Two days before my flight to Indonesia, things fell apart. Everything from my transportation to the airport to my hotel in Jakarta unraveled, along with my resolve. I’ll spare you the details of the thousand papercuts that tried to destroy my trip. Just know I spent 48 hours and quite a bit of money piecing together new last-minute arrangements — and it knocked me off center.
When things are meant to be, they’re supposed to fall into place easily — right? I started second-guessing myself. My hip was acting up, I’d given notice at the gig that pays my bills — so many things could go wrong halfway around the world. Asia had always intimidated me, and I was getting nervous.
I like to play with the Tarot card app on my phone, even though I’m not really a Tarot believer. At least I didn’t think I believed, until it warned me repeatedly that the Asian leg of my journey would result in disaster and bankruptcy and leave me a lonely, bitter woman. I kept shuffling the [virtual] deck and kept getting the exact same results. Yikes!
I shared my fears with some friends, and they told me everything from “You have good instincts, you should trust them,” (which I appreciated) to “Maybe you’re not as good at this travel thing as you think you are.” YIKES! Thanks, “friend.”
I know that if I want to get to “where the magic happens” I have to push past the boundaries of my comfort zone, so I got on the plane, in spite of my trepidation.
I had a five-hour layover at the Istanbul airport. My inner child wanted to escape the airport and run back to my treehouse in Cirali. I was so happy there! But Istanbul worked its magic on me, even from inside the airport. This is the “East Meets West” hub, where I was surrounded by people of all flavors wearing all manner of clothing, waiting for flights to Tehran, Nairobi, Osaka, Mumbai, and Paris. I love it! The Istanbul layover rekindled my appetite for travel, and I got on the plane to Jakarta without any further whining from the inner brat.
A nice hotel cushions you from culture shock,which is why I booked a room at the Millennium for my first two nights in Indonesia. I was a goldfish in a baggie, exploring my new environment from inside a bubble of safety. The hotel staff spoke excellent English, and the restaurant buffet overflowed with national specialty dishes. I’d arrived on the first day of Ramadan, the month when Muslims fast from sunup until sundown, and then enjoy a very special feast after their evening prayers. I don’t have to fast, but I get to enjoy the nightly feast!
I planned to take a scenic train ride from Jakarta to Yogyakarta, but the Indonesians I spoke to thought I was a nutjob. “It’s 10 hours by train,” they said, “but only an hour flight.” So, I bought a plane ticket online for $37.
My cheap flight was leaving from the local airport instead of the international one where I’d arrived. The international airport had English-speaking staff and sit-down toilets. At this one, I had to wait for an English-speaker, so I could be informed that my flight was delayed for six hours, and the toilets were sparkling clean but squat-style. You know you’re becoming well-travelled when you open the bathroom stall door expecting to see a toilet, find a porcelain hole in the ground instead, shrug, and get to squattin’.
I spent eight hours in the airport (always carry a good book) and never saw another pasty foreigner. I thought about all the people who’ve told me “People everywhere speak English!” That’s only true if you remain inside your plastic baggie at all times. That’s one of the differences between ‘vacationing’ and ‘traveling’ in my book. Both are nice, but they are as different as Jakarta’s two airports.
Thank goodness I’d given myself the goldfish-in-a-baggie introduction to Indonesia, instead of going straight to the hostel. Why do I always forget that hostels need cash up front? Before I could check in, I had to leave my pack in the bar and walk down a dark, unfamiliar alley to an ATM, then walk back with 3 million rupees in my pocket (which is only about $225, but it feels like a LOT of money!). Bats followed me both ways down the alley. Bats. BATS!
A great hostel is always worth the inconvenience, and the Venezia Garden is a great hostel, with a breezy open-air bar, a grassy lounging garden, and a serene blue swimming pool.
Everyone says I’m brave, but the truth is I’m very timid when I first arrive in a new place. I worry about getting lost, I’m embarrassed to try out my new vocabulary words, and I can’t tell whether people are trying to lure me into a con or just being friendly. The first day I went for a short walk and didn’t eat anything but the hostel breakfast. I only had about $10 cash and I wasn’t sure it would be enough for a meal.
My money was in limbo between accounts (never transfer funds the same day you check into a hostel!), and my backup credit card locked itself up on fraud alert the minute I tried to use it in an ATM. This happens pretty much every time I use my Capital One card in a new country, even though I always notify them before I travel. What a horrible emergency backup card that turned out to be!
I needn’t have worried about the money though. A nice dinner in a restaurant the next day cost me 45,000 rupees, or $3.38. I really enjoyed the restaurant and my first evening out. On the way home, I even enjoyed the bats flapping overhead. I imagined shouting “FLY, MY PRETTIES!” and watching them swarm at my bidding in any direction I pointed out.
Be warned: You’re going to see a flurry of words from me for the next few days, then I hope to settle down to some reasonable posting schedule. 😀