Friday, 25 January 2013

Dirty Magazine Pt. 5: Bali

world-map bali


This week’s installment sees me on one of the most famous tourist spots on earth, the island of Bali where I check out some Hindu temples, something that I hope to be doing a lot more of in a couple of weeks’ time when I head off to India, (Yippee!! Can’t wait!). However, in the meantime I thought I’d let you lot know just what I’ve got planned for UTM over the coming months. I hope to finish publishing ‘Dirty Magazine’ by the time I jet off to India (11th Feb) and then after that I’ll be posting travel updates until I return at the start of March. Then I am intending to put up my travelogue ‘Across Asia With a Lowlander’ which covers my greatest ever trip, an epic overlander from Japan to Moscow. Then following that the plan is to post ‘The Missing Link’, a travelogue that I am currently writing detailing my travels last summer through Ukraine, Moldova, Transdniestria and Romania in which I completed that epic overlander and linked up my European and Asian adventures. So… lots to look forward to, promise!

Keep travelling!

Uncle Travelling Matt

Links to all the parts of this travelogue

Pt. 1: Seoul

Pt. 2: Jakarta

Pt. 3: Surabaya

Pt. 4: Sumbawa and Lombok

Pt. 5: Bali

Pt. 6: Yogyakarta

Pt. 7: Jakarta and home…

dirty magazine map


Most people who go to Bali have at least one or two weeks to explore the island. I realistically had a day, as time was getting short and getting to my next destination, Malang would take a whole day at least. Thus I was faced with the question of how to see as much of the island as I could in the shortest time possible. Digging into the depths of my memory, an answer soon availed itself.

Several years ago I lived and worked for a few months on the Greek island of Corfu. Before that I went on holiday there. Faced with a similar challenge of how to see as much of the island as possible, I tried out several options. Firstly, there was the local bus, but this proved to be a far from satisfactory course of action, as there were only a limited number of routes and an even scarcer number of buses on those routes. Next, I’d booked myself upon a ‘For Your Eyes Only’, (named after the Bond film that was shot there), bus tour which took us around the island’s highlights for a mere twenty quid. That was better but hardly perfect. I’ve never been a bus tour kinda guy with good reason. For a start being sat on a coach for hours isn’t the biggest laugh ever, but more than that it’s the places that they end up taking you to. Yes, they do go to the highlights of the locality, but then straight after they take you to the souvenir palaces of those highlights. Local potteries, silk-weaving, papyrus factories (Egypt only), jewelry workshops. You name any craft and they’ll dump you at its place of manufacture. Not that I’m anti-souvenirs of course, actually I quite like them, particularly the crappy, tacky ones, but I don’t want dumping at the shops for an hour or two when I could be looking at, well, err, at other stuff.

Nor do I want to have my dinner at the bus driver’s mate’s restaurant, famed for it’s isolated location, (cheap land), and average food, (guaranteed custom by the coach load). No, a coach trip was not in order.

Thus it was that I hired a moped, and spent many a day whizzing up and down the green hills of Ionia’s greenest isle. And what with Bali being a green isle full of tourists too, I figured that acquiring a similar steed may not be too difficult, and so after showering and supping complimentary tea I sort out Agoom who I found near to the entrance looking very smart in his uniform. And after a few dealings with a mate of a mate, (which surely resulted in a few thousand rupiyah being placed into the Head of Security’s back pocket, I set off on a 100cc Honda with a mile-o-meter (or was it a kilometre-o-meter?) that didn’t work.

After consulting the guidebook, I decided to head first for the tourist trap and then for the hills. Bali is of course a course an island famed for it’s temples and the most famous of them all is one perched on a tiny island called Tanah Lot. It looked nice in the picture anyway, so I revved my Honda up and set off for there. Whizzing along the island roads, with their chaotic traffic and broken traffic lights, the cool breeze a welcome break from the hot equatorial sun, I remembered well the times back in 1997 when I lived for those few short months in Sidari, Corfu. Riding mopeds is such good fun, and truly the best way to see any island, that is until you fall of them of course, which inevitably happens, but thankfully I’d only done that twice and on both occasions was unhurt. Let’s hope that today was the same!

Upon arrival it became very clear that it was one of the most popular. Not only was there a large car park full of coaches, but also a whole complex of souvenir establishments. Not being on a coach tour however, I did not have to stay here for an allotted time so I steadily charged through the T-shirts and woodcarvings to the temple itself.

I must admit, when it did come into view I was more than a little disappointed. The picture had shown a beautiful temple with pagoda-like towers perched on an ivy-clad rock out to sea. Well, Tanah Lot certainly was all of that but what shocked me was that it was, well, err, a bit smaller than I expected. A lot smaller in fact, it was indeed very small indeed and the towers shown in the photos could have been little more than five metres high if that. Hmm, an optical illusion. Nonetheless, I got some random tourist to snap my grinning mug in front of the holy place, and then walked down the steps and across the beach to actually visit the Holy Place itself.

pura tanah lot

Purah Tanah Lot

Disappointment Number Two: Although the tide was out visiting was not allowed and two sarong-clad guru-type guys were there to enforce the rules. Good for erosions and tourism management maybe, but not for me. Oh well, never mind, back to tacky touristdom I went and after downing a cup of tea, I mounted my metal steed once more and headed for the hills.

Bali is a largely mountainous island and the weather was getting hotter which meant only one thing, heading inland for some cooler temperatures, fine scenery and of course, temples. I knew nothing about Balinese temples, nor their religion for that matter, and so I had nothing to go on. Where was hot and where not, I did not know, so I picked up the map and selected a temple to head for. The one I picked was Pura Luhur; almost at the dead centre of the island and easily accessible from Tanah Lot. Or so I thought. Unfortunately my map was not the best and I soon got lost. Chugging through some unknown ricefields I came across another fine temple, (name forgotten I’m sorry), in a woodland grove and with a cascading waterfall. Delighted I drove on, by sheer luck rejoining the route that I was meant to be on, and heading ever onwards and upwards.

After some time I noticed the clouds above getting blacker and grimmer. My experience on Sumbawa with Mr. Aki had taught me that tropical rain comes suddenly and falls heavily. Hurriedly I looked for shelter and luckily located an open garage that I dived into. I was not a moment too late, the heavens opened and within a minute the huge drains by the roadside were overflowing.

Tropical rain however finishes as abruptly as it starts and after about twenty minutes in the garage I was once more on the road, driving through the now-sodden hills. The scenery now was quite spectacular, lush palms and rice fields. I passed over a small bridge which crossed a beautiful boulder-strewn stream which I stopped to photograph. Just past the bridge there were some hot springs advertised. Being an onsen fanatic in Japan I decided to halt awhile and take the waters. The place was beautiful, in a secluded palm grove by the riverside, with a beautiful waterfall crashing down a cliffside. The price however was not; “Twenty-five US dollars!” I repeated incredulously. I couldn’t believe it, even in Japan, a good hot spring with all the best facilities would not cost that. Talk about milking the tourists. Without a dip in the thermally goodness, I drove on.

I soon discovered that I’d made the right choice of temple with Pura Luhur. Whether it’s the best temple on the island I know not of course, but on that particular day I couldn’t have gone to a better place. I had chanced upon the Full Moon festival and the place was jam-packed with literally thousands of colourfully dressed pilgrims making their way to and from the temple itself which was located at the top of a long walk uphill. The location of the complex was spectacular with the majestic, cloud-covered Gunung Batukau, (one of the island’s highest peaks), behind and lush trees all around. I went to the entrance and was given the obligatory sarong to cover bare-legs, and entered amongst the pilgrims, who milled around and sat in large pavilions in the outer limits of the temple eating lunchboxes of rice and fish which I assumed were provided by the temple authorities free of charge and were made from the thousands of food donations that all the visitors were offering to the deities. Upwards I went towards the temple’s inner sanctum with its thatched pagoda’s but there I was stopped. Prayers were being held and I was obviously not a believer.

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 indonesia 10

Pura Luhur

The drive back was fine, along winding mountain roads, past terraced rice fields and tiny villages with decorations lining the streets due to the moon festival. At times it was hard going, the road surface would disappear and then unexpectedly start once more with alarming regularity. Eventually however, I hit the main road to Denpasar and headed back down the hills towards Kuta. Nearing the resort I heard voices singing and so I stopped to witness another aspect of the island’s spiritual life. There, newly built yet in a traditional Balinese style was a Catholic Church which, (the day being Good Friday), was packed to the rafters with believers. I stood at the back for a while whilst the native priest intoned the words of the Bible in a Latinesque chant-like Indonesian. The congregation crossed themselves faithfully and I moved on.


