Kelimutu Lakes look as if God accidentally dropped bright-colour paint in a crater of a volcano. There are three of them in one crater, each of a different colour, and the colours are constantly changing. When I saw them, two had almost the same tone of turquoise (one slightly brighter than the other), and the third one was very dark green. They used to be different, and had colours including: blue, black, brown and reddish. The process of colour changing is due to a chemical reaction and weather and is happening fast. According to Wikipedia (yes, I have just used Wikipedia as a reference), the colours changed six times between January and November 2016.
I made two attempts to reach Kelimutu crater. My goal was to get there from Bali on a motorbike. I wanted to do that trip overland and by ferries between the islands. I eventually achieved that, but there were some moments when I was thinking that I had set an impossible goal. I failed at the first attempt when I was already in Sumbawa island (one more ferry cruise and I would be in Flores – the island where Kelimutu is located). It was in Lakey Beach when I got to know that Bima, the city in Sumbawa, is flooded due to heavy rainfalls, and there is no other way to reach Sape, the place where the ferry to Flores starts from. So from Lakey I had to turn back to Bali.
The second time I tried, and it was eventually a successful attempt, was also during the rainy season, which does not last that long in Lesser Sunda Islands. But the journey me and my friends embarked on had a bad timing – it coincided with the heaviest and most frequent rains. We were travelling on motorbikes with backpacks and tents, the journey lasted four weeks instead of the planned two or three, so the most often repeated words during that trip were: “girls, we are not normal”.
We did not take a single homestay during that time. Among the weirdest places that I slept in were: a hospital, a church, a tent in a local house (tent as a protection from mosquitoes or cockroaches, once even from snakes). I still cannot believe that we spent one month of our lives in that way.
During the second attempt a few things occured which made me doubt again whether I was ever going to be able to reach Kelimutu. Among them were:
Ewa got a fish bone stuck in her throat, but luckily the hospital staff in Dompu did a great job and removed the unwanted object.
Once we got to Sape we were told that the ferry from Sumbawa to Flores was not operating until nobody-knows-when, and “maybe tomorrow” turned out to be five days.
When we eventually got to Ende regency in Flores, we saw streams of water and rocks on the road, fallen trees, and tourists turning back from Kelimutu, saying that the crater had been closed due to terrible weather conditions.
So we waited. We were waiting for another four days in Moni village, at the foot of the volcano, with no electricity, since the falling trees damaged the cables transmitting electricity to the village. We ate sweet potato and pumpkin soup in Mopi’s Place, in the evening we sat together with the brothers that ran the business and we played instruments (unplugged) and sang, barely being able to read the lyrics with the candle light.
It seems that we appreciated the stunning beauty of Kelimutu even more, also because we had to wait so long for the nature to reveal that beauty.
In the first hours that Kelimutu National Park was open for visitors again, we rode our bikes up the road to the crater. It was foggy. The clouds on the top were dense, coming in and away. Finally, after maybe half an hour of waiting on the top, all three lakes were visible: the two turquoise lakes adjacent to each other; and the third, a dark green one, looking very enigmatic. Me and Dijana were completely alone there. It was almost a spiritual experience.
The lakes are believed to be a spiritual place though. According to the local beliefs, souls of the dead rest in Kelimutu lakes. One lake is for those who die young, one is the lake for old people, and one is where evil spirits go. For my friends from Poland – if you want to know more, you can listen to a short broadcast about Kelimutu by Tomasz Gorazdowski.
“Do you want to join a ceremony in my village tomorrow?” – we were asked by a lady in Bajawa, Flores island, who was hosting us for couple nights.
We had reached Bajawa completely exhausted, after over a 1000-km motorbike ride from Bali, on our way to Kelimutu volcano. The beginning of our stay in the town I associate with feeling terribly cold. Bajawa is a cold place due to its height – the town is elevated over 1200 m above the sea level. And since we embarked on that trip during Indonesian rainy season, the journey involved riding in huge rain (in fact some parts in the mountains were like riding through a huge cloud, with very little visibility and raindrops all around). I was falling ill.
