Diary - Indonesia
Saturday 3rd August 2002 onwards...
We ended up spending a week in Singapore, but it was a relief to have sorted out the shipping without too much hassle. Once the Carnet had been endorsed and we had paid off our Autopass (we debated whether they would be able to chase us up if we didn't), we booked ourselves on a boat to Batam - a large island just south of Singapore that is part of Indonesia. It was strange to be travelling on foot and to have to negotiate public transport again, but upon being stamped into Indonesia we successfully found a boat from Batam leaving for Sumatra within the hour. Most travellers apparently head up to the north of the island to Medan, but as our main objective was to try and find a boat heading south from Indonesia to Australia, we chose the more southern destination of the Jambi Coast. There was also an added bonus in that by travelling further south we would get to cross the equator on a boat.
Anyone who's seen Michael Palin's journey across the equator in Pole to Pole by ship, might expect it to be quite an exciting experience - we were at least expecting the captain to make an announcement or to give a little cheer, but I'm sad to say that not only did our feeble attempt at water experiments fail to prove that water drains clockwise in the southern hemisphere, but the water in the toilet did not change direction, nor were there any large whirlpools, tidal waves or even so much as a red line. Quite disappointing.
Jambi is mentioned in our guidebook merely as being 'one of the least visited parts of the island' and as this became clear as we docked - it really was one the most foreign and exotic places we'd seen - scruffy but beautiful shores lined with palm trees, houses on stilts and crowds of Indonesians. Not having any information on the area or much idea about where we were, we were helplessly bustled along behind a woman shouting the word 'Jambi', to a small minbus where 12 of us were then crammed into the 7 seats inside. No-one spoke any English, but for the first time on our trip, people actually seemed to be able to understand us when we read out phrases from our guidebook - Indonesian must be one of those few languages that actually sounds the way it looks. 2 hours later when we arrived in Jambi our driver kindly drove us to a hotel and negotiated a room for us.
The next morning we took a bus to Jakarta in Java. The fact that bus turned up 2 hours late should have been an indication as to how long the journey would be - it was 28 very bumpy hours later that we finally pulled up into the capital.
We didn't hang around in Jakarta, although it wasn't as rundown and congested as we'd been expecting, and booked ourselves some $3.50 'business class' tickets on a train leaving that night for the cultural city of Yogyakarta. As we fought our way through the crowds on the platform and found our carriage, we soon realised that 'business class' means that you actually get a seat so you don't have to sleep in the aisle like everybody else - although this might actually have been preferable considering that the seats were rock hard and bolt upright and any attempt at getting comfortable resulted in cutting off the circulation in some part of your body. The lady who booked us on the train considerately gave us 'special seats' which meant we were crammed together with the only 2 other foreigners on the train - Bjorn and Mary from Denmark. We apologised that we hadn't had a shower for 3 days and resigned ourselves to the fact that in such a small space we would get to know them well by morning!
Yogyakarta is described in our guidebook as 'the most popular city in Indonesia' and it's easy to see why - it was just getting light as the train pulled into the station and we wandered the quiet, winding streets looking for a hostel. A kind woman offered to open her cafe and give us some breakfast which was greatly appreciated - it was so cheap and so good that we ate all our following meals there. We spent most of our time in Yogya with the Danes - visiting the spectacular Buddhist ruins of Borobodur and the Hindu temples of Prambanan, and going to a party of some local artists that we'd met on the train. It was a happy, relaxing couple of days - it's such a beautiful, friendly and cheap country, we have definitely been inspired to come back to Indonesia, but knowing that our car had already reached Fremantle and would be incurring storage charges, we felt obliged to continue our journey onwards to Bali.
Another overnight bus journey meant we crossed into Bali in the early hours - from the bus the scenery was stunning: small ornate temples, women in sarongs carrying fruit on their heads, terraced rice paddies, and beautiful coastlines. Until you reach the south coast that is. The area around Kuta has been described as 'a prime example of the destructive effects of tourism' and even though we opted to stay in Sanur further round the coast, we still found the constant touting for anything from transport, to hair-braiding, to manicures rather tedious. But we accepted that we were there for a purpose: to go to the marina at Benoa Harbour and try and find a yacht heading south that would take us on board to crew.
When we turned up at the marina and started asking around, we were surprised how friendly and helpful people were. Apparently a boat had left for Australia just 2 days earlier - the last to return after the recent Darwin-Bali yacht race, but as the winds had now started to blow from the south east the general concensus was that it was unlikely that any more would be going that way now until November. We cursed ourselves for not having arrived 2 days earlier and left a message on the noticeboard just in case. We then went down to the docks to see what our chances of getting on board a container ship would be.
Trying to get on board a container ship is not as easy as it sounds - the first hurdle is trying to find someone who speaks English who can direct you to the person in charge. The second hurdle is explaining that you don't want to put any cargo on the ship but that you want to travel on board yourself. At this stage the person in charge is programmed to just say 'no passengers' - apparently cargo boats are only allowed to carry a certain number of people (i.e. the crew) and have to be registered and insured to carry any further passengers. The only thing we could think of was to try and speak directly to the captain of a ship and plead with him or pay him to let us come aboard. Unfortunately there weren't any boats scheduled for Australia due in port for the next few days (or maybe they were just trying to get rid of us?) so we returned to Sanur to re-think our plans.
People had suggested that we might have more luck in finding a yacht from Timor, but by this stage we realised that our chances relied purely on being at the right place at the right time which was, to be realistic, minimal - we would just as likely arrive in Timor to be told the same story. This would take up even more of our time and even if we did find a yacht heading to Darwin, we would then have to find our way 4000 km south to Fremantle, by which time the storage charges on our car would be adding up to a small fortune. We concluded that crewing on a yacht is definitely something we will look into doing in the future, but this time round it would make more sense to fly.
So the next day we turned up at Denpasar airport and booked ourselves on the next available flight to Perth. It was a long wait in the airport and we arrived on Australian soil around 6am after a 3 1/2 hour flight. We were aware that it would be winter in Australia, but it was a real shock to step outside the airport in our sarongs and sandals to see frost on the ground. Having spent months adjusting our bodily thermostats to being in hot climates, we had to rapidly re-adjust them and stood there shivering until we could find a bus into town. The bus dropped us off at the train station where we were able to join the commuters on their way to work. A combination of lack of sleep and the culture shock of being back in a developed country made us feel very bewildered and out of place. It was a strange and disorientating sensation to be arriving so suddenly at our destination after having travelled for so long to get there.
It wasn't until we had checked into a hostel and set about trying to get back our trusty landrover (not least because it contained all our winter clothes) that it finally began to sink in - 6 months, 21,000 miles and 22 countries later, Mission Overland To Oz was accomplished and here we were, about to set off on a completely new adventure.