Denpasar Catholic Church

On the way to Tanah Lot that morning, I had driven straight out of the resort and onto the main Denpasar road. Returning however, I took a different route, all the way through Kuta. I was amazed at the size of the place, I’d assumed that it was big but not that big! Mile after mile after mile of hotels, souvenir shops, rent-a-car agencies, moneychangers and restaurants. Sod’s Law however decreed that Hotel Santika Beach be at the far end and that trying to move through that surging mass of twenty-first century tourism was not easy. I brought the bike back late but the man didn’t mind, and so nor did I.

The next day I was up early once more, ready to set off on my journey back to Java. I looked for Agoom to say goodbye, but he was nowhere to be seen. I soon found out why. “He’s sick today,” informed the security guard at the gate. Oh well, never mind, perhaps he’ll e-mail one day?

The workings of the buses at Denpasar bus station confused me I must admit. I was informed beforehand that a bus would not be leaving for Malang or Surabaya before four that afternoon, yet upon arrival a man tried to sell me a ticket for his bus which would be departing at two ‘at the very latest, mister’. Puzzled I bought the ticket anyway, if only to wait on an air-conditioned vehicle rather than in the sun, and sat down and read. Sure enough, at half past one, the bus revved up and chugged out of the terminal. Good stuff, thought I and settled down to gaze at the passing scenery. Not that it was particularly brilliant, Bali’s far south-west does not contain the gems of the island’s scenic charms, but I wasn’t bothered, after all, I’d seen them the day before. The ferry ride this time was much shorter than that between Lombok and Bali and to my surprise, all the passengers preferred to sit inside the super-cold air-conditioned bus rather than breath in the sea air on deck. No I though, who promptly departed through the bus’s rear door and weaved my way between revving lorries and coaches towards the grimy staircase that took me up to where the action was.

Not that that was altogether great too, but it was pleasant nonetheless. I sipped mango juice and gazed at the disappearing Bali and Java that grew ever larger. At one point a Dutch lady came to talk to me for a few minutes. Or at least she said that she was Dutch, although her ethnicity and accent betrayed her Javan origins. Her husband however was undoubtedly a Netherlander and I suppose that is what she meant.

Back on dry land it was a long drive once again to reach Surabaya and then Malang, my destination of choice. The first part of that journey was through the spectacular Baluran National Park. Or at least I assume that it was spectacular, since that was what the guidebook said. The failing light however meant that I was not to view it’s beauties and so instead I settled down and read William Boyd’s extremely average ‘An Ice Cream War’ which I’d pinched from the Toyama YMCA library before I’d left, (naughty boy!).

The bus stopped once for dinner which, (I was pleased to discover), was included in the price of the ticket. The fayre was average fish and rice, and the tea too sweet, but it filled a gap. Afterwards I wandered around the transport café a little. On the opposite side of the road I was surprised to discover that underneath the weeds and grass were a pair of railway lines. Later, sat in the coach I found that these lines followed us all the way to the next city, Probolinggo, where they disappeared, I assume to join the main railway line marked on the map. Quite where this line went or why it was abandoned I suppose I will never know.

We eventually arrived in Malang, (after a stop in Surabaya), at about ten minutes to midnight and I hired a cab to the hotel of my choice, the Pelangi. The town seemed a pleasant place and the main square had character with its large mosque and ornate Catholic Cathedral that I was surprised to see full to bursting. Then I realised why, it was of course Easter Sunday, starting that very minute, and the Faithful were looking towards God.

God however was perhaps not looking towards me however, since when I got to the Pelangi, I found that it was full. ‘C’est la vie!’ as a Frenchman would say, and I picked another from the book, the Margosuko. That also turned out to be rather full, but they could do me a pricey room with air-con. This being Indonesia, a pricey room was not altogether that pricey anyway so I took it, and made my way up to my abode for the night. With a colour TV, aircon and complementary water, you had to say that the Margosuko was trying it’s best to be a classy establishment, but somehow it wasn’t quite making it. Still, thumbs up for the effort and after a cold shower, (no hot water, as I said, not quite making it), I climbed into bed and slept till morning came.

My main reason for coming to Malang of course was to meet up with my Stoke compatriot, Clayton Archer. However, I had a big problem, that being that I didn’t have a clue as to where to find him. He hadn’t answered the e-mail that I had sent him from Bali yet, so he would not know that I was here. Hmm, what to do. Getting up, the first thing that I did was fill up on food at the local KFC, (sorry, but I was plainly sick of Indonesian cuisine by now, which is hardly world beating at the best of times). Then I decided to find where he worked, a language school belonging to a famous international corporation. That shouldn’t be difficult thought I as I mentioned it to my rickshaw driver. He obviously felt the same way, nodding enthusiastically before taking me way out into the suburbs and depositing me in front of a large white building. I paid him and went to the door, but what’s this? No English, no language teacher. A lot of books mind. The place turned out to be the library. Hmm, well not too bad for a first attempt, thought I, at least he didn’t direct me to his mate’s Batik Emporium or his uncle’s restaurant. That’s what normally happens.

Not too bad at all considering that by chance, the only museum in town of any interest to me happened to be exactly opposite this library, the Army Museum. I paid the entrance fee to the guard and wandered round a collection of exhibits all proclaiming to the visitor of the merits of the Indonesian Army, surely the bravest and most able on God’s earth, (or at least that’s what you’d believe from wandering around here). There were pictures of the people, armed with their upside-down Polish flag bravely resisting the Dutch during the revolution and diagrams showing all the foreign theatres of war where the Army of Indonesia had won glory for themselves. Nationalism aside, it was rather good. Bigger exhibits included a tank, some field guns, a railway waggon that I assume carried troops or guns or something, and an antiquated staff car. And thus having taken my fill of Indonesian military glory, I decided to continue on my quest to locate the elusive language school that employed Mr. Archer.

I showed my paper to another rickshaw driver who shrugged his shoulders in ignorance. A passing pedestrian was far more helpful, she directed me through some leafy suburbs, (you’d never believe that this was supposedly a third world country from that part of town), to a white house that proudly proclaimed that a language school and clinic were also to be found under it’s roof. Encouraged, I entered but alas foiled once more. ‘Yes, this is a school where you can be learning the English, mister,” I was informed by the secretary, but alas not the one that I sought. This establishment was the preserve of the local Indian doctor who surprise, surprise, ran the surgery too. No white teachers here, I’m afraid.

Well, sod you then I thought. It was Sunday and it was looking increasingly unlikely that I would manage to liaise with old Clayton. Better to cut my losses and get out of town, and head for Yogyakarta, next stop on the Tour de Indonesie. I got a rickshaw to the railway station and booked myself onto the half past three train to Yogyakarta, (alas, Eksekutif once more). That gave me a little over two hours to kill, so I took a rickshaw back to the hotel, packed my stuff and then did what I always do in a cheap country: went and got a haircut.

In Japan the average price for a simple trim is 3,500 yen, (that’s about eighteen quid). In Indonesia it’s about fifty pence. That to me spells economy, so I sauntered down the road and popped into the nearest barbers. The place was scruffy, with ancient decrepit furniture and two men armed with scissors who obviously knew their stuff. We had not a common language, but a cut is a cut. They chopped away and I admired the advertisements for a new housing development, (the dwellings were well out of the price range of the average Indonesian, but the picture was nice), and the calendar produced by the local primary school. And when they finished I admired their work, (a little short, but hey, that meant that I wouldn’t need another haircut for a while), and we had our photo taken together. Thus freshly shaven I picked up my luggage and headed to the railway station, ready to board the chariot of the iron road that would bear me onwards towards the ancient Javan city of Yogyakarta.

Next part: Pt. 6: Yogyakarta

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Dirty Magazine Pt. 4: Sumbawa and Lombok

world-map bali


This week’s edition recounts my favourite part of my trip to Indonesia, the time when I was welcomed into the homes of the locals and, if that wasn’t enough, invited to sing karaoke. I love karaoke, I did then and I still do now as my workmates can attest. These days however, I’ve progressed from the Beatles and the Monkees to Elvis and Sir Mix-a-Lot. Such things happen with age.

Keep travelling!

Uncle Travelling Matt

Links to all the parts of this travelogue

Pt. 1: Seoul

Pt. 2: Jakarta

Pt. 3: Surabaya

Pt. 4: Sumbawa and Lombok

Pt. 5: Bali

Pt. 6: Yogyakarta

Pt. 7: Jakarta and home…



In the exclusive Santika Beach Resort Hotel, Bali. Room 502…

Bond strolled in from his quick dip in the pool. The drops of water on his muscular body glistened in the hot sun. He entered his luxurious hotel suite and surveyed his surroundings. Authentic Balinese art adorned the walls, and the linen on the bed was crisp and clean. But Bond’s mind was elsewhere. Inside his head he was already planning his tactics for tonight when he faced his final showdown with his arch-enemy, the evil Colonel Ming, a renegade Vietnamese warlord who, having stolen nuclear warheads from Turkmenistan, was planning to take over the world. Bond stiffened as his eye caught a shadow brush past the nets of the French windows behind him. Carefully he programmed his watch, (which doubled up as a laser gun, helicopter remote control and an alarm clock), to fire and then our hero slowly turned around to face the doorway. Stood there, clothed in only a black bikini was an Oriental lady. Her dark, sensual eyes stared at Bond and her full lips pouted provocatively. Here was surely the most beautiful woman in Asia. She was a lady whom Bond knew well.

