Thursday, May 31, 2012


From Japan I took a flight to Indonesia with a layover in Singapore (which has one of the nicest airports I've ever seen). My purpose for going to Indonesia, and part of what motivated this whole trip, was the chance see my brother whom I haven't seen in a couple years. With that in mind, I was a little disappointed that he couldn't meet me at the Jakarta airport because he was working the night shift, but in his place he sent one of his Indonesian friends, Debby. Having Debby there was great – she speaks Indonesian, so the taxi driver didn't try to scam us - and shes a lot better looking that Ryan anyway.

Debby and I at the airport. 
After the go-go-go pace at which I went through California and Japan, I needed a couple days to relax, so I checked into a "nice" hostel (still only about $10/night) near where Ryan lives and set up camp. I spent some days poking around parts of Jakarta, meeting with Ryan and his friends, catching up on emails, researching the next stops on my trip, talking with other travelers at the hostel (including a primatologist doing research in remote Indonesia), having lunch at the US Embassy (sorry, no photos allowed), finally receiving the debit card for which I've been waiting 3 months and as many countries, and trying to get my Russian visa.

Inside the Russian Embassy in Jakarta
Russian visas are notorious for being some what difficult to obtain. In fact, there are entire websites and companies dedicated to helping you negotiate the process. In the past, if you filled out the right paperwork, got your letter of invitation, had all of your ducks in a row, and paid the right fee, you could get a visa for Russia at almost any Russian consulate in any country. However, in recent years, they've started enforcing a rule requiring your visa to be issued from a consulate in your home country.

For this reason I wanted to get my visa while I was in California, but due to the visa processing times and my flight to Japan, it was going to be cutting it all too close. I decided I would ask at the embassy in Jakarta, and if they said no I could mail my passport back to the States to get the visa. Mailing it back would mean being in a foreign country without my passport for at least 2 weeks – a somewhat risky endeavor – but it seemed like the only choice. I was in luck though; at the Jakarta embassy I asked my question, waited an hour for an answer, and after a brief hesitation they said, “yeah, sure just pay your 250$US fee for rush processing and it will be ready in a week.” A week later, I had my visa in hand. Success! [250 might seem like a lot, but the normal, slow fee in the US is 140, the rush fee is 250, and you can add to those 120 if you have an agency help you. And if you include parcel service back to the US, I was coming out waaay ahead for only 250$.]

Spending time with Ryan and his friends was an interesting experience. They are an eclectic mix of US Marines, Indonesians, and various expats who work at the embassy. Jakarta has a high degree of income inequality, and high rates of poverty, but this group (with some exceptions) exists primarily in a bubble of relative wealth that surrounds the embassy. I don't want to come off as sounding judgmental as I'm sure I would be in that bubble too if I lived there, but as always, the contrast, proximity, and mixing of the two extremes was interesting.

Ryan's friends are a fun group. I especially enjoyed chatting with some of his Indonesian friends. They spoke great English, so it was a good opportunity for me to get answers to some of the cultural questions that had been lingering in my mind.

My family will be happy to hear that Ryan's friends and acquaintances (I met his boss too) all had really great things to say about him. They said he's friendly, helpful, funny, and always taking care of people when they're unwell. They say he can be a bit mischievous at times (I could have told you that), but they were always really happy to see him when we walked into a room. No one would believe we were brothers at first glance. One guy even forced me to show my passport before he would believe me. I also thought it was funny that despite being taller and more handsome (I'm including these comments because Ryan said he's been ignoring my blog – I'll show him) … despite being taller and more handsome, his friends often thought I was the younger brother. Ha!

This isn't a particularly flattering photo of either of us, but really, who's better looking?
After spending a little over a week in noisy, crowded, polluted, traffic-clogged Jakarta (Chuck, you were right), I was in need of a break. I also didn't want to leave Indonesia with Jakarta being my only impression of the country. A group of students from Canada that I had met at the hostel had gone to Jokjakarta which is said to be the cultural center of Java (Java is island on which Jakarta is located). The chance to have companions for sightseeing and other activities for a change was too good to pass up, so I took the very scenic 8 hour train ride over to Jokja and met up with the anthropology students from Toronto.

And I was not disappointed. I had a really great time there. Good food, great conversations, and a visit to Borobudor – the giant temple in my photos – where we got to see, despite my attempts to leave earlier, an annual Buddhist ceremony with these magical flying lanterns.

There were many great parts about my time in Jokja, but one of the highlights was the food at the homestay where I stayed. 2 meals and day, free internet, and laundry was all included in the 15$/night in this beautiful house with lots of intricate woodwork and panels. And the food they cooked was wonderful. Lots of traditional Indonesian dishes and some borrowed from nearby countries. It wasn't the cheapest place in town, but it was a great bargain for what you got.

Sitting down for a great dinner at the luxurious homestay in Jokja.
After traveling relatively solo for so long – making my own plans, setting my own schedule, changing plans at whim – it was a bit difficult for me to be in a bigger group (15?) where we spent a lot of time waiting for people or somewhat blindly following the leader without knowing exactly where we were going or what was going to happen next. I had a great time with them in the end, but was sometimes good exercise for my patience :)
At Borobudur 
The Indonesian and Canadian students
Lantern lighting 

After Jokja, I took the train back to Jakarta, met Ryan for one last dinner, spent the night in a hostel, and then headed to the airport. Coincidentally and appropriately, I once again met Debby at the airport. She had missed a flight earlier that morning to go do some wedding planning, so she was waiting around for the later flight. We had a short chat, then I got on the plane headed for Malaysia. My original plan had been to take the ferry from Indonesia to Singapore so as to avoid the flight, but the flight was shorter (by about a day), safer (Indonesian boats are known for far exceeding capacity, and sinking), and cheaper (by about half), so I couldn't pass it up. It was a good decision, but I hope it's the last flight I take until the one from Europe back to North America.

More photos and videos (I finally got the videos uploaded) from Indonesia are linked from my photos page.

Stay tuned for a post about Thailand, China, and Mongolia. In the mean time, keep track of my progress on the maps.