What is more, we had been already behind our initial schedule by several days. In the rainy season ferries rarely operate as per timetable, so in the meantime we got stuck in Sape (Sumbawa island) waiting for the ferry to Labuan Bajo (Flores island) for five long days.
But the lady who invited us to the ceremony was so nice, and we were not in the mood for hitting the road again the following day, so we accepted her invitation. “They will be dancing there” – this is as much as she told us, which equals to how much I knew about the annual Reba ceremony, the most important time of the year in Ngada regency in Flores, which I was about to join.
And they were dancing indeed, but the dance and all other rituals that we saw in Warusoba village were astonishing.
The people living in the village formed a circle and began beating the ground with their bare feet to the rhythm of the song they sang along. One of the eldest men was clearly the leader, and often would take the position in the centre of the circle. At some point, a few kids joined the dance – they were visibly less confident with their moves, and didn’t have red teeth from betel leaves, a very common herbal stimulant – not just yet. The dance lasted all day and all night. Later the people explained us, that this dance is called Tandak and is conducted to gratitude the ancestors. Feet pounding has yet one more meaning – it expresses connection with the earth and prayers for good harvest.
Members of the community were taking turns, so they were not exhausted and could happily celebrate other elements of that special time which is the New Year, held every year in January or February in Ngada regency. The other elements include sacrifices of pigs or bulls at the porch of the most important house in the village – this part we were late for, it took place the previous day. We only saw the evidence of that – fresh blood on the porch from the day before, and pigs’ jaws or bulls’ horns from previous years.
Also, during that special time, each clan would gather at the inner part of the house – where there is a hearth in the heart of the house. They would discuss matters important for the family in the upcoming year, including maintenance works needed or planned weddings. But this element – for obvious reasons, we did not participate in.
What we were invited for, and we couldn’t skip it even if we wanted – was a great feast. It would be impolite to reject an invitation to any of the houses, so we eventually visited eight of them, and ate in each of those houses (well, in the last one the hosts had a little mercy and served only coffee). In the first houses mainly meet was served, so me and Dijana, who are vegetarians, ate mostly rice (with chilli). But we were treated there so nicely, that starting from 4th or 5th house we received a wide selection of vegetarian food: a lot of vegetables, eggs, tofu and tempe.
The rites held to express gratitude to ancestors and ensure abundant harvest come from the times long before Portugal claimed Flores their land. Together with colonisation, a new religion came – Roman Catholicism. But the new doctrine did not eradicate the old traditions – it grew around them and gave them a new, refreshed face. These days in Warusoba village and probably in all other villages in Ngada regency, in every house there are icons of Jesus and Mother Mary. One of the men dancing in the circle was wearing a T-shirt with an image of Jesus in the crown of thorns. To me, a person who grew up in a traditional Catholic family in Poland, the elements of animistic beliefs next to the image of Jesus Christ, was a bizarre juxtaposition. Indonesia doesn’t fail to surprise me.
What we could learn from people from around Bajawa is how the celebration is “passed” from one village to another, so if one person belongs to a few communities, he or she doesn’t need to choose where to go. Here it’s not the fixed date which is important, what matters is being together without the need to rush to another place. The life is happening now, and here, in the little Warusoba village.
While travelling in Indonesia, I have been hosted by local families a few times by now. I have rarely done it intentionally; it is always they who invite me, even insisting that I stay with them. Several times in Sumbawa I rejected those offers because I was so tired after a full-day ride that I couldn’t force myself to do any type of conversation, especially that the type I normally have with locals. In these cases I preferred to build my tent on a beach, which gave me an amazing gratification in the morning – a beautiful view from my ‘window’.
