Some of the best memories we have from the many places we have travelled come from Indonesia. I would go as far to say that Java would firmly cement itself in my top 5 countries and I was excited to return and to do some things differently, as well as do different things. But I was fully aware that additionally, some of our worst memories also come from Indonesia. A lot like India in its mentality, it is the sort of country that you have to tolerate, but if you can manage to tolerate it you will see it for the place it really is, and that, is nothing short of paradise.
From world class beaches, rain forests, a culture unrivalled, some of the best diving and snorkelling in the world, nature to rival anywhere else on earth and smoking volcanoes piercing the sky every where you look; Indonesia is paradise if you want it, and the best thing is that much of it is untouched. You physically have to want to get to many parts of it and it can take days, but we knew full we’ll if we stepped off the beaten path a little we would be rewarded with dream like visions and pinch me moments. This was to be our red letter day, the penultimate country on our 2013 trip and where most people would start winding down and relax on a beach in Bali, we are still at full pelt, absorbing and feeling everything around us. This trip has been a whiz and Hong Kong seems ages ago, Egypt feels so distant it feels like it was years ago. But now, as we trundle across Eastern Java on a train I have the most amazing people with me, people who are still amazed daily, still appreciative and yet still keen for more.
Out of the dusty window we look at a range of volcanoes, though two lie dormant just waiting for a geological calling of seismic proportions, one bellows smoke high into the sky. But what makes it even more surreal is that between the rural railway line and those behemoth secrets of millennia past, lie fields of coffee plants, chilli plants, mango plantations and local Indonesians just milling about in fields teeming with crops.
We are now of course in the Southern Hemisphere having crossed the equator on a bumpy flight out of Kuala Lumpur. But the day hadn’t started there…
Leaving Kota Kinabalu was typical of what we had come to expect, we were completely rooted on the taxi fare with requests starting at 105MYR which is a ridiculous £20 for the 15km journey, it should has cost about a quarter of that. Eventually when I fluttered my eyelids and then promised to never do it again we paid 60 MYR, still a screwing, but less so.
The alarm pinged us out of bed at 3.45am and by 4am (and in complete darkness) we were speeding to the airport and to catch our Malaysian Airlines flight headed to Kuala Lumpur. The flight departed at 6.05am and, as luck would have it, was bouncing around the sky in no time at all. Naturally, the coffee I was hoping for to kick start my day (and a tea for the kids) was not allowed, as the flight was so turbulent hot drinks were banned. Personally, I am surprised that the crew were allowed to walk around as long as they were before, as expected, the captain put the plane on complete lockdown with everyone strapped in. The flight took around 2 and a half hours and was bumpy for about two hours of it, I stropped because I couldn’t have a much needed coffee and the kids sat loving it like they were on a roller coaster. I remember hearing somewhere that there are three stages of turbulence: light, this is where if you out a cup of water on the table there will be ripples in the water. Then there is medium, which is the point at which the cup would actually fall off the table, and finally severe, this is where the luggage lockers come open and the plane risks damage to the airframe. Our flight was medium, and I think many people may have been a little worried. But us, having walked off a flight out of Tokyo a few years ago (which suffered severe turbulence) we are less bothered. I say less bothered, the kids couldn’t care less!
Kuala Lumpur airport is not as big as you might think, considering its a major airport. There are two terminals, which for all intents and purposes seemingly operate completely independent of each other and are about 20 minutes apart by bus. The terminal you are likely to fly into on an international, premium airline such as BA or Malaysian is KLIA, if you are flying on a budget airline such as Air Asia you will fly into LCCT, I think plans are in place to join the two terminals, but for now, and for us, if you fly into KLIA you must take a bus to LCCT from the station located on floor two and then at the end of the terminal. The price is supposedly 1.50, but it was 2.50 with kids half price (50p and 25p) and took the allotted 25 mins.
LCCT is chaos, we have flown out of and into it many times and at all hours and it is completely jammed every time. But, despite how it looks, it is very well managed and slick and quite seamless.
Our second flight of the day was at 2pm and so we relaxed and made the most of free wifi before boarding and taking off headed to Surabaya in East Java on time.
