Category: Travel



 

"Looks like a yellow biscuit of a buttery cue ball moon rollin' maverick across an obsidian sky"

I’m writing this from the top bunk in the sleeping car of the Kiev-Kryvyi Rih (pronounced Kree-voy Rog, dont ask me how they ended up with that spelling) train, all my current possessions once again stuffed in a select few suitcases, Babulya (Lidas grandmother) and Lida sleeping below, rumbling through the Ukrainian nightscape while being lulled to sleep myself by the musty smell of a coal powered engine and an inconsistent yet comforting undulation of soviet era tracks. Many things have transpired over the last month, not all that I’m at liberty to divulge here, for reasons that were not fully explained to me but that I understand none-the-less.

Before my Indonesian experience I railed against social networking and blogs. It seems to have a way of sucking the organic element, and thus the excitement, from of our lives. While technology is the catalyst for my life, I also realize that its not the purpose. I had always drawn a line with this unfiltered access to my personal life with no reciprocation required. Reciprocation is, in my opinion, the definition of a healthy relationship.

I remember my friend blogging during the birth of one of his children. It was a real commitment by both mother and father (perhaps more the mother to tolerate husband with phone in hand while experiencing excruciating pain). It allowed everyone that desired to have a connection to that family a chance to share in a very pivotal moment. However not all of lives important moments can be so neatly translated into the cloud.

In 2008 after ending a dead end relationship, I started reconnecting with old friends that had subsequently been pushed out (Rachael, both Buffalo Jessicas, Iwan to name a few). On one such trip I visited my remaining Jessica in Buffalo along with her 8 year old daughter Sarah and husband Jeff. It was my second such trip and I enjoyed the comfort of a more tangible adult life that many of my still single or undetermined friends hadn’t the ability nor desire to create. Id always known I would some day have a family but that still didnt seem realistic to me, this gave me the opportunity to see how it might function when two people truly committed. It was also nice because there was no one in Buffalo that still remembered me, as it had been over 10 years since my last visit. While hanging out in a bar downtown off Elmwood with Jessica and some of her friends, a voice came from behind “Maaaaatt Nyyyye?!”. I turned to face a man that looked nothing like anyone I knew and yet he was convinced he knew me simply by the sound of my voice. Even after telling me specific instances of things we did together in high school I still couldn’t come up with a name. After one or two incorrect guesses, not 100% sure I had the right person, I ventured a guess “Jim Hickey??”.

Buffalo Reunion

Hidden behind hipster glasses and a well groomed Johnny-Depp-five-o’clock-shadow was my best friend from Junior and Senior year. The only person I’d ever met that was possibly as hyper as me. Somehow we had lost touch in the late 90s and never reconnected. Later I found out he is a total Facebook whore with over 800 friends. Had I been on Facebook we surely would have connected, shared some unenthusiastic stories and perhaps met for a drink some where down the road. Gone would have been a night of sheer elation at the coincidental meeting, of telling story after story of the past ten years and the resurrection of a small portion of my youth, however fleeting it was.

I say all this simply to illustrate the point that while I enjoy writing my blog entries and talking over IM with my friends the world across, its no substitute for the humility of a face-to-face interaction and the reaffirmation of kinship in a flesh and blood exchange. Ill continue these entries, even though the title of the blog is no longer relevant (perhaps I should change it to помочь я глупый [pomochʹ ya glupyĭ], doesnt quite roll off the touch does it), but please don’t confuse my ramblings here for a clear understanding of me or as a replacement for sitting in a bar in some shady eastern bloc country or on a snow-white beach in the south pacific talking about life, the future or my family.

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The Return


No Im not high, I just hadnt had a beer in 4 days...

Spent the last 3 weeks in the states gorging myself on BBQ and Mexican food. I forgot what real salsa tastes like. Dont ever take that for granted. Salty, the smells of cilantro, crunchy white onion pieces and gawd…. fresh tortia chips!!! The highlights in no particular order: 

  1. Umami Burger – Los Angeles, CA, Carnitas Burger with jalapeno sour cream, guacamole and Mexican Coke
  2. Cristos Cafe – Orlando, FL, Deep Fried French Toast (’nuff said)
  3. Malo – Silverlake, CA, Soft Tacos and 3 epic Spicy Cucumber Margaritas
  4. Some shitty sports bar in Lakeland, FL – Crappy bar food, Sierra on Tap and Hockey on TV
  5. Grandmas House – Lakeland, FL – Smoked Turkey and Fried Okra
  6. Wendys – Orlando airport – Spicy Chicken Sandwich
  7. St. Pete Times Forum – Tampa, FL – $5 plastic cheese nachos with $1 extra for jalapeno

Josh, his girlfriends sister and I went to the Tampa Bay Lighting vs. Boston Bruins game. Scored 3rd row seats on the corner. We were lucky enough to have some additional entertainment in the form of classic Floridian white trash. Some gold chain mafia guy and his girlfriend showed up cheering for Boston. Im guessing she had nothing to do with Boston besides the fact maybe her boyfriend went there once for a vacuum cleaner repairman convention. She had no grasp of the game or the rules but luckily for us that didnt hinder her from expressing her expert analysis in what was kind of a play-by-play with the vinacular of Sam Kinison and the depth Paris Hilton. She dropped the F bomb so many times that midway through the 2nd an usher had to come down and ask whoever was using the foul language to please stop. Thankfully the Bruins played their perennial-flop-of-a-goaltender Tukka Rask and Tampa rolled them 3-1. I got to watch the joy drain from her face like a child who just lost their toy down the sewer drain.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, Mom continued her annual tradition of making up traditions that never existed before and spent most the time talking to inanimate objects around the house. I dont blame her, its just a natural response to 15 years of being alone with my dads stoicism. Grandma seems to be the most sane of any of us despite the fact that she likes to go on nighttime drives with vision that would make a possum look like a prime candidate for a military sniper. I continued my own personal tradition of doing a detox while there which just accentuated all the minor annoyances putting me in a real lovely mood. I cheated the last night which was when #4 above occurred.

Its so easy to improve on what the French do but this is the ultimate make over for french toast

Went on my shopping spree of food and tech gadgets. After 10 months of shopping in Indonesian computer stores with their Chinese knock offs at 25% mark up of the real deal, walking into Frys Electronics was like the first time I walked into a strip club. Justin had to force me to leave. I liked how they carried as many adult magazines as computer magazines, they know their audience. I got my stash of candy, sauce (Stubbs BBQ, Tapitio and A1), pecans and more candy.

Thankfully I was able to experience my last time flying where I belong, with the rich people in up front. Sat next to a nice old man that was living in Vietnam because his pension didnt cover the cost of living in the United States (yet he was flying Business Class) but just then turned out to be a dirty old man. He left his wife of 40 years to go live a 38 year old woman (he was about 70) in Hanoi. He had some interesting stories but the prospect of me being him in 40 years messed with my head the entire flight.

In Singapore I had a layover for 24 hours but my friend Dicky was also there on business so we hung out all day and did some more essential shopping (Media Center to play the 2TBs of movies on my TV that my friend had loaded in Orlando) and got some great ramen noodles. Oh and also got to have a $15 beer which was a real special treat since it tasted like Budweiser. Thats the problem with jumping around from country to country is you lose track of the currency exchange rate.