Apart from small talk about Lewandowski (I describe this in a previous post), most conversations start with a philosophical question that is an Indonesian equivalent of quo vadis? (in Indonesian: mau ke mana?). I get this question from everyone, everywhere. And I am tempted to reply: to the happy life, do you know where that is? But eventually I say: ke Flores, ke Jogja, ke Bali, depending on where I am heading for at that moment. When I travel alone, the next question I always get is: sendiri? This is how I learned a new word in Indonesian, which means ‘alone’.
During my stay in the house of a local family in Lombok, I was surrounded by a bunch of little girls asking me: Mau ke mana mister? Dari mana? Siapa nama? And then, among all this bahasa small talk, I heard a shy question in English: ‘Mister, what is your hobi?’, and the girl who said that covered her mouth intimidated and giggling. I answered all those questions before I closed the door to the room which I was offered that night, and after a short while I heard how the little girls were digesting the acquired information: Emilia, dari Polandia, jalan ke Flores, sendiri. Hobi jalan jalan…
That time in Lombok, it was already after dusk and I was looking for a place to sleep. So I stopped in a random village and asked one lady with my broken Indonesian where I could build my tent. Instantly, a group of at least ten people surrounded me, discussing something very vividly. The oldest lady was pulling the hem of my shorts – I realised they were far too short for a traditional Muslim village like this. Then one guy advised that I put on the sarong which I carry on the seat of my bike for better comfort when riding. It may sound funny, but only after I put on that sarong did I feel equal to them, treated like a full-right person. Then someone parked my scooter in a garage and one girl grabbed my arm and walked me to their house.
Another time I was unintentionally hosted by a local family was the result of a peculiar misunderstanding. It was in East Java, where me and my two friends were trying to find the way to the Sendang Biru beach. Google maps were confusing, showing routes that are impassable during the rainy season. So we had been straying for a couple hours when a guy on a motorbike stopped and asked his Indonesian quo vadis? But apart from this small talk we were not able to understand more, so we trusted what he was trying to explain with gestures. And because he showed us a sign of the cross with his fingers, we thought he was intending to lead us to the crossroad where we would find the way to the Sendang Biru beach. We were a little bit surprised when it turned out that he had been leading us to his house. But we entered, had a seat, and he pointed to a cross on the wall. All he had been telling us with his hands was: ‘I am a Christian’.
As you can see, being offered a shelter by Indonesians often came to me as a surprise, but what happened next was also largely unpredictable. For instance, while being hosted in a small village in Lombok, I was first given sweet tea and cake and in a second I got surrounded with a lot of people smiling at me and repeating cantik, which means beautiful. They explained that they like my long nose, which can be described with many epithets, but honestly, none of them has a meaning close to beautiful. Indonesians are also impressed with the hair on my forearms (they don’t have that hair!) which indicates that for me this is the best country to come to get rid of complexes about my body.
So I am in this tiny room full of people, then someone opens the door and I see a crowd standing outside, and it makes me realise that this in not a single family that is hosting me but a whole village, which has come to see me. I turn around and look through a window behind me – and I see what looks like literally all children from the village gazing at me through the glass. I felt like a pope holding an audience.
To enhance communication, they asked the only guy from the village who spoke English to come and talk to me. And he explained to me that everybody was so excited because I was the first white person to stay in this village. Also, he said, that according to their culture, it would be unacceptable to let me sleep in a tent, and that’s why I was immediately directed to one of the houses.
I was told that it was a special moment in life for the family I stayed with, because they were still observing the period of mourning for the father of the lady who was hosting me, and that’s why there were more people around than normal. I also noticed that one of the youngest boys was having an important time in his life, because he had been just circumcised – he was walking without underwear or diaper, with his little wound still healing.
Another surprise comes from the fact that Indonesians will insist to give you shelter even if they have neither the space nor conditions to host you. It was such a poor family that we stayed with that night when we were attempting to find the Sendang Biru beach. The house did not have a real kitchen – just a hearth in a chamber which was also used as a garage. When we asked about a toilet, our host took us to the neighbours’ house, where he walked us through the room where the whole family was gathered, without explaining anything to them or asking for permission. There was a toilet, but for a bathroom we had to go to other neighbours.