As you would expect flying over the equator it was quite a bumpy flight (as most are this time of year) but once we were firmly in the Southern Hemisphere the skies opened up to a pristine deep blue, and from 34,0000ft we gawped at how beautiful Java was from the air, dotted with volcanoes and a white beach strung around the coast it was gorgeous. Jack missed it, as the day had caught up with him and knocked him clean out for the duration of the 2 and half hour flight. Waking him up when we landed he wasn’t even aware we had taken off.
Now, you have to understand that Java is a huge country, home to some 134 million inhabitants it is the most developed part of Indonesia. But Java is a small part of a huge picture. The Indonesian archipelago is the longest in the world stretching right across the equator for over 2700 miles and at its farthest Eastern point will tip you off just north of Australia. Or, if you fancy it, the island of Timor.
Java is speckled with volcanoes right across the island and forms part of a collective of temperamentally hot cones called the pacific ‘ring of fire’, with Indonesia having 129 active volcanoes it has more than any other country in the world with the most recent eruption of an Indonesian volcano (as of 22/8/2013) being a little over a week ago on 12/8/2013.
The reason for this is that Indonesia sits above the Eurasian plate which is where the Indian Ocean and the Western pacific plates meet. At this meeting point the plates melt about 60 miles beneath the surface. Without entering into a geology lesson, we all know what happens next.
Sadly the results of nature kicking off cause real and serious tragedy, as pointed out by LP Indonesia ‘with tectonic activity comes devastating earthquakes and tsunamis, such as those of Boxing Day 2004, off Java in 2006 and Sumatra in 2009’. For a volcano you may have heard of and an eruption which literally changed history, read up on Krakatau (Krakatoa) which is Indonesia’s, and perhaps the worlds most famous volcano.
But moving on, with a comprehensive railway system and excellent roads that transverse the island you can get around quite easily and somewhat cheaply. But, we have already taken the train from West to East and were none too keen to repeat the somewhat exhausting experience. Literally, the entire decision to come to Indonesia again was based on whether or not we would have to cross Java by train.
Once we landed in Surabaya, which is Indonesia’s second largest airport we headed outside to find not even a dot of information. At this point I had completely forgotten I had packed a guide book and so we looked to head on a bus to Probolinggo (where our hotel was booked) a couple of hours drive in good traffic.
In the end we took the easy way out and took a taxi all the way to our hotel, where we ordered local food and were all fast asleep by 9pm. I quipped to the kids, that we had woken up in summer but were going to bed in winter since we had switched hemispheres, they were impressed for a whole minute as they managed to find terminator 2 on the tv.
The following morning I awake at 4am to the call to prayer and couldn’t to really get to sleep after that, but the kids slept soundly. As I planned the next 48 hours I was so excited for them, for us and for what we have planned. The single reason for coming back to Java, what should be a real highlight of the entire trip, and something which might just be one of the best and most amazing things we have ever done. Yes it would be hard, yes it would be an exhaustive 48 hours, but it had all the hallmarks of epic proportionality. The one thing you talk about when you get home, and the thing you know you’ll remember for the rest of your lives. And so when we left our hotel that morning and jumped into a taxi to the train station we were all more than a little excited…
…But then, things don’t always go to plan and so now I sit and write this from a rice paddy in Bali, surrounded by Balinese beauty consisting of a volcanic mammoth that dominates the island, and a blinding greenness interrupted only by the occasional temple. We find ourselves back in Bali, but amongst culture and nature, neath a clear sky of a million stars, with the casual scent of incense wafting past with a frequent regularity. We are on without doubt, and without question one of the most beautiful and diverse islands in the world. A place that last time we had hated and left. We have given Bali a second chance, or perhaps we have given ourselves a second opportunity. But we find ourselves back in paradise, somewhat sooner than anticipated and our amazing 48 hours is now rescheduled.
For now though, we have plans on this island and though there were complaints last time that we hadn’t given Bali a chance, this time we delve right beneath the surface and though we can’t do everything, the next week is jammed from 7am through 9pm and so when we do leave, we will know we have done everything we possibly could have. And so when we boarded the evening ferry from Ketapang, Java I had big expectations, not just of Bali, but of ourselves.
The trip may be drawing to a close, but in Bali we were just getting started.