“Good evening Miss Deng,” said the spy suavely, “or should I say Miss Weng Zhou Ting of the Secret Service of the People’s Republic of China?”

“Good evening Mr. Bond.” She paused. “Or should I say, 007 Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Licence to Kill?”

“You know a lot about me Miss Weng.”

“I would like to know much more, Mr. Bond.”

“And I about you Miss Weng.” He eyed the crisp, clean linen on the King Size bed. “Shall we make ourselves a little more comfortable…?”

Meanwhile, next door in Room 503…

Bond’s compatriot eyed the luxurious surroundings of his five star suite. “This is a bit bloody posh!” he said quietly, not quite so suavely as Bond would have done. He started to walk casually towards the French windows, but unfortunately tripped over a paperback that he hadn’t seen lying on the floor. “Bollocks!” he exclaimed as he picked himself up. He opened the sliding doors and surveyed the scene before him. Besides the large pool, surrounded by Balinese sculptures and lush palms was a beautiful Oriental girl wearing a skimpy black bikini. “Just like a bloody James Bond film,” said the Englishman and then he turned to the girl who was walking towards his room.

“Konnichiwa!” he called out to the sultry Asian beauty, in a smooth, sexy Bondesque voice.

“I’m Chinese, not Japanese!” replied the girl indignantly, as she walked straight past his room and went into the one next door.

“Sorry,” replied the not-so-smooth guy. Unlike Bond he would not be enjoying the company of a beautiful exotic woman tonight, (although he had been offered earlier in the afternoon by a friendly Balinese guy who’d asked, “Mister, you want nice girl for fuck tonight?”).

“Better get on with writing that bloody journal,” said the man in the Stoke City shirt, next-door to Bond.

So he did.

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Santika Beach Resort, Bali

You might well be wondering what I was doing staying in a five-star beach resort on Bali when I a). Am a tight bastard who balks at spending more than five pounds a night on a hotel room, and

b). Never intended to stop in Bali anyway. Besides that, the last you heard, I was being dropped off by the trusty Pelni craft M.K. Wilis at the tiny port of Badas, which is on Sumbawa, two islands away from Bali. Well, let me start at the beginning…

The Wilis dropped me off alright on a balmy evening at Badas, a small collection of houses and a concrete pier nestled around an inlet of water on the northern shore of the isle of Sumbawa. From there I took a motorcyle along the twisting road, through palm groves and tiny villages, to the Hotel Suci in Sumbawa Besar, (usually translated as Sumbawa City, ‘besar’ literally means ‘big’). Upon promptly unpacking at the aforementioned and rather dreary hotel, I discovered that, horror of horrors, I had left the bag with all my showering and shaving gear on board the ship. Quite how I managed to do so is a mystery to me I must admit, since I remember clearly checking thoroughly the cabin and shower compartment, so who knows how it happened. Anyone who knows me well however, is probably less surprised, since I do have the worst luck imaginable when it comes to misplacing things. Only the day before departure I had a scare with my wallet, only to find it in the wardrobe. Some ascribe it to untidiness, I prefer to believe that I simply have bad losing things karma.

Well, whatever the case, my stuff was gone. To be quite frank though, I wouldn’t have cared an Indonesian rupiyah about it all, after all toothbrushes, shampoo and toothpaste are easily obtainable, but sadly the bag also contained my electric shaver, an appliance that was a present from a dear friend. A dear friend who would not be impressed when they found that I’d lost it. Still, what was the worry? My trusty Lonely Planet reliably informed me that Pelni ships stay four hours in each port, and the Wilis had only been there an hour at most. I would simply go back, explain my situation to the crew and return to Hotel Suci complete with sanitation kit. Simple! I explained this to the manager and he summoned his friend the motorbike driver, a lean man in an Osama bin Laden T-shirt, with a look that CNN would have labelled as ‘Islamic Fundamentalist’ without the slightest hesitation.

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Mr. Aki and his bike

On the back of the bike I leapt and together we tore through the night, Osama’s cousin and I, twisting and turning along the mountain roads at breakneck speed. In no time at all we reached Badas, but wait, what is this? “Wait! Wait!” I say. “Wait please!” I yell in vain at the K.M. Wilis which is steaming out of the bay, my electric shaver safely on board.

The journey back was less swift and in the outskirts of Sumbawa Besar it ground to a complete halt. We felt a few spots of rain, which meant that a shower was on the way. But this was the tropics and I’d experienced tropical showers before; ten seconds out in the open and you’re soaked to the skin. Osamaman too was evidently no stranger to the phenomenon. Quickly he pulled his bike to the side of the road by a shelter into which we ran. And then the heavens opened!

Up until this moment I had thought that my driver spake not a word of English, but a few seconds under the shelter soon showed me the truth.

“Mister, what is your name?”

“My name is Matt.”

“My name is Mister Aki.”

“Hello Mister Aki.”

“Mister Matt, where is you coming from?”

“England, near to Manchester. You know, David Beckham.”

“Yes, I knowing this. Mister Matt, you is speaking Indonesian?”

“No, I’m sorry, no Indonesian.”

Normally these conversations sopped at this point but unlike the majority of his compatriots, Mr. Aki took my ‘no Indonesian’ to mean that instead of conversation being an impossibility, I wanted learn some.

And luckily he was there to enlighten me.

“Mister, speaking English, thank you.”


“Speaking Indonesia, dirimagasi.”

Or something like that. I remembered it because it sounded pretty similar to ‘dirty magazine’. If you have only reached the maturity levels that I have, then no doubt you will find the fact that ‘thank you’ is ‘dirty magazine’ pretty bloody hilarious, and instantly memorable too.

“Speaking English, ‘My name is Mister Matt’, speaking Indonesia ‘Nama casa tuan Matt’.” ‘Tuan’ is ‘Mister’. I remembered that too, since I have a friend called Tu Anh. She however is a Miss, not a Mister, which is unfortunate I suppose. Like Mr. Aki she also does not have the greatest grasp of the English tongue, but, like he, she tries hard, and you’ve got to admire that. And Mr. Aki was now in full flow.

“Speaking English, ‘Good’. Speaking Indonesia, ‘Bagus’.”

Thus we spent that tropical shower, ‘Speaking English XXXX, speaking Indonesia XXXX’ and further ‘get to know me’s’ with Mr. Aki. For a start I learnt where he got his English from, a dirty, crumpled piece of paper in his pocket filled with useful phrases written in an Indonesia phonetic:

Wia du yu wonting go?

Its fifti tauzen pleez.

Dis is mai baik.

Its veri cheep mista.

And he achieved what I’m sure was his objective all along. My consent to have him drive me not only all around Sumbawa Besar during my stay, but also to Porto Tano, the embarkation point for Lombok.

The next day I was awoken around ten by Mr. Aki, (we’d arranged to meet at twelve), who was, Speaking English, “seeing I’m everything ok, good,” speaking Indonesia… I showered, packed and embarked upon my sightseeing tour of Sumbawa Besar. Sightseeing Tour however is perhaps too grand a title; there is only one thing to see in the city, and that is what I saw. The end.

That one thing is the Sultan’s Palace, or ‘The Old Sultan’s Palace’ to be exact. There is a new one too, but that’s government guesthouse now and not open to the public. Before becoming a nation, Indonesia, (or the Dutch East Indies as it was then known), was ruled by, (unsurprisingly, given the title), the Dutch, but on a more local level, by hundreds of sultans, each with their own tiny domain. Sumbawa’s sultan, a bespectacled gent is still alive and living in the town today, albeit powerless, though of course, not poor. His old palace however, now a museum, is open to all and sundry.

‘Open’ of course being a flexible word in such countries. When we arrived there it was locked and Mr. Aki had to raise the caretaker from his slumbers; still I can’t complain, the guy forgot to charge me. The palace is a large wooden house on stilts, and a little akin to a Maori dwelling in style. Inside it was dark and stuffed full of relics with detailed descriptions in Indonesian. Despite having a guru with me, (I’d learnt earlier that speaking English, ‘teacher’, speaking Indonesia ‘guru’), I was still none too wise, but it was nice to wander around and look at stuff all the same.

Having completed my tour of Sumbawa Besar, I retired to a Chinese restaurant, (it looked like the only restaurant in town), before embarking on my journey across the island to Poto Tano with Mr. Aki.