In the house itself there was hardly space for three extra people to sleep. The host showed us the bed on which we would sleep. It was the only bed in the house, but right then, our host’s wife was lying there in her pyjamas, clearly ready to sleep. We noticed she must have had a stroke because half her body was paralysed. It didn’t restrain our host from helping her stand out of the bed and walking her to another room to make space for three girls from Poland. Indonesian hospitality has no limits. We felt so awkward. I was close to tears, but didn’t know how to get out of that house in a polite way. We were trying to explain to the guy that we have a tent and we want to sleep there, but he was insistent. Finally we just started building the tent in the neighbours’ little garden without further discussion with our host.
Besides the surprises that being hosted by local families brings, there are other things that you can expect with a high probability (almost a certainty). Which is a little bit comforting in a world where people tend to say that the only things that we can be 100% sure of are death and taxes. Luckily, in Indonesia death seems to be perceived as a transition rather than a definite end of life. And regarding taxes, I doubt that the guy who is selling me a coconut that he has picked himself from the palm tree will pay any money to the government. But when bule are staying with an Indonesian family there are two things that they can be sure of: being constantly observed and being asked to pose for pictures together.
I find it funny and sweet now, but when it’s happening it’s bittersweet for a person used to the luxury of privacy, that once I open my eyes, I already see many people around me, watching how I get out of my sleeping bag, still in my pyjamas, trying to find my toothbrush and the way to the bathroom. Sometimes the hosts even tell us what to do if we look a bit lost. In the Warungdowo village, East Java, the group of people surrounding us in the morning were very direct: Ewa, mandi! – which means roughly: ‘Ewa, to the bathroom!’. But they were so cute doing that. From the facial expressions of the kids I could tell that they were as happy as if they were hosting Santa Clause (if they had heard about him).
I often truly feel like Santa in Indonesia, because many parents like to put their babies on my lap, or let me hold them in my arms for a picture. I wonder why they have always chosen me even when I have been travelling with Gosia and Ewa – Polish girls who look just as exotic as me. But now I think they may see the age difference between me and the girls, and they suspect that I might be lying a little when I confidently say: ‘I am twenty five’.
Posing for pictures together with locals can happen anywhere in Indonesia, but when I am in somebody’s house a photo session takes longer, because staying in somebody’s house means you are surrounded by over 20 people and they will expect pictures in various configurations. In many cases those photos end up being Facebook profile pictures. Some of them may also be aimed to hang in an important place in house. Of this I am not sure, but we met one guy who was a retired official and before taking a photo with us he put on his badges that he had kept in his pocket.
On top of observing guests closely and taking pictures, there is one more thing, a particular characteristic that all people who have hosted me so far have in common. I have never seen as much empathy as I saw in those people’s faces and behaviour . They laughed when we laughed, even though our jokes were in Polish. They looked into my eyes in a way as if they were trying to read from them what I may need but am not able to express with words. And they really made good guesses a few times. When we took out a bunch of bananas from the backpack, in a second we were given a plate on which to place the bananas. Another time, when Ewa went to the bathroom to wash her flip-flops, a lady waited outside the bathroom with a plastic bag which Ewa could use for the wet flip-flops.
Empathy might be losing its importance in Western countries, where people tend to be more individualistic. But in Southeast Asia, where individuals have tight bonds with the community that they belong to, a good understanding of other people’s thoughts and needs is still crucial. And I could see it in the kids’ faces how they were observing adolescents telling their stories – the little ones were trying to grasp every detail of what the older ones were trying to convey; they were even imitating the mimicry while listening. Those skills are impossible to learn through tablets, I am afraid.
I stayed not only with families in Indonesia. So far, I have slept in a Catholic church in Labuan Bajo, Flores; in a Buddhist temple in East Java; in a Post Office and a Police station in Kalimantan, Borneo (about the latter you can read in the local newspaper – Banjarmasin Post).