Leavin' Trawangan for the US

   

Spent last week back on Gili Trawangan getting my PADI Open Water certification. Saw white tip reef shark, cuttlefish, octopus, lion fish, scorpion fish, an tiny eel and a bunch of green sea turtles. We aced the written exam including 5 of 6 dive table questions which is similar to chinese algebra. On the last day I felt my first earthquake.  It was just a second or two and felt like someone dropped a 100 ton boulder in the middle of the island. Apparently there was a 5.2 in the Moluccas Islands that we must have gotten the residual from.  

I left Friday at 9am (GMT +8) morning flew back to Jakarta and was there just long enough to buy some wood carvings and other gifts for friends, pick up my bags and catch my 8pm (GMT +7) flight to Singapore. 6 hour layover in Singapore which I spent at a hotel.  The cab driver on the way back was an old Chinese guy. Upon hearing I was American, he went off into what I imagine was his standard mantra for Amercans about how they saved them from the Japanese, who, in his opinion, are brutal and horrible people.  He went into morbid detail about the Japanese occupation of Singapore and said how the “Japanese would ki-ew us a’wa, wike chickens. just cut off you head”.  Each morbid description was followed closely by a Dr. Evil-esk laughter.  Quite strange for a 4am cab ride.   

Singapore Immigration Officers are the only immigration officials that are more miserable than U.S. immigration officers. Passing through this country is always a depressing experience. Next stop was Hong Kong, arriving at 10:30am (GMT +8) Saturday, then an 11 hour flight to San Fransisco arriving 8:20am (GMT -8) Saturday morning. Didnt get upgraded on either flight, despite still having my 1K status with United so I came off the airplane smelling like failure and meritocracy. A particularly saucy Chinaman (purposely trying to sound like a bigot) freaked out when i put my bag in the overhead on top of his wind breaker. Watching him was entertaining and he actually called me an ” assho’ ” which sent me into a giggling spell, conjuring up images of Russell Peters standup. This didnt help to calm him down so I asked him to get down off the seat he was standing on (no joke) and moved my bag off his wind breaker. But all stress was alleviated as I got my first taste of Mexican food and a Sierra Nevada once in San Fransisco. After a miserable 4 hour layover there I caught my flight to LA at 1:05 (GMT -8) finally arriving at my destination 42 hours later at 2:45pm.   

Trying to get my Blackberry hooked up on a pay-as-go service plan reminded me how much I absolutely HATE U.S. cell phone companies.  The only one that offers non-contract SIM cards with data services is T-Mobile. The cheapest plan is $60 for 500 minutes and one month of data. Found out later that night that the guy had sold me the wrong one and it didnt work with Blackberry Services . Of course there would be no way to refund my money, so I had to buy a brand new SIM card for an additional $70.    

Now its off to Dallas for a night and then Orlando. Talked to my mom this morning on the way to the airport in LA. She spent about 30 minutes explaining in detail the cloths she recently bought and the reason for the color selections. Its gunna be a long week at The Colonnades (retirement community) combined with the Rod Stewart cover band we are going to see at the Lakeland Civic Center.  I think I will take up working out twice a day at the community center. Maybe make a shuffle board friend.

Lida In Real Life


Slackin’ on the posts. WordPress erased a really long post a few weeks ago. To sum up:

  • went to gilis
  • went scuba diving for first time
  • almost freaked out because of claustrophobia
  • got over it,  loved it went again
  • Lida attacked by Titan Trigger Fish
  • New York City leg of my US trip cancelled
  • Dallas Leg added

That about gets you up to speed. We are going back to Gili Trawangan next week when another one of her friends is coming to visit and while are there we will be getting our Open Water certification. Then I leave there and go directly to the US.

So Lida has finally been able to find work here. Despite her best efforts not to, she is now doing a lot of modeling. While its not the best paying job, it does give her something to do as well as a social life. Her first photo shoot was a 6 page Halloween spread (Moonlight Saga) in Hers Magazine. Ill post the link when I get my computer back online.

We met an Uzbek girl at Boxmart (like Circle K) named Sabina, who is here modeling. As usual, her modeling agency is basically practicing indentured servitude. They take 40% off the top of all contracts, minus expenses which include rent, food, transportation, visa services and on and on. All of which she is charged about 200-300% of actual cost. So she moved out of her room at the agency which she was being charged 3 million Rupiah ($340 USD) for and into our upstairs room. Lida and her go to casting calls or photo shoots during the week and watch movies while I work. I love hearing them converse in Russian and I find myself repeating words and phrases I have no idea the meaning of (shtotiko, nez nieu, ).

We dressed up for Halloween, first time in 15-20 years for me, as Madonna and Micheal Jackson. I went with White-T-Shirt-and-Wrist-Bandage complete with the hat and wig and she was Whos-That-Girl era. I thought it was pretty accurate.

Work is still pretty busy for me. I’ve got a great opportunity to partner Westwind with a US based Microsoft partner in the new year which I will hopefully be solidifying and be able to talk more about after my trip to the States.

Right now though having a bit of a computer crisis as my laptop won’t charge. I’m at the Lenovo service center with my baby sitting in front of me in 20 pieces. Hopefully the guy can fix it cause he doesn’t have replacement parts and it will take 7 days to order them. Makes me realize I’ve got to have a backup system.

UPDATE: They fixed it!!! Not only did he fix the problem with the charger he also tighted up my hinges and cleaned the keyboard and screen.  All while I sat there and watched in under and hour. If you’re in Jakarta and need a good computer repair shop, forget going to Ratu Plaza (IT Mall), they all just send it here and charge you extra. They didn’t even want to charge me, he said “What ever you want to pay”, so I gave the guy 100,000 Rupiah ($11 USD), their hourly service fee.

IT Service Center
Pt. Information Technology Service Centre
Jalan Balikpapan No. 11C-11D
Jakarta Pasat 10160
(021) 3850 200


I promised in a previous post about extending a Visa on Arrival that I would detail the process of getting a social/cultural visa. Based on the random hits I got from that post I think this might be useful.

A social/cultural visa will allow a foreigner to stay in indonesia for 2 months and then extend that visa every month for 4 additional months. Also, if you’re living in Jakarta it means you can do the extension in the Jakarta Pusat (Central) office and not the Jakarta Utara (North) office, which is a nightmare.

First off, you will need a sponsor. Your sponsor will need to sign a letter with a Matarai stating they are sponsoring you. They will need to submit a photocopy of their national ID card and provide bank records showing their account balance. I’m not sure what the requirement is however.

You will need to give them a copy of your passport as well. The process will cost 450000 IDR for expedited next day service of 250000 IDR for 4 day service. Im not sure these are published rates as I didnt see a fee listing or if they are just what the guy felt his time was worth.  You will also have to pay an additional 250000 IRD at the issuing consulate.

You will have to tell them in advance what consulate you will be taking it to. Note, you cannot get this done in Indonesia.

You will then receive a notarized paper with your name, your sponsors name and the city you will be applying in.

Supposedly you must surrender your passport to the consulate noted for 2 business days, however, keep in mind Indonesian consulates observe many holidays. I believe there are about 30 – 60 national holidays including the ones celebrated by the host country, so that 2 days could easily turn into a week if you catch it on the wrong day.

Also, of the 3 cities Lida and I dealt with none of them handled this the same. In Singapore they wanted the 2 days. However when I went to Kuching, Malaysia, they took only 4 hours and I received it the same day. When Lida went to the embassy in Moscow, they refused to give it to her because she couldn’t produce documentation of a return ticket or a bank account with $2000 USD. This was something that was never requested of me any where nor stated by the Immigration Office in Jakarta.  I have a feeling that it was a Russian policy.