When he’d suggested to me the idea of travelling across Sumbawa, backpack on my back, on the back of a moped for 35,000 rupiyah, I was at first a little hesitant. The bus was, (according to Mr. Aki), 25,000 rupiyah, (i.e. it was really about 15,000), but he was, he assured me, “more quickly”. However, I remembered how pleasant the initial ride from the port to Sumbawa Besar had been and thus Sumbawa’s highlights may not be in it’s big tourist attractions, (“No offence Mr. Sultan.” “None taken Mr. Matt.”), but it’s countryside. And by this mode of transport I would be able to experience it first hand, plus stop when I wanted to.

And so it was. The countryside was spectacular and on my way I learnt the names of all the animals, (Speaking Indonesia). Onward we sped, through the lush palm groves, past mist-covered mountains, around sheltered inlets where fishermen plied their trade, past verdant rice paddies with hard-working coolies and through throngs of primary school children, all in their uniforms of coloured shorts or dresses, and Hawaiian-type shirts, (each school has a different colour and the school emblem is repeated all over the shirts instead of palm trees). At one small town Mr. Aki stopped at a restaurant for take-out and later we dined by the seashore on rice and fish.

At the end of the seventy kilometres my bottom was beginning to complain but my eyes were still feasting for more. The scenery had changed from being lush, green and almost Caribbean, to a harsh landscape with sparse vegetation, more akin to Kirkcaldy than Kingstown. Strange jagged hills rose up besides the road, but we chugged on, around the corner to the tiny port and settlement of Poto Tano, where our ferry awaited.

Onboard the boat I was once more the subject of much attention; firstly from the hawkers of bottled water and snacks, and secondly from my fellow passengers. As we sat down a crowd swarmed around and Mr. Aki started to tell my lifestory, (speaking Indonesia), to the eager listeners.

Foremost amongst the throngs were a middle-aged lady and her younger relative who were sat behind us. The lady had a round, happy face which cracked into cackles of laughter when I winked at her. Her relative, whom I later learnt was her cousin, was a bonnie lass of about twenty. She spoke some English and we talked for a while. She really was quite pretty and I was enjoying our conversation rather a lot until she asked if I was Christian. Upon receiving an answer in the positive, she replied, “Christian no good. Muslim good.” Confronted with such sound theological reasoning, coupled with her very limited English, and my, (despite the best efforts of Mr. Aki), even more limited Indonesian, I could think of no suitable retort. Looking back, this was the only time during the whole trip when someone did attack Christianity, which was considerably better than I’d anticipated beforehand. Nonetheless, it was a shame that it came from someone young, and what’s more someone rather pretty who I’d have liked to have got to know better.

Upon reaching the shores of Lombok we returned to our motorbike and journeyed the short distance to the nearest town, Labuhan Lombok. Upon reaching the outskirts, Mr. Aki to my surprise, stopped the bike, got out his piece of paper and announced, “Pleez resting foa minit mai hom.” This surprised me somewhat since I’d assumed that he lived on Sumbawa, but I was eager to see inside an Indonesian home so I happily consented.

Mr. Aki lived in the last house at the end of a dirt road, on the edge of town. It was obviously quite new since the house next door was still unoccupied and the house across the road, unfinished. It was small too. I was invited into the main room, which was devoid of any furniture, the only contents within it’s four whitewashed walls being a large green carpet, upon which lay a child of about two, fast asleep.

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The road where Mr. Aki lives

In my experience, if you want to tell how poor a household is, you don’t look at the size of the dwelling or its location, but rather it’s contents. I’ve been to huge houses in villages that belong to some of the poorest people. The dwelling may be large, but it is also usually empty. Conversely, Western and Japanese houses are so full of bits and pieces, furniture, nik naks, pictures; all those things that we pick up throughout our lives and that we spend (waste?) our excess cash on. I never realised it fully until I returned home after several months in Greece, (which is hardly the third world when all is said and done), where I’d occupied a large yet sparsely furnished house. Upon entering our family home I felt overpowered and claustrophobic by all the clutter in the rooms, and by the patterned wallpaper that seemed to make the room seem even smaller. I couldn’t believe that I’d never noticed it before, but having grown up with it, I hadn’t. Yet in the third and second worlds, (i.e. which hold the vast majority of the human race), rooms are so much barer, walls are whitewashed not papered, and the furniture there is what is required, not just clutter.

Even taking this into account however, I had been nowhere like Mr. Aki’s before. Bare is one thing, a complete lack of contents is another. Admittedly the Asian habit of sitting on the floor did away with the need for chairs and a table, but nonetheless, this place was austere.

Mr. Aki got out his paper and pointed to a line that read Dis is mai waip. An attractive lady of about thirty smiled at me and presented me with coffee. Mr. Aki showed me the paper again. Dis is mai kidz read the line that he now pointed to.

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Mr. Aki’s family

Now which ones were Mr. Aki’s kids, was now difficult to tell. Since I’d arrived a steady stream of young visitors had followed me. As in the Philippines, Indonesian village houses seem to be ‘Open to the General Public’ type places. By now the dwelling was filled to the seams with countless children of all ages, shapes and sizes. Around twenty were now perched on that green carpet, eyeing me curiously. It was strange to see. In the Britain that I’d grown up in, we had to knock on our friend’s doors and then ask the relevant parent, “Please may I see Steven, Mrs Edwards,” or something like that. But here they all just strolled on in, seemingly caring not an iota whether the Aki’s actually wanted them in their home. All and sundry were now there, (even a parent I noted), sat down, eager to watch the special showing of ‘Foreigner drinks coffee’, exclusive to the Theatre Aki.

Not that I minded this of course. Well, ok, I did mind being stared at whilst I consumed coffee, but the kids I didn’t mind at all. It was obvious that I was indeed a special event and they were determined to make the most of me. One small girl, who was aged about eleven, in particular kept asking questions in surprisingly good English: Where did I come from? What did I do? Did I like Westlife? Could I sing a Westlife song for her? Sadly my knowledge and enthusiasm for Ireland’s number one band of popsters is almost non-existent, but I did remember that they’d once done a cover version of Terry Jacks’ ‘Seasons in the Sun’, which is a most excellent tune and one that I occasionally murder in karaoke bars. Thus I sang that, which caused big beams all around and resulted in a choir of voices accompanying me for the chorus. After that we survived on a diet of English teacher stand-bys; the memorable ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’; the immortal ‘Wheels on the Bus’ and that classic gift f the Beatles to the TEFL profession, ‘Hello, Goodbye’. I then taught the kids how to play Paper, Scissors, Stone, which surprisingly they had not come across before, but which they picked up quickly and with enthusiasm. (N.B. In the Philippines however, the game is very popular, and surprisingly they use the Japanese name ‘Janken Pyo’ for it. The reason for this is that the Filipinos were taught the game by the occupying armies during World War II. Quite why the Japanese armies in Indonesia did not pass it on to the natives there, I know not).

It was around this time, I think, that Mr. Aki fully realised what a valuable asset he’d stumbled upon. Not only was I a foreigner, (i.e. rich and interesting as a curiosity), but I could also keep the kids occupied and, (and this truly was the icing on the cake), I had a camera. Admittedly, it was a pretty crap camera, a manual winder that I’d purchased in Surabaya for 20,000 rupiyah, (under ten quid), but it was more than he had. What’s more, I was prepared to pay for the films and the processing. Thus, I was commanded to go outside and commit the various people of the vicinity to film. So photos were taken, of various family groups, babies on motorbikes, and innumerable groups of giggling children. Mr. Aki’s youngest son Samsul, in particular was fascinated by the flash, and he cackled with laughter every time that a picture was taken.

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Karaoke with the kids, Labuhan Lombok

It was about this time that Mr. Aki also announced, “You are resting one night my house, ok?” To be honest, I didn’t really fancy a bumpy ride on the back of the motorbike to Mataran now anyway, and I was having too much fun with the kids. Besides, what real choice did I have? “Ok?” Of course it was ok! “Dirty Magazine, Mr. Aki!” I replied. My host for the night beamed.

His beams didn’t last long though, when I informed him that my film had, sadly, run out. Straight away he fired his bike up again and commanded me onto the back, and into town we went. First stop was the film shop, a ramshackle hut by the side of a river, and then into the main square, where Mr. Aki left me with the bike whilst he scuttled off to a restaurant to acquire some food.

One side of Labuhan Lombok’s central square is occupied by the town’s main mosque and when we arrived it was time for Maghrib or Evening Prayers, one of the five daily prayers set down in the Koran. As I stood by the bike, listening to the voice of the muezzin as he called the faithful to prayer, I couldn’t help but think about how it was that the islands of Indonesia were converted to Islam all those hundreds of years before. To most Westerners today, Islam has a bad image that inspires fear in the hearts of more than it inspires piety. For the trendy who wish to ‘discover their spiritual side’ other Eastern faiths, such as Buddhism, or Hindu sects such as Hare Krishna seem to draw them. Islam is for fanatics, terrorists and wife-beaters alone. Yet stood there in that square, I could not help but think as to how beautiful that call to prayer was. Even though I couldn’t understand the words, the Arabic, dipping and swirling like it’s script, instilled a sense of peace and serenity inside me. It was not hard to see how the humble islanders had been impressed by the rich Arab traders who bought wealth and faith to these shores hundreds of years before.