Saraswati Day is dedicated to the Goddess of Knowledge. We had a chance to participate in the ceremony, as well as in the preparation of the temple, which takes place one day before the actual festival.
Like the Balinese, we wore traditional clothes used for all ceremonies. We had sarongs, girls wore kebaya (a top made of lace), and boys put on udeng (a head cloth). Why do only men have to wear a hat? Because it reminds them that they need to control their mind, and it’s men whose thoughts go wilder than women’s.
Everyone wants to look their best, wear the most beautiful clothes, and girls put on their make-up. We have been told that meeting God is comparable to meeting your real love: you want to look astonishing and you are ready to spend any amount of money to make this meeting worthwhile. If not, then it’s not the true love.
The ceremony started with bringing offerings: Balinese canang sari made of flowers, banana leaves, rice, and cookies. Balinese gamelan, the orchestra which consists of mostly percussive instruments, accompanied he ceremony. I was melting from the heat, but once the dance performance began, I was speechless and forgot about any discomfort.
In the Balinese war dance, called Baris Gede, men carry various weapons. In the one we watched they had spears and wooden knives. But for me, female dancers were absolutely stunning. Even in full make-up, tight costumes, and complicated flower constructions on their heads, they were able to move with the finest precision. The dance, called Rejang Dewa, involves the whole body, together with fingertips and eyeballs that move to the rhythm of gamelan.
After the dance performance, we sat together and prayed with the locals, and at the culmination of the ceremony we had a pinch of rice applied on the middle of our foreheads between the eyebrows – one of the chakras in our bodies. The rice did not last long on mine, but I hope the blessing is still working.
Bromo in East Java is my first volcano. I would like to say that it’s the first one I have hiked – but not really. Reaching the crater does not require hiking at all. To the Tengger Caldera, a 5-hectare desert full of volcanic sand, and to the viewpoint that is situated at 2,770 m above sea level, one can get by motorbike, or by car. Then 250 concrete steps ascend to the top of the crater (2,329 m).
Although reaching the volcano does not require much effort, it’s not that easy to find it at night – we got lost twice on the way. First, we didn’t notice a turn that we were supposed to take just after we entered the territory of the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, and almost reached the highest summit of Java – Semeru. Prior to our trip I had read in the Lonely Planet guidebook that some people lose their way to Bromo and try to hike Semeru instead. “Stupid tourists,” I had been thinking at that time.
The next time we got lost was while riding through the caldera at night, trying to get to the village adjacent to the caldera called Cemoro Lawang. Google Map shows a road that looks very straightforward, but in fact at some point the road was over, and in front of us there was the Sea of Sand. We were following the tail lights of other motorbikes, but it turned out that the actual road was quite far from us, and in between there was a trench impossible to cross on motorbike. But luckily we were not alone there – as everywhere else in touristy places in Indonesia, there was a crowd of people – so together with them we got back on the right track.
A crucial part of Bromo experience is seeing it from the viewpoint at the sunrise. Pictures taken from that point, which I had found on the Internet or on postcards, left me speechless. So we were very determined to get there at night.
Before the trip, finding information on how we can reach the viewpoint was impossible. Travel blogs in English were giving tips about renting jeeps, about horses in the caldera, and about reaching the summit of the volcano (which involved just the stairs). We got to the nearest village, built a tent there, and started asking people. None of them could give us clear information. I expected a local guy who worked in a hotel to have basic knowledge about this place, given he worked in the tourism industry in an area where everyone’s livelihood was connected to the volcano. And according to this guy, the viewpoint was not possible to reach by bike, because the road was very steep and slippery, with a lot of sand coming down.
I still don’t know what is the problem with the information about that place, because in the end we got to the viewpoint without difficulty. Not only is the whole road made of asphalt, in very good condition and easily accessible, but also there are lots of tourist facilities – warungs, toilets, parking lots, and even a mosque.