If you have the option I strongly suggest choosing a consulate in a small city as they seem they work the fastest.

Comin’ to America


Ok, its official, Ill be in the states from Nov. 13th to Dec. 1st.  Ill be making 3 stops on my 2010 North American Tour if you would like a rare opportunity to bask in the light of my presence:

  1. LA until the 16th or so
  2. New York City until 18th or 19th
  3. Orlando until 28th or so
  4. Back to LA to fly home

That pretty much covers all my friends location except for Northwest but flights are cheap from Portand to LA (Joni).  Ive already decided Im using my entire baggage allowance for bringing back food. Stubbs BBQ Sauce, A1, runts, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and maybe some mexican seasonings.  Anyway, if youre in any of those areas when Im back drop me a line.

Bako National Park, Borneo, Malaysia


Bako National Park

Well I went to Bako National Park on Tuesday. With 3 types of monkeys, bearded pigs, monitors and more, it was sure to be a cool experience. I caught the local bus by the waterfront to the boat docks near Bako for 3RM ($1 USD). Had to pay a 10RM entry fee and share a boat with 4 Europeans which we paid a total of 50RM one way and arranged for him to pick us up at 4pm. 

Those damn Europeans, with their fancy cameras and “official guide books” and “park passes”, such snobs. But they didn’t get to experience the real Bako like I did. Such as finding out that while the Proboscis Monkey may have a face that looks like an inside out vagina, he actually doesn’t like you to treat it as such. And that even though the Bearded Pig may sound dangerous and threatening, they actually are not but the pit viper is the opposite and doesn’t live up to its seemingly gentle and sweet exterior, and btw theyre really good at Duck-Duck-Goose. 

Anyone reading this for info on the park, note that most tour packages sell for about 300RM. I have no idea why they think its worth it as you can hire a personal guide for 80RM a day. By my count, with the bus, boat, guide and a meal or two that’s not gunna cost you more than 150RM. Most tours will only take you to the closest beach, Telok Paku, which is only .8km of the over 30km of trails in Bako.

smoke

 

Because Im a professional jungle trekker I opted not to get a guide (read: there were none available and I was sure I was going to die). The boat dropped us on the beach in front of the park HQ where there are chalets and cabins for rent if you want to stay the night. I bought a map for 1.50RM and made my way to the trail head. The following is my log through out the day: 

8:35am Majority of the morning trekkers are more thrilled by the monkeys hanging around the canteen than the prospects of whats in the park. (little did I know this would be the only monkeys I would see all day) 

8:53am Made it to the top of the first 200 meters, took about 30 minutes. This trail would give Indian Jones and Laura Croft a heart attack. 45 degree muddy incline and rocks covered with moss and vines that Im fairly certain are alive cause they keep reaching out and tripping me. Love the Smoking Area at the very top. At least they know their audience (no, I didnt, in case you were wondering). 

tidak cukup kecil

 

9:05am First contact. Lots of tree branches rustling and monkey noises. Apparently crashing through the jungle toward the sound doesnt encourage social behavior. 

9:15am Heard a growl and some loud crashing noises about 10-20 meters off to my left. Think its the dick-nose monkey. Throwing rocks in that direction quickly shut him up. Total dick-nose. 

9:48am Officially lost at 1.2km marker. 

10:13am Arrived at Telok Pandan Kecil beach or at least 100 meters above it. No chance in hell Im climbing down there. 

11:02am Really starting to rethink the whole Extreme Jungle Trekker career change at marker 2.7km of the Tajor Trail, although Im getting great tracers off the moss.

Frenchies be damned, this was the best part of the hike

11:15am Amazing, I have cell phone service on top of one of the ridges. Googling what to do when stranded during cardiac arrest. 

11:43am Made it to the Tajor waterfall. The pool above the falls is perfectly ringed by mangroves and palm trees, fairly certain this is where they filmed “Bear Necessities” part of tthe Jungle Book. Water is brown, dick-nose probably uses it as a toilet. Fish bit my nipple, kinda turned me on. Damn French couple showed up and ruined it with their awkward look-Im-in-the-jungle-photo-shoot-but-Im-too-European-to-show-any-signs-that-I-might-be-having-fun.   

12:24pm Think I just hallucinated Baloo singing a refrain of “The Bear Necessities”.   

12:35pm Finally made it to Telok Paku trail. This is obviously the tour package trail, just had to wait for 20 Germans coughing and wheezing to come down a ladder.

Telok Paku, Bako National Park

12:42pm You have no idea how long .8km can be. Why am I going up and away from the ocean when Im trying to get to the beach!?   

12:53pm Ahhh Paradise ….. ok, its not Puerto Chino, but after 5 hours of brutal terrain its my dream come true.   

2:30pm Swam, slept, ate corn-lemon crackers (the only nourishment a true professional jungle explorer needs), swam, now back to the lodge.   

3:13pm Ahhh, Tiger beer. Something about buying beer from a 9 year old girl that speaks 3 languages really makes you feel like a genuinely bad person.   

3:35pm Nothing more satisfying than watching a macaques monkey (bastard monkeys of the jungle) jumping on a table and steel an entire box of cookies from a Dutch girl. Theres a metaphor there Im just not quite catching it.


100% Indonesian, except for the whole thing about Batavia being the name given Jakarta by its colonial era oppressors and the fact that they use the Dutch national colors as their corporate brand. But other than that they are Indonesian all the way.

I should say though that I don’t know what everyone was taking about when they told me they are a terrible airline. Yes, both flights were delayed in Indonesia but that no different than every other flight. The flight crew was far nicer than Air Asia, you can check a bag for free and not only can you choose your seat at check in, they gave me exit row both times for FREE! Imagine that! Its like Skinners Walden 2 in the sky!

So I spent the night in Pontianak  at a very nice western style hotel called The Mercure. It was reminiscent of Starwoods aLoft properties but with Indo style. The food there is great and one of the few hotel breakfasts worth paying for.

I had wanted to check out the equatorial monument 3km outside of town but wanted to get to the airport early as I overstayed my visa by a day. As it turns out the airport is so small I think the immigration officers just wanted to process the 20 people on my flight and get back to smoking cigarettes and sleeping, so they didnt catch or chose not to give me a hard time about it.

Kuching once again made me extremely jealous.  The airport was clean, with modern technology and air conditioning.  The city also is clean, little traffic and everyone speaks english.  Tomorrow Im going on a jungle trek in the Bako National Park in the Sarawak region of Borneo tomorrow morning. Will post pics later.

Indonesian Airport Fail


I’m going to Kuching, Malasyia today for a little vacation and to get my social cultural visa. First I fly to Pontianak in West Kalimantan. Kalimantan is the Indonesian portion of Borneo. I’m really excited about flying out of Soekarno-Hatta International Airport. Mostly because every flight I’ve ever taken from here has been delayed (and as of 5 minutes ago that streak is officially continied). But also because it is a state of the art facility.

Last week the main radar system went down. The air traffic controller had to boot the system to manual, memorize several dozen flights and their flight paths before shutting the system down again to try to bring it back online.

A few months ago the entire airport lost power for 7 seconds resulting in many airlines ticketing and flight management system being unable to recover for hours.