Mr. Aki soon returned, laden with produce and we headed back to his home where we ate rice, chicken and fish by candlelight, (the place had no electricity supply). After the meal, more children arrived, the lively eleven year old, (who’s name I learnt was Nurmisuari), had brought her older sister and that sister’s friend, both middle school students who wanted help with their English homework. I happily consent, though I found the task to be much harder than I’d anticipated. The problem was that the example sentences that the textbook gave, were quite plainly, not correct English at all. I could write out the sentences as they should be, but since the teacher obviously wanted the homework sentences to fit a pattern, (a pattern that sadly does not exist in the English tongue), the correct answer would probably be marked wrong. In the end, I’m sorry to say, I abandoned my defence of correct English usage, and gave the girls the following completed sentences:-

The Yogyakartans put too many sugar in the gehab and it spoil it.

The Yogyakartans put too little sugar in the gehab and it spoil it.

Do the Yogyakartans put too many sugar in the gehab and it spoil it?

And so on and so forth…

Homework completed, it was more Westlife, and after a rendition of ‘Flying Without Wings’, (a song that I profusely hope will not survive the test of time), it was announced by Mr. Aki that we were, “Going visiting wife grandfather”, who lived just down the road and turned out to be the father of Nurmisuari and her sister.

That the man who’s house we then visited was ‘wife grandfather’ I very much doubt, since he looked only several years older than the aforementioned ‘wife’ herself; I suspect that grandfather was the relative that they shared in common. Whatever the case may be, Nurmisuari’s father was a moustached gent of noble bearing who turned out to be a teacher at the local primary school. After the obligatory greetings and photo session, we got down to the real reason for the visit. His house was connected to the Indonesian National Grid, and on top of that he owned a karaoke machine.

With Westlife discs.

And one very special VCD where the Irish boys did a duet with Indonesian child star, Sherina Munaf. Nice.

Karaoke might have originated in Japan, and it may still be practised there with vigour in bars and karaoke boxes, but almost everywhere else in East or South-East Asia, it’s even bigger. What is different from Japan though, is that whilst the Japanese go out to sing, the others stay at home; the karaoke machine is now almost on a par with the T.V. as the main form of home entertainment. From Bangkok to Beijing and Cebu to Singapore, humble and affluent Asians alike, can be found can be found crooning into their microphones in front of their T.V. and karaoke machine. And Labuhan Lombok was now exception. Thus we whiled away the rest of that balmy evening, the local primary school teacher, Mr. Aki, ‘Wife’, the teacher’s wife, numerous nut-brown kids and I, sipping sugary tea and singing along to the strains of Eire’s finest.

Our journey to Mataram the following day turned out to be not by motorbike as planned, but by bemo (shared minibus), the principal form of public transport on Lombok. What’s more, I was not going alone, it turned out that the whole family were coming along for the ride, (with the exception of Gunter who had been deposited at school earlier in the morning). At first this puzzled me, I mean I know that I’m a great guy and all, but surely this was going a little too far? Mr. Aki soon made the reason clear to me however, ‘waif’ was leaving Jakarta on the 4th for Saudi Arabia, and they were slowly making their way across Indonesia to see her off on her momentous pilgrimage, staying with friends and relatives en route. One extra meant more sharing of costs, thus a cheaper trip, (and much cheaper if the one extra is a rich foreigner).

I asked Mrs. Aki, (whose name was never given), about her trip. Was she excited? “Yes very.” It was her first trip abroad. She showed me her passport with the large ‘Kingdom of Saudi Arabia stamp inside. It looked impressive.

“Have you been to Saudi Arabia?” she asked.

“No, no. Christians aren’t allowed,” I explained. “In Saudi, you wear niqaab?” I asked her, covering my face with my hand in imitation of a veil.

She laughed, “Niqaab no. But hijab, yes.” She made a motion of covering her head.

I must admit that one thing that did surprise me about Indonesia were the lack of hijab or headscarves worn by the women, perhaps only twenty per cent at most. Yet the covering of the head and other modest dressing is proscribed by the Koran. Most Indonesian ladies however don’t even wear full sleeved shirts or loose tops, their mode of dress being far more similar to that of Manila rather than Mecca. Dressing in hijab is however, I was told, on the increase, particularly since the American actions following the September 11th terrorist attacks, which demonstrates well how such attacks normally have the opposite effect to that desired. Nonetheless, from what I saw, Indonesia was nowhere near becoming the next Afghanistan, and indeed its populous struck me as being far less religious than the neighbouring Filipinos; another surprise.

Although Mrs Aki was not yet a hag, there was one on the bemo who had already made the trip. He was a sage-looking gent of around sixty years of age who commanded great respect from his fellow passengers. The reason for this was simple, not only was he a hajji, but he had done it the hard way: by boat. “Two months to get there and two months to come back” he explained. “It was a great journey, I saw Medina, Riyadh and of course the Kabah in Mecca.”

The Kabah in Mecca is the holiest place on earth for a Muslim, the final destination of the Hajj. Second comes the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina. Islam’s third most holy site is not in Saudi Arabia however, but on Temple Mount in Jerusalem: the Al Aqsa Mosque.

“You are Christian?” asked the Hajji.

“Yes, that’s right.”


“No, Protestant.”

He nodded thoughtfully. “I think for the Christian Jerusalem is like Mecca for the Muslim.”

“Yes, that’s right. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Christ died and was buried.”

The Hajji nodded wisely once more. “You have made Christian Hajj to Jerusalem?”

“Well, I suppose so, yes. I also saw Al Aqsa and the Jewish Wall.”

“That is good.” He paused. “But tell me, how did you travel to Palestine?”

“I came by aeroplane and returned by boat.”

“By boat? Ahh, that is good!”

Whilst he was entirely right about Jerusalem being the Christian holy city, it’s importance is not the same as that of Mecca to the Muslims, towards which all prayers are dedicated. True, Christianity has a great history of pilgrimages, not only to Jerusalem and the Holy Land, but also to the tombs of saints, (e.g. St. Peter’s in Rome and Canterbury Cathedral), or the scenes of miracles or holy sightings, (e.g Lourdes). These however do not compare with the Hajj which is actually one of the fundamental requirements of the Islamic faith. All Muslims physically and financially able should make the Hajj, and each year millions, (like Mrs Aki and the sage gent on the bemo), do. Personally, I consider this to be a great strength of Islam. Apart from the spiritual side of the journey, it’s quite often the only chance that most Muslims ever have to leave their country, (or even their village), see a little of the world and meet other people from a vast variety of other (Islamic) cultures. Memories of their trip to the Holy City in the middle of the vast, sandswept Arabian Desert stay with them forever.

I remember little more of that trip through Lombok due to the fact that I was asleep through most of it. What I did see was uninspiring, scruffy towns and an unspectacular landscape. I am told that Lombok is one of the finest islands (scenically) in the archipelago, though sadly that description didn’t apply to the parts that I passed through.

Another place that was particularly uninspiring was its capital city, Mataram. There we changed bemo for a local service that took us to the Aki family’s residence for that night, which turned out to be a small room situated next door to a Madrassa (Islamic School), with jilbab-clad students assembled outside.

The room turned out to be occupied by a rather attractive girl of about twenty and a gent of a similar age who both seemed rather startled when the forceful Mr. Aki interrupted their slumbers in the dwelling’s single bed. The man, (who was never introduced), looked rather sheepish and departed pretty quickly, but the charming lady stayed. She was introduced as “number one friend of waif”, a student of biology at the local university. And unmarried.

It was time however for me to be on my way, so after the obligatory photoshoot and Westlife conversation, I and my host departed on a horse-drawn trap for the bemo terminal to procure some transportation onwards to Membar, the port for the Bali ferry. Here however, the bemo drivers were less friendly and honest than in Labuhan Lombok, and all were intent on ripping me off. Thankfully however, I had Mr. Aki as my aide, and he was having none of it, getting into several arguments before settling on a suitable bemo. “Here bemo no bagoos!” he snorted as we were parking.

“Dirty magazine, Mr. Aki” I said as we shook hands, and I meant it. “Here is some money for the trouble and expenses.” I offered him fifty thousand (about three pounds).

“No, no, I cannot accept money, not one rupiyah! You are my friend!” came the reply. “But promise please to write and send the photographs.”

