Friday, December 23, 2011

First impressions, Indonesia

Last night we flew into Jakarta for the start of our holiday. Arriving in Indonesian airports I always have a feeling that the processes are vaguely farcical. I might complain about getting into the US, but I don't have to join a queue, pay twenty five dollars for a piece of paper, take that piece of paper with my passport to a separate queue in order to get it stamped, and then go and wave my stamped passport at a third person. (Or, like the guy in front of me, fan out five different passports - a strange thing for a man travelling on his own - and then walk straight on).

Still, we got through, and then went to hire a taxi to the hotel. We haggled the fare down 33%, but since it started off 400% over the odds, we didn't do that well. Oh well. The hotel was great when we got there: lots of terrible reviews on Tripadvisor but we didn't encounter any of the things people were annoyed about. Your mileage may vary, etc.

Today we flew on to Tanjung Pandan, on Belitung island, which is an hour from Jakarta. There's very little on the island except trees and a cement factory; we have a chalet at the resort that directly overlooks the beach. And the main road, but that sounds less glamourous.

Both hotels we've stayed in have been full of geckos, which we're very happy about. We discovered just a few minutes ago that geckos make a sound, somewhere between bird song and tapping on a window, although we're not sure why. Perhaps they're complaining about us invading their chalet.

We had a car and driver for today, which was a good thing because otherwise we'd never have got from airport to hotel. He drove us around all day, mostly in search of a restaurant that served vegetarian food. Several times he drove us to a foot massage centre, and then away again when it was clear they didn't serve food. And what was strange about that is that he kept driving us back to the _same_ foot massage centre, as if he'd persuade them that they needed to change business model, given how many potential customers they were turning away. Which might have been a good plan if we'd changed appearance each time, but the same person showing up several times is not the same as different people, and the masseuses seemed to already know that.

So about 3:30, with me now beginning to fall asleep from lack of food, we ended up in a Chinese restaurant where nobody spoke Cantonese, with a menu in Indonesian without any prices, and a band practicing the same twenty seconds of music again and again in an adjacent room. Which sounds hellish, but I was hungry enough that when a nasi goreng arrived, I ate it, even though that violates the first rule of only eating the national dish of a country when you're not in that country. Ah well. Not sure that was _authentically_ Chinese, but who's complaining?

We went to a few beaches today; the first was literally covered in crabs. When we walked onto the beach, the sand appeared covered with little brown specks, but as soon as we approached, the whole beach erupted in activity as waves of tiny crabs, no bigger than a fingernail, ran across the sand and tried to hide from us. There were ludicrous numbers of crabs, too many to count. The more we poked around, the more we found other crabs: large ones, medium sized ones, and translucent hermit crabs.

The beach was very flat - far out to sea there were people standing only waist deep, fishing. The next beach we went to was just as shallow, so we got to watch people alternately wading and swimming, looking for fish. One fisherman was wearing purple speedos and a pair of wellington boots, which I didn't think would make it easy to swim in. Maybe he figured the boots would keep his feet dry. There was also a woman hammering nails into a plank of wood with another piece of wood, which resonated with me as I just reread Magnus Mills' classic The Restraint Of Beasts, where a man improvises a hammer from a lump of rock. I wondered if many people in a remote Indonesian island have read a story about Scottish fencers.

Finally, we saw a lot of people with enormous, crude knives. Well, three is a lot, when they've got machetes the length of your forearm made from metal and insulating tape, and they're variously hacking barnacles off the legs of a pier, hitting things with the flat of the blade, and chopping up ice. The third was particularly odd, as the person wielding a machete and hacking at ice was all of about two years old. They have different toys for kids in Belitung.


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