Today I went through 5 securiity checkpoints all with xray machines. It wasn’t until the 5th time that someone saw the large pair of scissors in my backpack.

Finally, I’m flying Batavia Air. I’ve not flown them before but I’ve heard many thrilling stories about them and their flight record. The fact that I’m flying a low volume route makes me think they probably aren’t devoting their best resources, either personnel or equipment.

So with that, I’d just like everyone to know that I am happy with the way I lived my life and have no regrets, except maybe buying a ticket on Batavia Air but really it will be over so fast my brain probably won’t have time to register the feeling of regret, it will just be like “ummm are the wings supposed to fold up like tha” CRASH!

Shermans Mistake


Ok, so I know what the general reaction is going to be to this post, so let me just say, Ive had a long standing grudge with the city even before the bitterness of a nasty breakup, Ive just recently found a good outlet for my angst.  The following is my submission to Cathrine Prices website devoted to her book 101 Places Not to See Before You Die

Can the keyboardist get some oxygen cause the keyboardist cant breathe no mo'

 

Ahhh Savannah, the proverbial Southern city with its classic charm (read: the last bastion of Southern White privilege). With its 24 squares, spanish moss and riverside dining who could ask for more. Well, me for starters and probably Lorraine Bulloch niece. Behind its romantic facade, Savannah has as dark an underbelly as its sordid past in the Atlantic slave trade

For starters, on the lighter side of things, is its sad attempt to create a tourist industry. Granted it is thriving, whether or not its sustaining is in question but unique it certainly is not. Expounding on the ever so original concept of ghost tours (note the sarcasm here), Savannah streets are dotted with campy hearse carting the elderly and over weight revelers lead by high school dropout guides doing their best impressions of Elvira and Uncle Herman. 

The St. Patrick’s Day parade is the 3rd largest in the country, although Im not sure how they measured this, whether by actual length, by amount of people or by the number of college frat boys throwing up in the street. Its a good time to be had by all unless you have prefer not to be spit on, beat up or pay $500 a night for a room at the Hampton Inn.  Savannah has also incorporated another aspect of a top notch mediocre tourist destination, a culinary scene highlighted by average food, poor customer service and inflated prices. You can sit on the patio and watch the freight ships come in the Port of Savannah at Hueys if you wait 2 hours. Youll then be able to pay $35 for a steak that tastes like horse meat and the waiter will come back only after you chase them down out back. 

With the loss of its cheap labor at the beginning of the 20th Century Savannahs economy has suffered. The minimum wages of the tourism industry provides just enough to keep some residents above the poverty line but not enough to afford them career or financial advancement. Few other options for sustainable income exist, aside from the paper plant and the port, as a result the city of 130,000 has seen violent crime and murder rates 3 times the national average over the last 2 decades. 

But never fear, the artist will save you. Enter Savannah College of Art and Design, because if a good college can turn a small rural mid-western town into the hottest, hippest town in hectares (isnt that how they measure distances in the country?), like Austin, Texas and Louisville, Kentucky, it surely could do the same with a stubborn, culturally frozen southern town right? Opps guess what, apparently being the leading school offering undergraduate and graduate courses in several arts and entertainment fields doesnt preclude students from actually contributing to the local economy or culture. Maybe its because of the course load or maybe theyre just all stoners but SCAD students live in a bubble between Forsyth and the River only crossing MLK Drive if they are unfortunate enough to be stuck in the converted Howard Johnston overflow dormitory. At the annual SCAD alumni commencement concert the depth and poignancy from even the brightest of the cities former residents is shown in sending off their doe-eyed graduates by saying “Hey, heres some music that was popular when we were in college… you know, before the internet”, such as G. Love & Special Sauce (No really they booked them in 1998, they were just busy until 2010), George Clinton (not that its bad but its such a safety choice, hes like the liberals James Taylor) and the barely breathing Godfather of Soul, James Brown in 2005. 

Clubs are left empty or the few that are turning out a crowd are doing so with “gangsta’s” and service men on furlough who are always in the mood for a fight . Yes, nothing says “Savannah” like a drive by shooting, an accidental baby stabbing or a night club knife fight. Favored music at the clubs of choice will most likely include at least 5 Lil’ Jon tracks. No, instead of having impromptu DJ sets, jam sessions or art openings from former graduates now internationally recognized (India.Arie, Circle Takes the Square, etc) returning to do business in the city that created their career, youre more likely to catch a sparsely populated goth night that was probably started when all the ghost tours guides got off work and went to the same bar. 

To cap off your visit to the Ole South be sure to swing by a tea shop that will take you back in time to the first half of the 20th century, particularly if you aren’t white. The Savannah Tea Room is run by a brood of old women that would make the Witches of Eastwick look like Mary Poppins. No reservation required but approval is. Yes, Savannah really is a magical place filled with nostalgia for a time long since forgotten, filled with people that have an innate ability to replicate it to sub-par standards. While it was spared on Sherman’s march south, a weekend getaway will leave the astute traveler wondering, “Why?”.


Ok, so I’m posting this more for my own sake than anything else as a result of the poor information I’ve found on the internet, perhaps this will help others.

Just a bit of background in case anyone hasn’t been keeping up. I came to Indonesia in February under the premise that I’d be getting a KITAS visa through the company which I had set up prior to arriving. This would allow me to stay and work in Indonesia without having to go to the dreaded Kantor Imigrasi for an entire year. Upon getting here I decided I wanted to save my money until I actual had work in Indonesia, since the process was going to cost about 30 juta rupiah ($2500 USD). Visa On Arrival costs 250,000 rupiah ($30 USD) and a one time 30 day extension costs the same. So every 2 months I’ve had to leave the country for a day and then return. Even with an average cost of $300 USD per trip(round trip flights to Singapore or KL are rarely more than $100 USD) at 5 trips per year its still cheaper than the KITAS, however after experiencing Kantor Imigrasi twice (5 hours of going from station to station to get one stamp) I understood the real value of the KITAS.

Iwan and I had set up a local PT which is the equivalent of a limited liability company in the States. When I sat down with the lawyer to talk about getting my KITAS I was informed that it is almost impossible for a local PT to sponsor a KITAS as the Department of Manpower wants to only given them out to PMAs which are foreign investment companies and, as they see it, the only companies that would need foreign workers. In order to create a PMA it will take 50 juta rupiah ($5500 USD) plus the KITAS fee and will take about 3 to 6 months. So in short, I get to do the following process at least 2 more times until our PMA is completed.

The following details the process to extend a Visa On Arrival for 30 days at the Central Jakarta Immigration Office.

First off, finding the address for this was a massive pain. Keep in mind that there is only ONE office you can do this at.  You cant do it at the main office and you cant do it at the airport. There are locations in Sumatra and Bali I believe but Ive never done it. All the government sites that I visited listed the main office in Jakarta Pusat (Central Jakarta). Even doing a google search for Kantor Imigrasi and the street that I was fairly certain it was on (Julan Merpati) didn’t return any results. I finally googled Kantor Imigrasi Jakarta Selatan (South Jakarta) and it got me what I was looking for oldly enough. Even though the office I wanted is technically Jakarta Pusat it must be on the very boarder of North and West Jakarta as its a good 30 min ojek ride:

Kantor Imigrasi Klas – Jakart Pusat
Jl. Merpati Blok B12 No. 3
In the Kemoryan district

The office opens at 8am and I strongly suggest getting there as early as possible. By 10am everything is in full swing and you can expect it to take upwards of 4 hours, especially given the lunch break that EVERYONE takes at noon (they had a French efficiency consultant structure their work days apparently).