Well, ok, so I lied a little. He did call me his friend, and he also asked for a letter and photos. But he had no hesitation in accepting the money too, and even asked for five thousand more, “for smoking.” I had no qualms in handing it over, he’d earnt it. After all, the man in the Osama bin Laden T-shirt had made my holiday.

Mr. Aki proved to be entirely correct in his appraisal of the Mataram bemo drivers, for at Lembar, an idyllic little port set amongst lush green hills, the driver started demanding fifty thousand for the twenty kilometre, (twelve miles), journey. I stubbornly refused, and an argument ensued until the local tourist officer intervened. In the end I paid thirty thousand, which the aforementioned tourist officer assured me was exorbitant anyway. The bemo driver unsurprisingly thought the opposite and we both went away unhappy men. I boarded the boat angrily, thrusting aside numerous hawkers, and settled down on the deck to read a Tolstoy book that I’d purchased in Seoul. As I had been boarding, a fat man sat near the door and shouted, “Hey mister, where are you from?” Having just left the bemo driver I was in no mood for conversation and a curt “England” was all that portly gent received in reply.

Sat outside, watching the gorgeous tropical scenery roll past, the deep greens of the island contrasting beautifully with the blue of the sea, and enjoying a good read I soon calmed down and began to think about the next stage of my journey, the paradise island of Bali. Prior to setting off, my big dilemma had been whether to visit the island or to give it a miss entirely. The thing is, I tend to try and avoid backpacker hotspots, because they tend to mean substandard accommodation at exorbitant rates and the finest collection of local rip-off merchants for miles around. As for the backpackers themselves, (of which I am one), most are ok, and they’re generally interesting people, but there are a certain percentage who quite frankly get up my nose with their spirituality, self-discovery and tendency to sit around smoking weed and talking crap. Besides, why travel all the way around the world to fraternise with people from London, Amsterdam and Dusseldorf, I can do that quite easily in Europe? And Bali is Indonesia’s backpacker hotspot.

On the other hand, Bali is famous for a reason. It’s culture is unique, it’s an isle of Hindus in amongst a sea of Islam, it’s scenery is spectacular and it’s temples are world famous. As a well-travelled antique-dealing friend of mine said when I told him that I was off to Indonesia, “How can you go there and not see the temples of Bali?” The chances are that I’ll never be in the area again; he had a point. Eventually I decided to leave it to Chance, and Chance dictated that the only Pelni ship that I could take and get back on time was the one to Sumbawa, and that meant returning through Bali.

As I was musing upon all of this, and enjoying the works of the great Russian, the aforementioned fat man deposited himself on the bench beside me. “Hello mister, my name is Agoom,” he announced, and proffered a chubby hand in my direction. Having calmed down now, I was once again open for conversation.

Agoom turned out to be a rather friendly and indeed knowledgeable guy, (my experience has taught me that larger people are normally more friendly and trustworthy; good thing I’m not travelling around in the time of Emperor Nero). He also turned out to be the Head of Security at some posh hotel in Kuta, Bali’s main beach resort, though he operated a furniture dealing business on the side. Like most Balinese, he was a Hindu and he informed me that his name, Agoom, denoted that he was from the second from bottom of Bali’s four castes. In the end he proved to be a pleasant travelling companion, and so did his friend, a Muslim from Sulawesi who spoke little English but was fluent in Japanese due to being married to a girl from the Chiba Peninsular near Tokyo. We talked together about Bali, Japan and the forthcoming World Cup, and the five-hour journey went quickly.

“Are you travelling by bus to Denpasar [Bali’s main city]?” enquired Agoom.

“Actually I’ve no transport arranged yet,” I replied.

“Then please come with us then in our car!” offered my newly found friend, who bore a striking resemblance to Hawaiian sumo wrestler, Konishiki. It was there that the alarm bells started ringing. Why was he being so nice? Is it wise to get into a car with four, (he had two more friends), unknown men, one of which could have easily killed me on his own without a gun or knife, sitting on me would suffice. ‘Say no to strangers’ was the mantra that we were taught at primary school. For not the first time in my life, I ignored it.

“Yes I will, if you’re sure. Thank you very much Mr. Agoom.”

If I ever go missing, you’ll know what happened. I’ll have been abducted by a strange sumo wrestler.

“Where are you staying in Denpasar?” asked the Huge Hindu.

“I don’t have a hotel booked yet,” came my reply.

“Oh, don’t worry, Denpasar has many nice hotels for about fifty thousand rupiyah. If you want I could get you a room at the Santika Beach where I work for about forty dollars, but probably you prefer Denpasar.”

I said that I’d think about it, not intending to do so at all. Forty dollars was considerably more than I normally pay. Agoom didn’t push it either, so we left it at that. However, upon looking in the Lonely Planet a while later, I discovered that the Santika Beach was in fact not just a posh hotel, but in fact one of Bali’s most deluxe five star beach resorts. Forty dollars might be more than I usually pay, but for a five star beach resort, it is damn cheap; the published rate was one hundred and fifty dollars. Plus it was in Kuta, the established beach resort and away from the backpacker ghetto. I hadn’t washed or shaved properly for three days, (since leaving the equipment to do so on the K.M. Wilis), and my entire wardrobe quite frankly stank to high heaven, (indeed, I’m surprised that people kept coming up to me wanting to chat); perhaps a night or two in a nice hotel was what I needed? Admittedly it was still a little pricey, but… Ok, I admit it, I was weak, no true traveller am I, I gave in to my inner desires.

“Are you sure Mr. Agoom, forty dollars?”

“Of course, I can call them now on my mobile phone.”

Thus ‘twas arranged, and thus the following day I woke up in a room fit for James Bond, a suite fit for a honeymoon on a paradise island, all courtesy of a Security Guard with a penchant for antique furniture! Quite a change from my accommodation the night before!

As I lay awake in my King Size bed, a cup of complimentary tea in my hand, I mused upon the previous day. During the ride in the back of Agoom’s Toyota four wheel drive, (one suspects that there is some money in the furniture business), I must admit I was scared. Who were these dodgy people in the vehicle with me? What did they really want? Were they Islamic terrorists intent on kidnapping tourists as a means of protesting against Israeli attacks on the West Bank? Or were they drug-runners who wished to slip some coke into my bag unawares, using me as their carrier to Japan, (one of them definitely had Japanese connections, remember)!? These irrational thoughts raced through my mind as we sped towards the island’s main city, and I eyed my travelling companions carefully. Agoom’s question, “Do you trust Balinese people, Mr. Matt?” didn’t help either. It was only when I truly weighed the situation up in my mind that I felt a little better. There were several factors in my favour:-

1). Agoom was a Hindu, thus unlikely to be a Muslim terrorist.

2). If they wanted to deceive me, take me to an isolated spot and then kidnap me, why were they driving along the island’s main road towards their stated destination?

3). Agoom would probably be getting a cut out of the forty dollars hotel charge, (if he wasn’t pocketing the whole lot), and so he probably had a definite interest in getting me to my destination. And he had definitely booked the room, I’d heard him do it.

4). Previously I’d been to two fortune-tellers. Not one had warned me to beware of a big Balinese man, and both had said that I’d live to about seventy.

Thus I reckoned that it was about ninety per cent certain that they wouldn’t kill me. Good odds. After that I felt much better.

We stopped off at the village of Gianyar for a bite to eat. Agoom suggested that I try Bali’s speciality, suckling pig. I took up his suggestion and did not regret it, it was delicious. The only problem was that I had to eat it alone. Our three other travelling companions apologetically said that as Muslims, they couldn’t sit with me whilst I devoured pig meat. They weren’t altogether that pious though. When I joined then later they were all happily drinking Bintang beers; alcohol is against Islamic Law.

Upon reaching Denpasar we dropped one man off and then started heading into the city’s murky backstreets. I began to worry once more, but it turned out that those fears were unfounded; we were merely driving to Agoom’s house, a humble yet clean and orderly residence with a Hindu altar in one corner. This was the third Indonesian home that I’d been invited into and it was by far the most affluent. I assumed that Agoom’s two professions brought in enough money to keep him comfortable enough.

It was late at night when we finally reached the Santika Beach Resort, and I was handed my key, (plus given a complimentary drink of fruit juice), by the sarong-clad receptionist, before being directed to my suite. Tired as I was however, I did not retire straight away. Instead I showered, shaved and returned myself to the hygienic portion of humanity. I then filled the bath full of water and promptly lowered the exclusive standards of the establishment, by using it to wash my stinky socks, pants, T-shirts and shorts, before finally sinking into bed. Thus, when I awoke, the only blot on my otherwise perfect and colourful canvas of a tropical paradise were the row of steaming clothes, hung out over the balcony drying in the sun.

Next part: Pt. 5: Bali

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Dirty Magazine Pt. 3: Surabaya

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This week’s installment sees me in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second city with highlights of an Arab bazaar and a Soviet submarine. Moving onto more contemporary issues though, my Indian visa came through today so I’m now getting really excited about my next big trip! Amritsar here I come!