What we did was wake up at 2 am and follow the Indonesian tourists. A crowd of people on motorbikes was heading for the viewpoint for sunrise. Since it was New Year’s, obviously we were not the only ones who wanted to spend the first morning of 2017 looking at the active cone of Bromo. The ride started with crossing the sandy caldera, which felt like riding through a desert; at night it was thrilling and gave me goosebumps. Then there was just asphalt for a few kilometres to the top of Mount Penanjakan – to the top, which was supposed to be the most rewarding view, worth a mostly sleepless night and a long ride in the dark. But in our case the view was not so impressive because the place was floating in a dense fog. Nothing we could see but other people’s backs – hundreds of Indonesians were waiting for the sunrise with us, no luck that morning.
We rode back to the caldera to climb the crater and for me that was the hardest point of the whole expedition. We had to face this touristy clamour. Horse rides across the caldera offered for a couple of dollars, snacks and drinks all around, and, of course, groups of people hunting for bule to take a picture together. It all looked like a big tacky picnic.
But we survived, reached the top, looked down and saw the huge hole from where a massive amount of smoke was coming out. And when I smelled the sulphur – it was as if hell had its ‘open-door day’ and everyone was invited to see and check if they would like to spend the life after death there. The Earth is alive, and I saw evidence to that. And what I saw was frighteningly powerful and beautiful.
To get out of the Tengger Caldera was much more difficult than getting into it. We were stuck in a few horrible traffic jams for a few long hours. At one moment I asked people in front of me if they knew what had happened, because I was curious whether there had been a car accident, or a tree blocking the road. The answer I got was: macet. I asked: Macet apa? They replied: Tidak bisa jalan. The conversation was short, but insightful. Macet means ‘a traffic jam’. I asked what is a traffic jam and what I heard was: ‘you cannot go’. Thanks guys for telling me this, I wouldn’t have noticed myself. Indonesians do not investigate. Macet is macet, and only patience can save us.
If I were to choose an island to do my scholarship again, my choice would still be Bali. However, Java would be just behind Bali. With its population of nearly 57% of the country, Java is a dominant island of Indonesia in many aspects: economically, politically and culturally. Jakarta, the capital city, is located on western Java. Javanese was considered to be the official language of Indonesia, but luckily for other ethnic groups in the country, eventually the standardized register of Malay – Bahasa Indonesia – was declared as the national language.
What strikes me first every time I get off a ferry that goes from Bali to other islands, is that I don’t see Hindu offerings anymore, I don’t smell the incense sticks. Instead, I hear muezzin calls five times a day. Bali is a little Hindu oasis surrounded with prevailingly Muslim islands, and Java is one of them.
Below some impressions from my bike trip to Java. Soon, some stories from the trip will follow.
Now, when it’s been over four months since I came to Bali, it’s high time to talk not only about how wonderful this place is, but also about what bothers me here.
First I was tempted to write down a list of what I miss here, with cheese being high on my list. There is only one thing that I miss more than cheese, and it’s butter. But since every time I recall butter I cry a little, I decided to dedicate this post to a subject about which I get less emotional and through which you could learn something about this exotic country. The subject is: the road code in Indonesia.
In the beginning, I thought about rephrasing the topic to ‘traffic anarchy’, since if I were to write about the rules, the post would be very short. It would only say: keep to the left side of the road, there are no more requirements than this. I very quickly realised that in fact even to this fundamental rule many exceptions apply, so that being on the road you get a sense of a rule which sounds more or less like this: ‘try to keep to the left side of the road, but if you really really want to, you can also drive on the right side’.
Eventually I decided at least to attempt a concise summary of what traffic here looks like, because having been a participant in this huge party called Indonesian traffic for a few months now, I can say that Indonesians are a little predictable in their unpredictability on the road. And please excuse few pictures attached to this post; the reason is that I am not multitasking. Riding the bike and listening to my navigation through earphones is the most I can do at a time. Taking pictures while doing that would be just too much.
