Now that’s it raining more than ever
Know that we’ll still have each other
You can stand under my um-ber-ella
You can stand under my um-ber-ella

I’m back on the traveling road after a month in and around Bali. Daniel, who I flew out to Bali with from Australia flew back to Australia and now I’m back traveling with my good friend Cesar. I met Cesar in India when I first began traveling in October and we traveled together for a couple of months before we went our own ways in December. He arrived to Indonesia about a week ago. We had planned to go surfing at least one time since he’s never been but Bali has this way of just making you lazy and before you know it you’ve spent the whole day on the beach sleeping and reading and then it’s time to head back to the hotel. I love Bali and with all the islands around it and all the culture and the super friendly people, it’s definitely a place I’d recommend to anyone looking for a good time in the sun.

But after a month there I was ready to get back on the traveling road. So Cesar and I are now doing an east-to-west road trip across Java. Indonesia is an archipelago and Java is one of the biggest islands and is where Jakarta, the capital city, is. We began by taking a four hour public bus in Bali to get to the port town of Gili Menon. No one on the bus spoke any English and pretty much once we left Kuta (the main touristy area of Bali) we were in tourist-free local neighborhoods. There are no bus schedules for these small buses; they just wait around until enough people get on board and then they leave. And along the way it stops whenever someone waves it down. The bus cost us under $2 each. Every time we’d stop for food or to pick someone up, people would wave at us and say ‘Hello Mister!’ and laugh. It’s a novelty for them to see a Westerner. One guy even brought us pisang goreng (fried bananas) that he passed us through the bus window.

Before getting on the ferry we bought some nasi goreng (fried rice) and brought that on board for a late night dinner. We took the ferry over to Banguwanyi which is the eastern most point of Java, arriving at 9 at night. Luckily we had shipped home over 15 kilograms combined of stuff earlier that day so our backpacks were light enough to walk around town while we looked for a hotel.

Total weight I’ve sent home so far: 25 kg.
Total weight Cesar has sent home: 43 kg.

The Rough Guide recommended a Hotel Blembongan and we set off in search of it. Most people we tried talking to spoke no English which was a complete turnaround from where I had been in Bali for the past month. Cesar somehow found this to be a good time to try out the only sentence he knows in Indonesian. After introducing ourselves to a couple of locals, Cesar tells them “Saya hayan makan sayuras”, meaning “I only eat vegetables.” He wanted them to know he was a vegetarian. I got the sense they didn’t know what to do with this information.

We passed a police station and I decided to stop in to ask for directions. I was greeted by a 20 year old in uniform who wanted to know where I was from. “California”. “Ahhh! Obama! I like Obama! Arnold Schwarzenegger!”

That is a typical conversation over here. Everyone likes to say “Obama!” the moment I tell them I’m American or from California. “I like Obama!” I am also now well aware that Obama studied in Jakarta. I know they’re being friendly but hearing this over and over starts to become too much so I’ve changed my response a bit. I now tell people I’m from North Korea. Now I get one of two reactions:

  • No reaction
  • “Ohh! Australia! Good day mate!”

We eventually managed to find the hotel, although I’m not sure that was a good thing. Hotel Blembongan is not exactly a five star hotel; it’s closer to a .5 star hotel. There is no western toilet, just a hole in the ground, and although we had a sink in the room, there were no taps or even a faucet. Just a sink. There was no shower. What we had instead of all of that was a three-foot tall square ‘tub’ that you fill up with water and use it for everything. Cesar thought he saw a rat but it actually was an oversized cockroach. Sometimes budget traveling means having to share your room. One really positive point of the HB was the super friendly staff who although they didn’t speak English, did everything they could to help us figure out our traveling plans. And they brought us a great breakfast of rice, tofu and eggs loaded with sambal (chili sauce). I have rice for every meal, sometimes fried, sometimes not, sometimes with vegetables, sometimes not, but always rice, rice, rice.

The next morning we were debating between seeing the Ijen crater nearby or traveling all day to Gurung Bromo, an active volcano. Active volcanos are hard to top so we opted for that. We each got into our own becak (bike rikshaws) and headed to the bus terminal. My driver insisted of conversing the whole time which would have been fine except he didn’t speak a word of English. It makes for really awkward conversation when there is no language common. I found that nodding my head and grunting acknowledgment whenever I sensed he had told me a fact gave him the impression I was following along. This trip cost under $.50.

There are some days when you travel that everything just seems to end up working out in your favor. This was one of those days. The bus to Probolingo, the town closest to Bromo, was leaving in just ten minutes. Just enough time to buy some nasi goreng for the trip. The bus was a shapeless, tall, extended rectangle on wheels but was quite comfortable. Long bus trips in India and Nepal have lowered my expectations to the point that I expect to have a sore back for a couple of days after any extended bus ride. But this was not to be. And on top of that, as I began wondering when we would stop so I could get off the bus and have a smoke, the guy in front of me just lit one up right there. Perfect. And a hole in the floor by my feet made a suitable ashtray as it opened right onto the road.

We reached Probolingo and pulled into a gas station to fill up. And all of a sudden this one guy starts shouting at us “Bromo! Bromo!” and motioning for us to get on this bus behind us. Turns out this little mini bus was going to take us to Bromo. I still wonder what if one of these two buses hadn’t had to stop for gas, how would we have found out where to go? Even though I can’t figure out how things always work over here, they do seem to work. Before pulling into the gas station we had actually been put onto another bus that had stopped behind us earlier. What if that bus hadn’t been there? Who really knows how it all works. We were on the right bus and that is all that really matters.

And to wind up a long day of travel, we road in this small mini bus up into the mountain which turned out to be Dance Party Indonesia 2009. Cesar and I were the only passengers and there was the driver Adi, the second driver Udi and a friend of theirs Anton along for the ride. None of them could have been over 20 but I’m quite bad at guessing Indonesian’s ages as everyone looks 5-10 years younger than they really are. We were talking about music that we liked and Udi and Anton start singing Rihanna’s Umbrella. I told him to wait a second, brought out my iPod and speakers and starting blasting Umbrella. Next thing we were all dancing in our seats and belting out Umbrella, including Adi the driver who somehow had ended up wearing my hat. We made a short stop to pay a toll and the people in the toll station started dancing along.

After a couple of days of long traveling, it felt good to let loose, even if it meant revealing to a larger audience the fact that, yes, I do have Rihanna on my iPod.