Keep travelling!

Uncle Travelling Matt

Links to all the parts of this travelogue

Pt. 1: Seoul

Pt. 2: Jakarta

Pt. 3: Surabaya

Pt. 4: Sumbawa and Lombok

Pt. 5: Bali

Pt. 6: Yogyakarta

Pt. 7: Jakarta and home…



At what time the train finally pulled into Surabaya, Indonesia’s second city I know not, but it had already been dark for some time that made me suspect that it was sometime later than the scheduled hour of 18:30. I took a taxi to Hotel Paviljoen, the hotel that I’d picked for the night out of the guidebook. I’d chosen that establishment precisely because it wasn’t the one recommended, and what’s more it was described as having a colonial air, which sounded rather nice. I might have missed the era where an Englishman, (or in Surabaya, a Dutchman), could stroll around in a crisp white suit and straw hat as if one owned the place, (because one probably did own the place), but it was nice to pretend nonetheless, even if I was lacking a crisp white suit.

I was not disappointed. The building was well kept, grand and imperialistic, a fitting home for Lawrence of Arabia, Clive of India or any other of the ‘Old Boys’. On top of that the owner, a wizened old Catholic gent, was extremely polite and friendly and the room was fine; certainly an improvement on the Djody.

Hotel Paviljoen

Hotel Paviljoen

After depositing my stuff and showering I decided to explore my surroundings. I was not far from the city centre so I strolled in. Surabaya seemed typical of many South East Asian cities; streets filled with traffic, a few smart new buildings, a lot more broken-down older ones, and smack in the middle of it all, a huge Shopping Centre. I figured that this might be the place to head since I was looking for an Internet Café and boy was I not mistaken! Not only did this place have several Internet Cafes but it seemed to have several of everything else on earth too. It was enormous; six storeys high and a multitude of annexes. At the centre of it all was an ice rink, filled with adolescent girls holding hands and sagely observed by six floors of interested shoppers. I later learnt from Wim, (I’ll come to him in a bit), that this was reputedly the largest Shopping Centre in South East Asia. I could believe it, certainly no other complex that I’d seen anywhere else on earth, came close. The question that remains in my mind however, is why build it in Surabaya?

Huge the Shopping Centre may have been, but I doubt that the revenues earned are so mighty. Virtually everyone there seemed to be just walking around, enjoying the sights yet not doing a lot of shopping at all. The reason, I imagine, is a simple one. With the average wage at around eighty pounds a month, most of the products on offer are quite simply out of the price range of the average Indonesian.

Upon returning to the hotel that night I found the entire staff seated around a T.V. set that was showing Manchester United versus Middlesborough at Old Trafford. It was nearing the end of the season and once more the Hated Reds were in pole position to take the title. This time however, both Arsenal and Liverpool were hot on their tales. I settled down to watch and then noticed another white man across the room. He nodded hello and asked where I was from. Upon my answer of “a place called Stoke on Trent in England, have you heard of it?” he laughed. This puzzled me a little, telling folks that my home is the pottery towns never usually results in mirth, but the reason soon became clear.

“Have I heard of it?” he said. “I’m from Longton, youth.” Longton is less than five miles from my home.

His name, (which turned out to be a source of irritation to him), was Clayton. “Who else do you know called bloody Clayton?” he asked.

I knew no one.

“I’ll tell you why, ‘cos there hardly ain’t anyone else called Clayton. I’ve met one bloke, and funnily enough that was here in Indonesia. I was in this bar in Malang when this big black bloke from New York comes up to me and says ‘I’m here to pay respect to my brother!’ Wondered what the hell he was on about like, I mean do I look like his bloody brother or something, but then it turns out his name was Clayton too. Shame, ‘cos he was a real annoying bloke an all and he wouldn’t leave me alone after that!”

Clayton turned out to be an English teacher working in the nearby city of Malang.

“How are the Indonesians for learning English?” I asked.

“Pretty shit hot, I can tell you. Better than the Turks where I worked before. They pick it up dead quick like.”

I was planning to go to Turkey the following year; this was an acquaintance to develop! Thus we spent a pleasurable evening, talking football, watching football, talking about Stoke, and Japan, and the joys of travelling in Eastern Turkey.

And to top it all off, Middlesborough won one nil!

I awoke late the following morning, showered and dressed leisurely. I then headed out to enjoy breakfast on the colonial terrace, (feeling just like George Orwell in ‘Burmese Days’), and found lodged beneath the teapot, a note from Clayton urging me to come and stay in Malang for a night or two. I also met a Dutchman in Reception named Wim who came from Vlissengen in Zeeland. Zeeland is an area of the Netherlands that I know well, having stayed with a Dutch friend of mine at his hometown of Zierikzee in the province many times. Wim was an old Indonesia hand, this was his ninth visit to the archipelago and he spoke the language well too. He was however, rather cold and blunt which at one time of day I would have taken as unfriendliness. But the Dutch can be a strange people, and this I suspected was just the Dutch way, and so it turned out. Upon returning to the hotel that evening, he went out of his way to stop me for a chat and offered to go with me to the Pelni office the following morning.

My task that day was to explore Surabaya, but first I wanted to organise a sea-voyage. On my last travels to the Philippines, I and Ryan had undertaken a long trip on board a ship from Cebu to Manila and I’d enjoyed it immensely. What with Indonesia being another such nation of islands, I figured that I’d probably need to take a ship sometime anywhere and since my last voyage had been such fun, another might be just what the doctor ordered. As to where the boat was going, I didn’t particularly care.

I took a rickshaw to the Pelni office in the northern part of the town. Pelni is the state-owned shipping line and its offices were housed in a fine 1930s art-deco structure. Unfortunately for me however, that fine structure was shut when I got there, but a small man with an air of authority and a smattering of English took me to his office at the back and informed me that whilst he could not sell me any tickets, he could help me decipher the schedule.

‘Ok, fine,’ thought I, as I sat down and explained that I didn’t mind where I went so long as I could get back by about April 2nd at the latest.

“Ok, but where you want going?” replied the puzzled little man.

“Hmm.” I looked at the map. “Kalimantan.”

“Kalimantan, ok, leaving tomorrow, back Surabaya fourteen days.”

“No good. What about Sulawesi?”

“But you wanting Kalimantan, mister. Sulawesi not Kalimantan, different place.”

“I know that, but I don’t want anywhere in particular. Only I must be back in Jakarta by April 4th.”

“April 4th?”

“Yes, I am going to Tokyo, Japan, on April 4th.”

“I’m sorry mister, no boat going to Tokyo. Only we have boats going in Indonesia. Tokyo, very far this.”

“Yes I know that, I only want a boat to Sulawesi.”

“No Tokyo, Japan.”


“No, Kalimantan?”


In the end, after explore virtually every route that Pelni offered I was very little the wiser and the Pelni man was more confused than ever. I did however find out that one destination open to me was a place called Badas on the island of Sumbawa, onboard the M.K. Wilis. The Wilis did not return until two weeks later, but I could make my way back to Java via bus and island ferries.

I now had the rest of that gloriously sunny day ahead of me to explore the delights of Surabaya City and so I ordered the rickshaw man to drop me off at Kota Railway Station, the other station in the city to the one that I’d arrived at the other. I’d decided to go there for several reasons, firstly it was near the main sights and secondly because I wanted to check how far Malang was should my ferry idea fail miserably. Mostly however I wanted to go there because it was, well a railway station and I, being a bit of a sad old git, like looking at railway stations.

Not that Kota turned out to be anything special mind, although it did have regular trains to Malang, a place that turned out to be not far away at all. With my backup plan sorted I then headed out into the sunshine and through some back alleys full of ‘Hello Mistering’ children to Surabaya’s old city which was declared as being the highlight of the town. Old, it largely wasn’t mind you, but it was an interesting place nonetheless. There were a few Dutch-type buildings dotted around but what most gave the place a special flavour was the large number of Chinese immigrants. I came across a small Taoist/Buddhist temple and stepped inside for a quick look.

Bright and gaudy on the outside, inside the place was dark, packed with people and the air suffocatingly thick with incense. A dumpy Chinese-looking lady at the entrance greeted me and then introduced both herself, (‘Madame Ling’), and her temple in English. She took my hand and guided me through to a back room where I was given a seat, a carton of orange squash and commanded to watch. A strange band of robed figures were stood in front of the main idol chanting and banging gongs, whilst scores of onlookers held sticks of sweet-smelling incense in their hands. “Today is festival of dog,” explained Madame Ling.