Once you walk in the building you want to go to the 3rd floor. Just take the stairs to the right of the main entrance to the very top. You will need a few things:

  1. Passport (duh)
  2. Sponsor letter signed by your sponsor with a Materai
  3. Photocopy of your sponsors Indonesian ID
  4. Extension packet with the form signed by your sponsor. You get this from the photocopy window which is the first one when you get to the top of the stairs for 6000 rupiah ($0.75 USD)
  5. Photocopy of the information and photo page of your passport, which you can get at the same window for 500 rupiah ($.04 USD)

Once you have all this in your red folder, go to the window in the waiting room on the left between the two sets of chairs. Now is when the fun begins. Depending on the mood and what futbol team won last night the Imigrasi Officer will ask you to do a number of useless tasks. They could include but are not limited to:

  1. Photocopying your passport photos again in a different size and or shade
  2. Having the typist next to the photocopy room type the salutation ABOVE the date instead of just after it where you, apparently ignorantly, placed it
  3. Use their formatted sponsor letter and then sign your name under your sponsors name
  4. Do the hookie-pookie and turn your self around

Once you are done with the first check point you now have no fewer than 5 more check points. There is:

  1. The basement dweller with his Zuma playing assistant who relishes your attention and will do anything to extend your visit with him
  2. Both windows back up on the 3rd floor across from the first window
  3. The cashier down on the 1st floor
  4. Finally the photocopy window one last time and if they are really slow, the 3rd floor copy window closes at 3:30pm so you’ll have to go to the first floor copy room
  5. Then back to the first window

Keep in mind that the cashier closes at 3:30pm also even though the office closes at 5pm. If you start the process on your last day and don’t finish you should be ok, at worst you will have to pay 200,000 rupiah ($25 USD) per day that you stay over on your visa, but again, the intrinsic cost is far more by having to go to the Kantor Imigrasi two days in a row.

Later I will post the details of getting a Social/Cultural visa which is really the way to go. This allows you a two month stay, then every month you can get a 30 day extension but you don’t have to leave the country for 6 months.

If you speak Bahasa (obviously) it will probably get you through faster. My friend came in the same day as me 3 hours later and had an extra step to go through and yet he got his finished at the same time as me by standing next to them joking around.

Final note, if you want to skip all this you can hire an agent. It will run you 1 juta ($110 USD) but you’ll save years on your life for the lack of stress.


NOTE:You can see all these pics in full res here. There were just so many good ones it was hard to choose a couple to post here.

Ummm yes, hello, i believe you have potato please, excuse me, pardon me, potato? excuse me, hello, someone said you had potato? excuse me...

So the last full day of our Kuala Lumpur trip we decided to go to the Elephant Sanctuary on our own (sans tour bus). We got up early and hired another taxi driver ($130 for the entire day) to take us to the Elephant Sanctuary in Kuala Gandah which is about a 1.5 hour drive (however on the way back expect 2-3 because youll be hitting rush hour traffic). They take in orphaned and injured Asian Elephants from Malaysia, India, Myanmar, Thailand and other ASEAN countries to rehabilitate them, train them to work as a pack and release them into the Krau Game Reserve and other reserves throughout South East Asia. Those that cant be rehabilitated, such as two young elephants who each lost part of a leg, one to a tiger attack and one to a poachers trap, which I decided should be named Stumpy and Eileen, stay in the park for their entire life. Im not certain but I get the feeling these are the elephants the public gets to see and interact with.

This is a very popular tourist attraction in KL. Almost every hotel, taxi driver and tour agency offers this. They charge about $100 USD per person, which is interesting (read: immoral and a rip off) since entry into the sanctuary is donation only and I read several places that the tour agencies give very little if any of that money to the sanctuary. They dont have a very good website set up and I had difficulty planning it (we got there 4 hours early because of lack of info) so Im posting the official brochure we got there that has times and information.

Lida arguing that the greatest literary accomplishment of Dostoyevsky was in fact not Crime and Punishment but The Idiot, ironically lost on this doe who just wanted a green pea

As I said, we got there early and the sanctuary is on the outskirts of the Krau Game Reserve so theres not much else to do except what amounts to a sad little petting zoo. Although I have to admit it was kinda fun but if you find this kind of thing, well, immoral and a rip off, then skip it. The deer were funny, they had obviously learned how to get attention and when they wanted more potatoes or beans they would pull on your shirt. Lida had on a perfect shirt which helped to highlight the 2 dozen places where the deer were nipping. The older males sat off in the corner of the park looking at the rest with what I interpreted as disapproving looks.

They had some interesting birds (African Greys, 4 or 5 species of Conures), Lida got to hold a Ball Python, but for sure the highlight and they knew it cause it was the last attraction, was the Sun Bear. I take it he got this name because hes lazy and just sits around sun bathing all day. Either that or the golden markings on his chest and snout. I think my first assumption is the more scientific one. Anyway, this is whats great about countries that have no OSHA counter part or silly regulations that say “the general public cannot get in a cage with a bear”. Or if they do have those regulations it doesnt say “the general public can be in a cage with a bear but it cant pet the bear”. Or if they do have that regulation they dont say “the general public can be in a cage with a bear and they can pet it but you cant feed the bear condensed milk out of your hand” cause that would just be dangerous. Well, if youre going to support the exploitation of animals you might as well get a picture of it right?

Meanwhile back at the elephant ranch, there are 2 activities that may seem unnatural, Im not going to vouch for it or decry it but they do allow for elephant rides. 4 of the larger elephants take 125 people at most per day once around a 10 meter circle. Again, 125 people at most are allowed to get on the elephant and ride with her into the stream where you then get to bathe the elephants. Note, this activity is bareback, no saddles or harness. It really lets you feel the power of this animal as you can feel the skin and muscle shift against your legs.

Of course the bathing was the best part. Its actually more playing than anything else. The babies love the attention, people standing around them splashing them, they would roll on to their sides spaying people with there trunks. I have to say that they seemed extremely happy. Its in no way a zoo. The elephants are only exposed to people for 2 hours a day from 2pm to 4pm. They only bring out 6 of the 20+ elephants, all of which seem very calm. Again, Im not going to speak to the morals of it but it did seem far more humane than anything Id seen at zoos in the states.

At any rate, feeding them was really fun. Before the rides and bathing we feed them peanuts and we brought some bananas. Other people had sugar cane which seemed very popular. After a while the babies got tired of taking the peanuts and fruit with their trunks and when someone would hold out some they would just open their mouth wide so they could deposit the offering directly into their “peanut hole”. After the rides and bathing they lined up the big girls (17 of the 20+ are female and I got the feeling they didnt bring the males out) and feed them a proper diner which consisted of a couple hundred pounds of bamboo, which they would step on to break into peices and then take the yummier slices and whack them on the ground to soften them up and desert was a few hundred pounds of some tropical fruit that looked like starfruit.