I will explain what it is like to enter the traffic from a side road. Most probably there will be no space to smoothly join the flow of vehicles, and no one will stop to let you in. Now, it depends on whether you want to turn left or right. If you want to turn left, it’s easy – you just turn without having looked to the right, counting on the driver on the right to see you and to slow down to let you in.
If you want to turn right though, it’s a bit more complicated. You go to the very right of your small road which you are trying to get out of. By doing this, you multiply potential ways of collision, because you don’t let in the vehicles that are coming from your right and wanting to turn left into your minor road. They need to drive around you. But from where you are you are feeling a bit closer to where you want to go, and since you want to go to the right, you’re standing on the right side of the road.
Now, still trying to turn right, if you found a little space in the lane that you need to cross, it means you can go. You don’t look at the other lane yet; focus on one thing at a time. You get a position in between the lanes – actually there is an invisible lane in the middle which makes things a lot easier! Once you crossed the most challenging first lane, you drive in this middle lane until you see in your mirrors that there is space on the left lane and you can go to the far left side of the road. On condition that you have mirrors, because some Indonesians don’t have them. Or they do, but the mirrors face the ground, not the rear. Mirrors are good for hanging a helmet when your bike is parked (applicable only to those who use a helmet), but during the ride there is so much happening in front, that who would dare to check what’s behind?
If you are already on the road, that’s a great success. But stay alert. Now, when you are already a part of this mess you need to be very attentive. Don’t trust turn signals, they always mean something different than they seem. Most probably if one is on, someone has forgotten to turn it off and is not aiming to turn. A real Indonesian won’t use a turn signal when wanting to turn. Or, if there is more than one person on the bike – the one sitting on the back will wave with a hand to signal where they’re aiming to turn. A vast majority drive solo, but the average number of people on a bike I would estimate at 2.7 (and now I could explain you this sharp statistical joke, but I won’t).
Unless the passenger on the back is a little kid, then he or she holds tightly to the person in front and looks like a little frog glued to the back of the one in front. By little kid I mean a child at the maximum age of six. If he or she is older than let’s say six, they are qualified to ride a bike on their own, also carrying younger siblings. This does not apply to tourists. Bule are not qualified to ride bikes according to the police, and if you happen to be involved in an accident (a real accident, not one with a cow in a country road), you will be found guilty.
Intersections and roundabouts – I find them most fun. There is no right-of-way. In one intersection I sometimes give way, at other times I am given way. Maybe there is a logic behind it, which I haven’t discovered yet, but most probably it is that if I look confident enough, I am given way. The lanes just before the intersection, which in Europe drivers would use to take positions corresponding to the direction they’re going, here are just theoretical. Virtually, you can take the very right of the several lanes you can choose from, and turn left from it, just because there had been a space in that lane. The same applies to roundabouts: you take a random lane, and only while already in the roundabout, you try to figure out how to get out safely from this mess.
Also, if waiting on the traffic lights you feel you are standing too far from the lights, and you think your vehicle is slim enough to fit next to another vehicle in the same lane, you can try and overtake everybody else. If you are riding a motorbike and there is no space on the road, use the pavement to overtake everybody, no one walks here anyway. If you are driving a car which turns out not to be as slim as you thought, and now you are occupying two lanes, don’t worry, as I said the lanes exist just theoretically. (At this point I am so tempted to make a political digression about the tape scandal in Poland, when the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs commented on the condition of the Polish state, and then I would make a sharp reference to the Indonesian state, because I think that his comment was more relevant for this country. But I won’t.)