I was blinded by the sunlight as I left the dark confines of the temple, back into Indonesia from a trip to the Orient. Next I entered a covered market or pasar. I always like visiting markets abroad even if they do bore me to death back home. This one was almost biblical, full of wizened old crones surveying piles of rice grains and young ladies shouting “I love you!” from behind their vegetable stalls. Almost everything and anything could be bought here, from cheap plastic toys (‘Made in China’), to live chickens, and dead chickens to chilli by the kilo. The Chinese influence was still apparent here in the skin and eyes of the stallholders, and I wondered why I had not come across a single Chinese character outside the temple. I later learnt the reason, writing in anything other than roman letters or Arabic is banned by the government.

A few metres on the Chinese disappeared and the Arabs took precedent. There have been Arabs in Java for centuries and it was these hardy seafarers who converted most of the population from Hindu to Islam. Around the Mesjid Ampel, the city’s foremost mosque, they’re still to be found, hawking pictures of Mecca and Muslim holy men, skullcaps, jilbabs and other religious paraphernalia. I made my way slowly through the narrow streets, which were not altogether different from those of their occupant’s ancestral homelands, stopping to buy an embroidered skullcap en route. At the mosque however I was stopped, entry denied. Not that they minded foreigners or non-believers inside, but short trousers, now that was a big no-no.

After having sampled the delights of the Old Town I then hailed a rickshaw to take me to a very different sort of tourist attraction, Monumen Kapal Selam. Despite the name, Kapal Selam is not really a monument. In fact, it’s actually an old Soviet submarine that was sold to the Indonesians in 1962. The guidebook described it as having some ‘Boy’s Own’ appeal and right they were too! I spent a happy ten minutes or so, (subs are not very big inside at all you know), exploring what was the first submarine that I’d ever been in. It was great to see the Russian Cyrillic writing and imagine that you were some Soviet-type Bond about to blow the capitalist oppressors out of the water. What’s more, the staff there were all female, all rather attractive and all wearing a rather cute sailor uniform which just about perfected the nautical aura of the place. And with that, my sightseeing was done, so I settled into the Kapal Selam’s cafeteria, got out a book, (the one on North Korea: all good military stuff), and enjoyed the scenery for an hour or so. Eventually I returned to the hotel, where I spent a quiet evening, only popping out to buy some food from the street and to visit the Internet café at the shopping centre. There was no English football on that evening so I called it a night, staying in my room and reading before settling down for, bed, remembering to set the alarm clock ready for my liaison with Wim the following morning.


Monumen Kapal Selam

I was most excited by the prospect of voyaging by sea once more, although my pessimistic Dutch friend had got me a little worried. “It leaves at eleven and the office doesn’t open until nine. Ahh, I don’t know,” mused the man from Vlissingen. Nonetheless, I awoke early enough and boarded a taxi which got us to the office in plenty of time. Despite the pessimism, Wim was a useful guy to have around. His knowledge of Indonesian was good and his understanding of the Pelni schedules even better. I reckon myself to be a pretty mean decipherer of timetables, something that leaves many people stranded at first base, even when they are in their own language, but I must admit that Pelni managed to get the better of me, and I was as lost as the proverbial sheep. Coupled with that there was also the problem of the Indonesians not really understanding where and why I wanted to go. I related the conversation of the previous day to Wim.

“Ja, that does not surprise me,” he said. “To come to the office and say that you don’t know where you want to go, you have no fixed destination, that is incomprehensible to the Indonesians. They use these boats to get from A to B. To do otherwise, he cannot imagine this!”

Whilst waiting in the queue with nothing better to do, I decided to pick his brains since Wim obviously knew a lot more than most about Indonesia. Not only that but he had a command of English sufficient to get his knowledge across to me.

“The red roof tiles,” I said. “Did they come from the Dutch?”

“Well, these here no, they make them themselves, sometimes you can visit the places where they bake them. But originally, ja, the Dutch brought them. Before the Dutch came in the 1600s they were using palm leaves for the roofs.” He sounded the ‘l’ in ‘palm’, which sounded really cool. I made a mental note to try and do this sometimes in the future.

Despite some serious waiting around in the art deco Pelni office, (“Built by the Dutch,” Wim said), and a lengthy taxi ride, I still got to the port with time to spare. Plenty of time indeed it turned out; the ship was over an hour late in boarding anyway. Waiting in the cavernous Surabaya Port terminal building was not the most pleasant experience of my life I must admit. For a start, it was hot. Indonesia is of course a tropical, and therefore very hot country anyway, and Surabaya is renowned as one of its warmer cities. And on top of the heat, I was beginning to get serious ‘Hello Mister Fatigue’, and in the terminal there seemed to be more Hello Mistering individuals than anywhere else in the archipelago. It started off with a security guard who invited me to sit with him, and then Hello Mistered me in the typical manner; thus:

“Hello Mister!”


“Where are you coming from?”


“England. David Beckham, Michael Owen.”

“Yes, we like football.”

“Liverpool, Manchester United.”




“You can speaking Indonesian?”

“I’m sorry, no.”

Of course, I wanted to say, ‘And why the hell should I be able to speak Indonesian? I’ve only been here about three days! And besides, what use will it ever be to me?” But that would have been rude, and of course I did feel stupid because I couldn’t speak a word, whereas Wim had been almost fluent, (surprise, surprise, a Dutch guy who’s good at languages), and even Clayton spoke a bit. That’s the soul-destroying thing about languages you see. You can spend years honing your skills in a particular tongue, and then bang! You go to the neighbouring country and you’re back to the speech levels of a baby!

After a short conversation with the guard, I excused myself and moved elsewhere, yet wherever I sat, a new Hello Mister! appeared out of the blue and started to name Premier League sides. Some did actually speak English however, which would have been alright except for the fact that there was a band situated in the middle of the concourse playing Indonesian and Western Pop very loudly and badly. Any attempt at conversation, even with a fellow Stokie, would have undoubtedly failed, the noise was horrific and you couldn’t hear yourself speak, let alone anyone else. Needless to say, when the guy came round asking for donations for the entertainment, I did not dig deep.

And so I sat, sweltering, sweating and being bombarded with the names of Liverpool stars.

Eventually we boarded the Wilis and I located my cabin, which despite being 2nd class, was better than anything that I’d experienced on a boat before and certainly preferably to the bunk that I’d been allocated on the Cebu to Manila ferry in January. Actually, as I mentioned before, it was that trip that had inspired me to take a long boat ride again, and subconsciously at least I expected the experience to be similar. After all, both would be long journeys on ferries in third world South East Asian countries. The two experiences however, turned out to be rather more different than I expected. The cabin, (I actually got a cabin this time you see), might have been better with it’s ensuite shower and toilet, but other aspects weren’t up to the same standard. The Wilis was a small craft which meant no disco or restaurant. Ok, so there was technically a restaurant, but it was for the 1st and 2nd class passengers only and only open at mealtimes, when you went and ate what you were given, no alternative offered. Missing too were the swimming pool, onboard shop, (although the Wilis did have a kiosk that opened infrequently), and the chapel. On the positive side however, there was no annoying music blaring through the loudspeakers in the morning. To make up for it however, there were the five daily prayers instead, which consisted of a lot of ‘Allah Akhbaring!’ piped directly into my cabin at times when I wanted to sleep.

indonesia 08

Onboard the MK Wilis

Now, not wanting to sound a little bigoted, but I soon began to feel that proclaiming the five daily prayers over the loudspeakers was actually a little bit out of order. Not that I mind Islam particularly, nor should you think that it was the fact that I was continually being woken up that turned me against it, (although that didn’t help I must say), but what made me think that it was a little out of line, was that it was being relayed to a boat filled with mainly Christian passengers.

I’d not realised that there were many Christians in Indonesia, and as a percentage of the overall population, they are not high, but I soon learnt that the islands east of my destination, Sumbawa, (which is staunchly Muslim), were all overwhelmingly Christian. In fact the religious situation in the region is rather strange. If one hopped from island to island, starting in Java and terminating only four islands later, (the distance between the islands is very small and all have ferries running between them), in Flores, then you would encounter three of the world’s major faiths and a variety of lesser ones. Java is Muslim, Bali is almost entirely Hindu, (albeit a unique Balinese form of Hinduism), Lombok is largely Muslim, though there is a large Hindu population on the western side of the island, Sumbawa also is Islamic and Flores is Christian, (mostly Catholic). On top of that, many of the islanders, particularly in the Christian areas retain rituals from their ancient animistic beliefs and all islands contain minorities, often Buddhist, Hindu, Protestant or Catholic.

I met Mario, a Catholic from Flores who provided me with company for the journey and an address when it finished. He was a university student in Jakarta who was hoping to set up his own tourist business on Lombok. In the meantime he was returning home to his family for Easter. We sat and talked of many things, from Christianity to the M.K. Wilis, and Indonesian politics in general, and the journey passed more quickly than I expected. It seemed like no time at all that we were rolling up to the small harbour at Badas and I bade my goodbyes to Mario and his friends.

Next part: Pt. 4: Sumbawa and Lombok