It was actually a really cool visit. Note that you will smell like Elephant crap for a minimum of 3 days despite taking multiple showers and baths, but it is well worth it. If you do go Id say be generous with your donation. They are trying to prove the effectiveness of their process to the government to get more funding but to do so they need to be able to radio tag the elephants they release to prove that the pack training is actually working. Either way, its a good bit of eco-tourism that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Consitution, Resolve and KL Envy


View from the room

 

Lida and I made another visa run this last weekend. This time we made sure everything was in order and went to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was a bit of a sad trip for me, as it will likely be the last “points” trip I take as Im down to about one or two nights in my Starwood account. It reminded me that at the end of the year I will effectively lose all my pride ellite status with United (1K Member), Starwood (Platinum), Hilton (Diamond) and Hertz (Presidents Club). Hertz already down graded me from Presidents Club status to the bourgeoisie 5-Star Club. Come on Hertz, dont hide behind your seemingly salutatory ranks, we all know that 5-Star Club really means, “Thanks for your money but you have to walk an extra 20 yards to get your car and sorry we were only able to upgrade you to an American luxury model, all the Mercedes, Audis and Infinities are rented out”. It was a great final trip though. 

Coincidentally the price of tea in China is directly related to the price of tea in KL

 

We stayed at the Westin Kuala Kumpur and got the obligatory room upgrade to the Executive Level with a perfect view of the Petronas Towers. Of course the kleptomania came pouring out, as it does with any girl that stays at a hotel (Rachael, you still have my coffee cup?). Every morning before leaving, the bathroom would look like a department store post-apocalypse with empty bath room amenities packaging littering the sink and floor, the complimentary water bottles all missing (“gee my backpack seems heavy today”) and a couple pair of slippers stuffed in my suitcase. At one point I think she asked “Can we take the cloths hangers?”. On the way down to the lobby one day I had to physically restrain Lida as the house-keeping lady went by with her cart. 

The first night we found out that KLs night scene is quite a bit more formal. No shorts, no flip-flops and no t-shirts. Of course The Dude here has nothing but, so we werent able to get into Qba, the hotel Cuban bar. We walked down the street until we came upon some kind of Middle East/Indian restaurant/bar. When we walked in there was a dance floor with about 6 Asian or Middle Eastern women dressed in formal Indian dresses taking turns dancing, by themselves, to extremely loud Indian music. Sitting around the dance floor was about 10-20, mostly Indian but looked like some Arabs as well, guys drooling and giving the girls money. So from what I gathered it was pretty much a PG strip club for conservative Easterners. Anyway, it was fun. There was actually a live band playing for a while. 

Chinise Clan Temple

 

The first day was spent in and around Chinatown and Masjid India. Chinatown is basically created for the western tourist and an outlet for all the worthless crap they make in China and cant sell to anyone else. Its an open air market with vendors selling knock off brands of everything imaginable and mostly for extortionary prices all with the intent to make you bargain. Every country and city Ive been to has this and they always claim that haggling is the accepted practice but Ive never seen it as openly accepted as KL. In Morocco it was almost a hostile practice, both Lida and I felt physically threatened at one point or another. Understanding that my resolve would lose me quite a bit of money, I let Lida do the bargaining and it was fun to watch. On average she could get them down 50% of their “final price” and she never wavered from her price no matter how much the vendor begged and pleaded. At the point in which I would have given in she refused to even budge 1 Rinngit (about $.33 USD). In the end most of the stuff we got was crap and Lidas bargaining skills got us everything at fair market value but the money spent was more about the experience than anything. 

Momma and baby just tryin' ta get a nut.

 

On the way back to the hotel that night we got a very nice Hindi cab driver named Samy. Lida, perhaps still high on her victories at Chinatown, talked him into taking us to a couple of spots just outside KL the next day for 200 Rinngit ($66 USD). The one nice thing about KL is the affluence of English speakers. While I blame only myself for the difficulty in communicating in and around Jakarta, its nice that so many people speak English there. They also seem to be, for the most part, very nice people. 

Bhagwan Vino in front of Murugan

 

In the morning we went to Batu Caves. Its a Hindi shrine built into the side of a large rock formation. You climb up 270 steps and into the cave and of course the best part is the monkeys that eagerly await the attention and food from the tourists. I think they were more of the attraction than the temple and shrine. We got there pretty early and beat the tourist buses that were arriving as we left. 

After that we went to Kuching Rainforest Waterfalls. There are about 8 separate levels of varying degree waterfalls. Really there are 5 actual waterfalls, the first is separated from the rest and the first 3 of the main section are fairly heavily populated as they have large pools at their base for swimming. We skipped those and climbed to the last level which was a beautiful isolated waterfall. Not large in flow but perfect to lounge on the rocks with a slight mist and just relax. It got a little awkward when 3 locals came up to take pictures of Lida in her bikini. At first she was ok but after 10 min it was just too obnoxious and she repelled them with her trademark stare. 

We got some great pics on the waterproof but I cant find the cable

 

That night we did some proper shopping. Again I sacrificed my basic morals and betrayed my constitution in buying a plan tshirt with a v-neck. Lida said I looked good, I thought I looked like “a gay”. We also went to an electronics mall and one aspect of this made me reevaluate my decision to live and work in Jakarta. KL has WiMAX

They serve Hefeweizen in the rainforest?! At the Rainforest Sports Bar they do.

 

Interlude: 

If you dont know what WiMAX is, dont worry, its been fairly low key in the states despite being production ready for nearly 10 years. My theory is that all the mobile operators and hardware vendors are still trying to eek out as much profit on their 802.11 (WiFi), 2G and 3G mobile systems and have made an industry pact to delay the release of consumer level technology for WiMAX as long as possible. I know this sounds like some alumnum-foil-hat-conspiracy but hear me out. 

In 2003 I first started reading about it and came up with a brain child for potential non-sequatar use of the technology. Some of you may remember the concept of using it to create digital radio broadcasting, develop hand-held receiver units , control advertisement revenue, then perhaps expand into paid service to allow customization of radio stations and even broadcast your own music. I met a guy in Denver in 2005 that was working for Motorola developing devices to operate on 802.16 technology, he said it wouldnt be consumer ready until 2010. Several cities are using WiMAX to deliver connections to local area networks, but you cant really define as consumer level since the consumer is still connecting via 802.11. 

The most basic functionality of WiMAX however is to deliver broadband internet access wirelessly. It touts the ability to deliver 10 T1 connections in a 30 mile radius for each WiMAX tower. This is equivalent to 100 broadband users. Not sure if this is still the cost but in 2005 equipment for 1 tower (not including the physical tower itself) was about $15-$20K. So you can see the overhead is miniscule compared to Satellite, Cellular or fiber-optic networks. This is great in locales that either have sparse populations that cant justify the capital expense to run lines or, if using the 802.16e variant, deliver a mobile connection. You can start to understand then why its a threat to the mobile service providers investments. With WiMAX, all of the sudden there is no need for the multi-billion dollar satellite infrastructure currently in place, all the cellular towers have to be upgraded and the iPhone (arguably the only thing keep AT&T Wireless in the black) is now just a bigger, slower, more expensive iTouch since you could get the same thing on iTouch by installing Skype and a $40-a-month WiMAX service. Then youre getting all the calls you want, even internationally, for a fraction of the cost and no lame 2 year contracts. 

Yeah, thats right. It says Titi. My name is Matthew and I hale from Lake Titikaka.

 

At any rate, KL has it. $40-a-month, you get a mobile router that you can turn on anywhere in the city and get broadband access. That combined with the excellent transportation system (Monorail and drivers that actually obey traffic signs), friendly people, clean streets and great attractions 10 minutes outside of the city, just made me wonder if I should relocate to KL. Just a thought thought. Its basically what my dream for Jakarta is, but doing it in a metropolitan city of 25 million (Jakarta) is quite differnt than doing it in one of 8 million. 