Finally, what bothers me most are horns. I once counted how many I could hear in 60 seconds while sitting in a warung. I counted 10. One freaking sound every 6 seconds. But each has its suitable meaning. A horn is used to signal overtaking. It is meant to be heard when approaching a bend so that a vehicle coming from the opposite direction that does not see you yet will not overtake while on the bend. It is used by taxi drivers to attract tourists’ attention, taking for granted that a walking person for sure is looking for a taxi (who in their right mind would walk?). I wonder how people still react to the sound of a horn? For me this signal is sometimes confusing, like once when I was being overtaken and heard the horn behind me, I wanted to give way and so moved a bit to the left. But the bike behind me was coming from the left side, which I did not expect.
In fact, if you want to drive in Indonesia, there is not much that you have to remember. I would summarize it with the below rules that keep me still alive:
While on the road, trust no one;
Be confident and pretend that you know what you’re doing, just like locals do;
Nusa Penida is a small island just next to Bali. It’s really small – the distance from one coast to another is maximum 30km. But we spent four days there, which was not too long. The roads are in much worse condition than in Bali, driving takes longer than we expected, taking shortcuts does not pay off at all. And the coastline is awe-inspiring; the island offers so many breathtaking views that we couldn’t believe we were still in Indonesia. Below you can see two maps that will give you a better sense of the location of Nusa Penida.
We got to Nusa Penida by a public ferry – it’s cheap, allows you to bring a motorbike with you, and gives you the experience of traveling like Indonesians. On the ferry you will have a chance to laugh together with locals at a stupid comedy that is screened on the on-board TV. The ferry leaves from Padangbai, Bali, only once a day at 1 pm. Sometimes it does not operate – a couple weeks before this trip, once I got to Padangbai, I was told that the ferry had been broken and was docking in Java. But this time I had more luck. Below you can see a few pictures from the route we made.
I would like to tell you about a charming couple, whose path crossed with mine in Bali. Now, when they’re already gone, when recalling them in our talks, me and my flatmates call them “The Polish Couple”. Asia and Adam had stayed with us for a few days, on the way from Australia to other Indonesian islands. They come from Poland, so you may think that they embarked on a long journey. In fact, they have been on a 2-year-long journey, without a pause.
They have hitchhiked all of Europe and Asia, as well as boat-hitchhiked to Australia and New Zealand. You can visit their Facebook page: Na Nowej Drodze Życia or their blog to see which countries they have visited (here is their exact route), and what they have experienced on the way (for me the most informative part was about hitchhiking by boat.
They are a great inspiration for me. I share this with you, because their adventures may also inspire some of you to follow your dreams. I am not saying that it must be stopping what you are doing now and travelling the world. It could be anything that you have always wanted to start, or quit, but you couldn’t. Asia and Adam prove that people can.
The little change that they have made to me took place in their tent, in Penimbangan beach. We talked about travelling and love, two passions of great importance for us. This post is dedicated to the couple, so I will not share the details of how they changed my thinking. But I want to take this chance and thank you, Asia and Adam, for giving me something more than a shelter that night.
I was fond of the stories they told us when we were on a trip around Bali. The top one would be how Adam became possibly the most famous hitchhiker in Poland. Before they married, he had been hitchhiking a lot to Olsztyn, where Asia was studying, from Wrocław, where he was studying. One day Adam’s cousin (or brother? – not sure now) was hitchhiking too, stopped a car, and the driver told him a romantic story of a guy that had stopped his car some time ago. This guy was so much in love that he was travelling regularly to his girl from Wrocław to Olsztyn. So now, Adam must be a legend among truck drivers in Poland.
In this post I am sharing some pictures from our trip to the north of Bali, which was dominated by Polish people: Asia, Adam, Ewa, Wojtek and me. Dijana (from Slovenia) is almost Polish now, having shared the house with me and Ewa for a few weeks. And Firman (from Indonesia) speaks fluent Polish. At least he can say, ‘Jesteś piękna i sympatyczna’ — he is currently just getting rid of the accent.
Asia and Adam proved to be professionals in clearing and dressing wounds after another accident I had, this time in Nusa Penida island, no cow involved. You can also find the pictures from that trip in this gallery.