Thursday, 18 November 2010

Your tourism mission… should you choose to accept it…

(To save myself a bit of typing from now on, I’m going to use the international sign IDR for rupiah – InDonesian Rupiah. Thank you for your understanding)

Mountain. Distance. Mists.
First stop – we had to see ‘the volcano’. Little was I to know that two weeks later, volcanoes would become a very big thing in Indonesia. At this time it was just something to see. We drove for 1½ hours. In the last 15 minutes the clouds descended and the mists rolled in reducing visibility to naff all. Perfect.

We parked at a good viewing spot, perhaps 5 miles from the volcano, and dutifully took pictures. I wasn’t over-impressed. See one mountain, you’ve seen them all, and I want my volcanoes to be like they were in my World of Wonder Annual, 1971, spewing molten lava and coated in dense clouds of smoke (rather too prescient, sadly). This was a big hill with a few clouds.
Statue with skirt. That's a
lot of material...

More fascinating to me were the silly details. Why did every statue have a skirt on? Why did most cars and motorbikes have raffia fascinators bedecking their radiators and wing mirrors?

It turns out that Bali is the island of the gods – Pulau Dewata. Everything has a ceremony and every day has something new to celebrate. The predominant religion is Hinduism, and today we were being treated by a day to pray for modes of transport. Our taxi driver was having his wife’s family over later so they could decorate all their cars together, and pray for them.

Someone's been practising their raffia work

I don’t mean to be sacrilegious or to mock others’ beliefs, but I was momentarily reminded of that episode in ‘Father Ted’ where Ted explains to Dougal that God probably doesn’t have a Saint whose job it is to look over Pop-Tarts, that would be silly. That job was probably handed out to an angel or such like, whose role would include all types of breakfast cereal.

We were about to drive off again when we were stopped by a man with a whistle and a stick. We’d parked in his parking area, and he’d specifically whistled to make sure people stopped while we were parking and he was about to whistle to let us pull out. Kind man. He wanted his fee, which was IDR1,000 – about 8p. I wasn’t going to argue.

Our lovely restaurant. Bill not shown

We also stopped for lunch in a restaurant with a view of the clouds that masked the mountain. The food on offer was fly-ridden buffet, that had presumably been sitting there for as long as was needed to draw in the phototourists and the Canon fodder. It was the most expensive meal that I’d had since arriving in Indonesia. A tourist trap, at last. I’d got what I wanted.
Restaurant toilet. Hygiene certificate not shown

We left the restaurant and looked for our driver. It was raining heavily, there were dozens of identical cars, and my companion and I looked at each other. Neither of us knew the registration number of the car or had taken the trouble to find out the taxi driver’s name. Nor what make of car it was. We gazed at the line of cars, receding into the mists, like a Ford Dagenham car park…

Could things get any better? At least I wasn’t in Karawaci. I was happy.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Bali... 36 hours and counting...

What was Bali like? Hard to tell. It was something of a staging post between two airport visits, in many ways.

Having spent weeks in the grimness of Stalag Karawaci, anywhere would have been a breath of fresh air, so perhaps Bali was wasted from that point of view. Southend would have been a delight, frankly.

In my time in Indonesia, I’ve now been on four Garuda Airline flights (the national airline) and not one of them has left anywhere near on time. We finally arrived at our hotel at 2am, hardly feeling at our best, and were immediately garlanded with flowers and offered fruit punch. Yippee.
Do I look like I
need a garland?

The hotel was indeed amazing. I was told that my room had been upgraded into one overlooking the sea. If you looked carefully enough you could, indeed, just see the sea through the trees, but that was an estate agent speaking there. I wasn’t going to complain, though.
The view from the sea. Spot
the 'sea view' hotel

The change from Karawaci was absolute. There was space, clean air, things to see and do and yes, an industry that had grown up around tourism.

There was an urgency in the air. Basically there was one free day. How to fill it with THINGS? Bali was full of STUFF. It had EXOTICA. What if I came back from Bali and hadn’t ticked off a single THING on the MUST-SEE checklist? I’d never be able to live down the shame.

The hotel had a tourism officer. What did we want to do? We explained about THINGS and STUFF and EXOTICA and the MUST-SEE checklist and he nodded sagely. He could satisfy all our whims and he would book us in for the 8.30am trip tomorrow. No, no! we cried. This was URGENT – there was only today.

A tremor of concern crossed his brow, made a right turn at his integrity lobe and reverse parked in the section of his cerebellum marked ‘profit’. No problem, of course it was no problem. His friend would be at the hotel in 10 minutes to pick us up. For two of us it would cost 850,000 rupiah – about £70. For that we would get our English-speaking taxi driver guide all day and he would take us to… at which point I glazed over. I’d see it when I get there. I allowed the ‘keen and grateful’ look, honed in years of marriage, to engrave itself on my face.

The game was up. Let slip the dogs of tourism…