Ill post again about the Elephant Sanctuary on the 3rd day, which was one of the coolest things on the trip. Ive got tons of great pics from it but this post is running long and I gotta get back to work.  

She was so gentle and sweet.


So I realize that I started this blog to share my stories of Indonesia with all my friends and that, at times, Ive had difficulty staying on topic. So let me get back on track with this one inspired by  Jacksons comment about waiting for me to “learn the ropes“.

Ive dealt with the money changers here at the airport, the tourist district (Jaksa) and the big malls. Heres what Ive learned:

  • The big malls have the best rates but are so annoying to deal with. They are so strict on the condition of the bills. They treat them as an antique dealer would a possible purchase. Realize they will inspect every bill front and back. When I first got here I had $6000 in $100 bills in Bank of America bill wrappers. Granted, one of them was 20 years old, but the rest were fine, some average wear and ranged in age from 4-8 years old.  They only took about $2000 worth, citing issues such as too much wear or folds, lower serial number ranges and if there were ANY tears at all, forget about it. Today I had $600 to exchange, one of the bills had a 2mm fold in the corner but was crisp and new and they wanted to give me a lower exchange rate because of this. 
  • $100 bills have a more favorable exchange rate than the $20s by about 2%. Anything lower than that will take 5-10% hit on the rate.
  • The tourist areas changers are less anal but their rates will be 2-5% lower than the malls.  Haggling is possible here, so feel free to walk away saying youll be back after you check around.  This may get you a better rate. I havent run into it but counterfeit bills are possible so check as much as you can. The more money you change, obviously, the more likely you are to get a good rate.
  • The airport has terrible rates.  If you have to, only change enough for your cab or food. The only upside is there is little chance for counterfeit bills.
  • You can always get currency using your ATM card but remember, in addition to the $5 fee your bank will hit you with, they will also charge you a 1.5-3% fee and the exchange rate will never be in your favor.

If any of you are into foreign currency trading the Indonesian Rupiah is rated as a strong currency for 2010.  This time last year the exchange rate against the dollar was 13,500.  Its now just under 9,000 and expected do about the same this year.  The recession mostly missed the Indonesian economy and the country is listed at the top of investment lists so there is a large influx of capital.

UPDATE:
Apparently even the US government is sick of these antics. I just got back from the embassy where a sign was posted something the effect of “Effective immediately all cash payments must be made in IDR (Indonesian Rupiah) due to financial institutions reluctancy to accept US Bills with wear or certain serial number block.”

Island Hopping Part 2


Ok, so I meant to do several posts on our trip to Puala Seribu but following the trip I got a bunch of work and then the Singapore fiasco and I just forgot. 

For those of you following you’ll remember we were embarking on our first island hopping trip to the closest islands to Jakarta.  They are kind of the weekend get away for a lot of Jakartans and as such arent really geared toward the average tourists.  Only one or two of the 120 or so islands have a proper hotel and even those seem to get pretty bad reviews. Also there are no ATMs on any of the islands. 

When we left our heros they were stranded at the marina because they hadn’t planned properly and missed the boat due to not having enough cash.  After finding an ATM we spoke with a really nice guy that owned a small shop at the end of the peer.  He said there were daily ferries that left from the fishing port called Muara Angke (prounounced like one word “mor-angk-ey”).  They are much slower than the $20/person speedboats but also far cheaper at about $4/person.

 When we arrived at Muara Angke, we found it to be a picture perfect SE Asian fishing port.  Fresh fish of all kinds being sold as you drive down a narrow street, the putrid smell of dead fish every where and the fishing boats….ahhhh so classic. We found our ferry to Pramuka, which is one of the more developed islands in Puala Seribu, with dive shops and some guest houses.  We really wanted to go to Tidung but were told boats no longer went there.  What we found out later was there were no longer tour packages which is what everyone was trying to sell us. In fact there was a ferry that went there but we haddnt asked the right questions. So, thinking Pramuka was our only option we had decided to go there and see if we could get a boat to Tidung once we arrived there.

The boat ride was about 2.5 hours in very rough seas. Lida was having problems with motion sickness but was able to keep her lunch down. When we arrived in Pramuka it was a bit disappointing.  Its really amazing how little respect the people on these small islands have for their environment. Trash floats in water as you approach and the marinas look like a trash dump in places.  They have no proper waste management and each house has a garbage pit in which they throw the majority of their trash and burn it.  For the houses that are next to the beach, the popular trend seemed to be to have the trash pit closest to the water with a small seawall built up around it.

We strolled around Pramuka for a bit but decided it was too populated and we wanted something a bit more isolated.  We went back to the marina and attempted to communicate this with some of the fisherman.  They wanted $50 to take us to Tidung. After a bit of discussion we decided it was the best option and took it.  We left Pramuka right at dusk which made for an exceedingly beautiful boat right south to Tidung with the sun setting in orange and purple.  The large waves were a bit more fun since we had the boat to ourselves and we played out our own version of Titanic.  I had a strong feeling of validation for my move to Indonesia for the first time and a realization that while ive told everyone part of my move was for business reasons, the real reason was for experiences such as this.

We arrived on Tidung just as it was getting dark.  I felt bad for the fisherman whose boat we charted as it was going to be a long dark trip back.  We jumped on shore and walked into town.  Tidung is a community of 4000 whose economy is 90% fishing. There are no hotels, no formal restaurants aside from Warungs and no running water.  We just started walking through the streets looking for a home-stay.  These are people who have extra rooms and rent them out to travelers.  Typically they are very inexpensive and include breakfast.  We found one place with the help of a curious woman.  The owners, Nanana and Mus, spoke no english at all. Combined with our poor skills in Bahasa it took about 15 minutes to settle on a price.  For the first night it was $13.  The room was very comfortable, aside for the lack of air conditioning.  It was bucket showers and a stoop-and-poop toilet.  After dropping our things off we set out to find a place to eat.  We found a very kind gentleman running a food cart.  He made some amazing mie goreng, perhaps the best Ive had yet and we quickly became the center of attention.  I couldnt help but visualize kids running across the island telling people there were two “bules” on the island. We attempted communication with them and after many “terima kasih’s” (thank you) we went back to out home-stay. 

In the morning I woke up early and did the rounds on the island in an attempt to find a snorkel tour. After not finding any to join I found a guy whose friend had a boat and would charter it for the whole day for $50. At 8am we met him and his deck hand.  The boat was a classic fishing boat with a motor that sounded like it would die at any minute. They wasted no time and got us to a great dive spot with in 15 minutes. The snorkeling was average.  A lot of the coral was dead.  It was a great contrast to the Lombok Gilis where the local dive shops pay the fisherman not to fish around the islands. The result is a vibrant sea life and some of the best snorkeling Ive ever done. The best part of the trip was probably the a little sandbar in the middle of the Java Sea. Pure white sand with some staghorn coral surrounding it and starfish littering the beach. We took some great pictures that I think would make great beer or chewing gum commercials.  We went to Pramuka for lunch, bought some beer, as they didnt sell it on Tidung and headed back.

We had made plans to go scuba diving with the islands only scuba instructor the next day.  It was going to cost us about $100 for two people, 3 dives and a 1 hour tanks.  However that night we learned that we hadn’t used enough or high enough sunblock as both of us were burned.  Not terrible but enough to make scuba diving uncomfortable. The next morning we decided to head back to Jakarta and come back again another time. We took the ferry back to Muara Angke and I talked with some locals about other great remote islands in East and West Java. 

