women here dress better (yours truly excluded), the food is cheaper, the public transit system works and the weather is fantastic. I may be biasing this because the feeling of having showered makes the whole world look better.

Unfortunately, my train was delayed due to the celebration of a new radio station in the following town. They can't get trains through. Showered and rested, I am perfectly content to hang out in the train station where my $15 from yesterday morning in the Resting Area has carried me through over 24 hours. I am the only one in this large room of bunk beds with air conditioning, comfortable mattresses, a pillow and electricity to power my laptop.

*I thought my backpacking rite of passage would end here. I was not so lucky. Upon arrival in Kuala Lumpur, even though the trains were still running to Butterworth, I was told that the ticket sales were no longer being done so I would have to wait until the following morning. There is no where to sleep and taxis charge extra after midnight. Cue cheap Ange sleeping in the bus station for about 20 minutes, at which point security informed her that you cannot sleep in the Kuala Lumpur train station. The only other option was to sit in the 24 hour McDonald's until 6 am when the public transit runs. It was a long night.

The bus and train rides through Malaysia were the most beautiful scenery I have seen to date and it was all worth it! (She says because she didn't actually get dengue fever or malaria in the process.)

Together again in Bangkok
The Kindness of Strangers
My experience in solo transit in Indonesia and Singapore has given the universe opportunities to surprise me. After being in tourist locations where we had to barter fiercely for nearly everything and were overcharged for almost everything anyway, I was frustrated with people in general. I experienced much kindness on my solo adventures:

Server in the Bali Waiting Area
I had no food when I arrived at the Denpasar airport and little water. Stupid move on my part, but I thought I was going to be well on my way that night. Even stupider was the fact that I had no cash after finding out I could not pay with credit for my ticket. (Oddly enough the same airline has posters up around the airport encouraging people to sign up for their credit card.) I had about $4 to work with, which would get me plenty of food for 34 hours in town. In the airport? A large water and an Indonesian meal would eat up that $4 in one go. There was no ATM within the confines of the check in area and I didn't want to leave lest I not be able to sneak back in to sleep.

After realizing that, despite being Canadian, I really didn't have any money (evidenced by the fact that I bought a plate of plain rice for 70 cents for dinner), the staff at a small restaurant let me fill up my large water bottle for free, instead of paying $1.20.

Hidde from Holland in Starbucks
The following day, after being kicked out of the airport, I got more cash so I would be able to pay for my departure fee in Rupiahs and would have money for food. In the Starbucks where I fruitlessly planned my trip to Malaysia, Hidde from Holland contributed to my day long stay in Starbucks by buying me a pity latte.

Tarno from Indonesia in Jakarta
After sleeping outside in Jakarta, I looked worse for wear. Covered in mosquito bites with greasy hair and glasses askew, I definitely looked like a pathetic backpacker. Cue Tarno, an engineer from Java, a father who felt sorry for me and gave me a delicious, warm Roti Boy bun for breakfast.

Resting Area guys in Singapore
My lowest low was definitely in the Singapore airport. I nearly burst into tears when I found out that I wouldn't be able to catch the night train. The cheerful Resting Area guys cheered me up right away. They watched my bags while I roamed the city and even negotiated a free shower for me (okay, maybe that was more for the benefit of everyone else using the dormitory-style resting area that night) in the bathroom area.

Group from Singapore on the train
On the train from Butterworth, Malaysia I was seated with two Malaysians and a Singaporean on their way to Bangkok. After communicating in half English, half gestures, they more or less figured out that hadn't slept in 3 days. They bought my coffee the next morning on the train.

Rob (Australian), Dave (British) and Nick (British who just arrived from Australia)
Various strangers in Bangkok who bought me coffee and made conversation while I recovered from my journey, craved speaking English at my regular pace and waited for the girls to arrive. Thank you!

1 comment:

  1. Wow. That is rough. Glad to know there were nice people willing to help you out. I'm still jealous you're backpacking out in Asia. Loving the brief notes about the food you've all encountered. Still waiting on that pho and Cambodian noodle soup review >_^