All-in-all a pretty successful trip.  Ive been telling everyone that they should come here to visit because its so cheap to travel.  One of Lidas friends is coming in July but none of my friends have really expressed interest (except Joni!).  But I want to give you an example of just how cheap it is to travel.

  • One way to Pramuka $4/person
  • Chartered boat to Tidung $50
  • home-stay $13/night
  • 1 day boat charter for snorkeling $50
  • 3 meals per day $1.50
  • Bike rental $1.50/day
  • Snorkel gear $3/day
  • Return boat to Jakarta  $4/person 

So total for two days and two people we spent $158.  If we had known better, we could have saved $50 on the boat from Pramuka to Tidung by taking the direct boat from Muara Angke to Tidung, so really youre looking at about $100 for a weekend trip. We’re already planning out next one.  Talking about camping out on the beach this time.


So, we woke up and realized that what we had slept on was actually the mat for the diaper changing station. Lovely.   

Lida barely slept all night, freaking out about the cost of a ticket to Russia and if she would even be allowed to come back. She finally fell asleep around 5am. At 8am the “guard” (I use quotes here because the only thing he was guarding was his own lack of purpose, achievement and personality) decided his prisoners (we were accompanied by an extremely nice guy from the Punjab providence) had slept long enough, turned on the light and sat down on the couch, casting creepy glances at Lida every few minutes. Of course the Great White Russian Bear (and I mean that in the most effeminate way) was unphased by any of it and slept through it all.      

She may ride forever above the streets of Jakarta shes the girl who never returned

 

The previous night Lida had gotten the number for the Russian consulate. Being the ultimate skeptic of government and its actual effectiveness in my daily life, I thought nothing of it. She called them, and after a brief conversation, hung up the phone and to my surprise said the vice-consul would be calling her back in 15 minutes. They apologised for the wait but there was an emergency on an island with a group of Russians.    

The first image that popped into my head was a bunch of Russians sun bathing in the nude on a Muslim island and trying to get Komodo Dragons to drink vodka. Then I realized how ridiculous that notion was…there’s no Muslims on Komodo Island [insert rim shot].    

The vice-consul called back and asked her to call his assistant who speaks fluent Bahasa and have him speak to an agent to see if there was anything that could be done over the phone. The guy pretending he had authority over us was very reluctant to go to the immigration office. I suspect this is because he always gets beat up or practical jokes played on him because he’s a grade A douche and really just a step below a mall cop (at least they get pepper spray and a baton). After much pleading he finally disappeared. He returned with representatives from the airline, which until this point, we thought were part of the immigration office. We later learn that the reason for this was they had made a mistake by allowing Lida to get on the plane to Singapore in the first place. Its their responsibility to stop people with invalid paperwork. For each person that they let through that shouldn’t be, they are fined $5000. They were attempting to shirk responsibility.     

 The phone call was unsuccessful and the vice-consul was not pleased about it. He was scheduled to be at the airport later that night but decided to head over early to help sort the mess out, although Lida said he was far less eloquent with his vocabulary. As the day wore on, it became apparent that the people charged with the outcome of our situation would have to put in a full days work rather than their normal half-day.  As a result, they became exceedingly impatient and rude, directing Lida and I like children and insisting we call the vice-consul repeatedly to find out how far away he was, as well as the cold stares they threw at us as they hunched in the corner smoking their cigarettes in front of a no smoking sign.  These guys make the French look motivated.  

In the 2 hours it took the vice-consul to get there, I had conjured up visions of a Oligarkian character who spoke softly but with a very threatening tone, stout in stature and a presence that was anything but subtle. All this was true save for his dress. And to top it off, he was extremely nice to Lida AND ME! Lida beamed with pride while walking through the terminal with him, the way a girl would if her superhero father, that all her peers denied existed, came to visit her at school to vindicate her years of ridicule. Once at the immigration office, the usual barrage of ineffective and pompous low-lever officers tried to stymie the consuls attempts to gain her entrance as well as saying his boss was in a meeting (not the most creative bunch). He finally grew tired of it and said, “Ok, let me just call the ambassador and see if he has any ideas”.  He was in the boss’ office under a minute. When he came out we unfortunately didnt the result we had hoped for, Lida being allowed to enter Indonesia, however it wasnt the worst either as they did agree to let her go to Kuala Lumpur instead of Russia.  Just to ensure her seemless transit, he had them sign a contract of agreement that said she would be allowed to go to KP and return to Indonesia without any further hindrances.  Im not too sure how much legal clout that carries but it exhilarating, after sitting in an airport for 20 hours with people who couldnt care less if you live or die and for Lida, 48 hours at that, to finally have someone who not only cared but had the foresight anda bility to anticipate future issues.  In addition, he said hes ready tomorrow morning when she returns from KP to help with anything that might happen upon reentry and to call him if anything comes up. It’s really inspiring to see this and helps you understand the worth of your government.   

So here we are again. Im sitting in luxury at home and my girlfriend is stuck in an airport by herself.  Its the first time in the nearly 2 years we’ve been traveling together that shes getting a stamp in her passport that doesnt match mine, and its kinda depressing. By the time she gets home it will have been 3 days with no shower or real bed. I know what youre saying, Im the worst boyfriend ever. I wanted to go with her but she insisted it was a waste of money for me to go. Shes even refusing to stay at a hotel. While I appreciate her self sacrifice, its doing a number on my Christian guilt.


They put Lida on the 7pm flight out of Singapore and I changed my flight to that as well. It was great to finally see her. She told me about the night and what happened and we enjoyed a few beers looking forward to a real nights sleep in our bed.

When we arrived in Jakarta we were taken to the immigration office to be interviewed. After about an hour of waiting they informed us that because Lida was deported from Singapore she couldn’t enter Indonesia until she went back to Russia first.

Of coarse there were no more flights out the rest of the night, so she would have to spend the night in a holding area again. Luckily they allowed me to stay with her this time. Unfortunately, unlike Singapore, there were no beds. Just a dirty room with one chair.

We spent the night trying to sleep on a 3 by 2 foot mat and figure out what to do. The immigration officers say there will be no problem for her to come back right after she returns to Russia. It means that by the time she gets back here on Tuesday or Wednesday, provided there are no problems in Russia and the Indonesian Immigration officers were right that there will be no problems, she will have spent 6 straight days in airports across SE Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

Island Hopping Part 1


So we are finally taking our first trip out of Jakarta to Kepulauan Seribu (Thousand Islands). Its an island chain that stretches from Jakarta Bay into the Java Sea. There are about 120 islands with few facilities save for a handful of islands. I guess they started counting the islands and got to 100 or so and said “ahh screw it, just call it one thousand. We’ve already got the dressing named after it anyway.”

The plan was to go to an island call Tidung. Its remote enough but has basic services. We got to the marina to find the boat to Tidung was cancelled a few years ago and you canb only charter a boat for about $600.

The next option was Pramuka. Not too sure about it but its definately one of the more populated islands. We missed the speed boat because we only had about $100 in cash and there’s no ATMs on the islands. Now we are waiting until 1pm to take public prama there. It will be 3 times as slow as the morning boat but its 10 time cheeper so I guess that’s ok.

Ill post more later, hoping to go diving or snorkling at the least.