Tag Archives: travelling

Java Part 1: cities

Two weeks after the wedding, we found ourselves in an Indonesian small city called Jogja (by the locals). Our host said she would rather categorise this place a village, but I beg to differ. Jogja has an international airport nearby, some traffic jam and a decent size train station full of taxi scammers.

We arrived yesterday after seven hours and a half on the train, an early rise and a second-degree trauma – me losing a bank card. As soon as we walked out of the platform area, an apparently official taxi booth offered to get us a taxi for 80,000IRP. We could have taken it if our host hadn’t given us an estimate of around 40,000IRP. We found another taxi driver ourselves outside the station and ended up paying 24,000IRP even though the driver did take us the longer, round-the-block way at one point. We missed Uber!

Jogja is surely at least a town. Maybe my host was thinking of Jakarta and Bandung in comparison. They are indeed mega cities with traffic going on for miles. We happened to be in Bandung last weekend, among the visitors who wanted to splash out shopping at factory outlets or enjoying some dramatic views of nearby volcanoes and crater lakes. We did neither despite sitting on a taxi for 3 hours to go to the Tangkuban Perahu. That three-hour taxi journey covered about 30 km from Bandung centre to its northern mountainous area.

From Jakarta, where we landed the first night, through Bandung to Jogja, we have spent a lot of time in slow trains and slow moving cars. Before seeing Java, Hanoi and Bangkok were at the top of my list for busy roads. How little did I know!

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We’ve learned a lot about patience and anticipation in Java. Would we make it to the volcano site before it rains in this traffic and under those hanging clouds? What would we do then? Would we make our train despite setting off more than one hour in advance for a distance of 4 km? If we don’t make it to the station, how would another day in this craze city be like? Should we make a desperate attempt to walk there and there?

We did walk several times. Pavement is rare and litter is common. Javanese cities have little to none street lights, which makes an evening stroll much less pretty and reassuring. Some scenes are like a stab to the heart. In Jakarta, I’ve seen extremely dirty side streets with open holes next to food stalls. In Lembang, I’ve seen a stream running through forest land covered in used plastic bags and giving out pungent smell. I couldn’t bring myself to come near and look closely at the colour of the water.

Jogja does not have bad traffic and a serious pollution problem like Jakarta or Bandung. We managed to walk the old town without being hit by cars and motorbikes, but the constant pestering from touts is unpleasant. We tried shaking our head with a smile, many firm “no”s while gesturing with our hands, pretending not to understand English. Nothing works. Some drivers followed us a long way, shouted at us names of places, presumably we would want to go and they would take us. One even stopped his becak (Indonesian traditional cycle rickshaw) on our track, so that we could not walk anymore. We just wanted to explore his city in our own pace and in peace but it didn’t seem possible.

Though Jakarta, Bandung and Jogja definitely have their own charm and some delicious food, they are not for us. We booked more train tickets, packed our stuff and determined to leave cities behind – big and small – to (hopefully) find mountains, jungles and quiet beaches.

Jogja, Tuesday 26 April 2016

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Travelling: Why I stopped planning

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I used to plan my travelling carefully and well ahead because I liked to be in control of as many parts of as many things as possible.

I needed to know where I would sleep at night in an unknown place whether it was a bustling city or a well-hidden river land. A friend of mine once told me something like this: You are a small-looking girl, an easy target. Look where you are going when it’s dark. I never forget the advice. So I like to make sure that I am on the safe side of my travel.

I also liked to know the must-see attractions in a certain historic town or a France-influenced but British-owned island. The old I would map out the walk from the station or my hostel to such attractions. I could only rest assured if I knew how many left turns to take.

The truth is that I got lost (many times) regardless. No matter how carefully I planned, unexpected twist of fate seemed to find me around some dull-looking street corner.

Once I took a 10 days trip on my own from North to South of the UK, from the mainland to an island then back to the mainland. I was on buses, flights, trains, and ferries. All transportation was booked in advance. All tickets and hostel reservations were printed and numbered in date order. Maps were also printed with highlighted routes. I had a smartphone then, but I liked the traditional way. Battery might go flat, but ink stays for a long time. Regardless of my well-thought-through plan and half a forest that I’ve destroyed with all the printed paper, I stumbled. Somehow I managed to book the right bus back on a wrong date. The uptight driver didn’t let me on the only bus that would take me back before nightfall.

I had to spend my last pennies to pay for a different train and took a longer route through a beautiful city called Bath. It was only one extra night, but it got me realise the beauty of go-with-the-flow. I always wanted to see Bath but hadn’t got around to go, till that day. So there was I watching the city of Bath turning in for the evening and its reflection on the river under the magical moon light. It was a full moon  night. I caught myself thinking of the one man who had left the previous moon.

Two months later, I bought a one-way ticket to a faraway foreign land to start the travel of my life with him. For once, I had no plan. I didn’t even have an onward journey ticket, consequently almost failed to get myself on that first flight. I did make it there after two more flights and 24 hours of very little sleep. The important thing was that he made it there as well.

Sometimes when you walk with your eyes close and your heart wide open, you can find the best gift of life. Undoubtedly, there are bumps on the road. But it’s often on bumpy roads the most interesting stories of your life start. I know I have one written in the Penang island.

I am going on our next adventure in a few days. Instead of taking the map out, I am writing this to remind me of being spontaneous and enjoy surprising gifts that life brings.

Happy Travelling, fellows!

Traveller‘s mentality

tourist - to be or not to be

tourist – to be or not to be

As the tram was moving past Dam square in the very centre of Amsterdam, I saw three people taking pictures. One was correcting his pose with a grand building in the background when a friend held up a camera and the other gestured a thumb-up. If it were twenty years ago, such picture had have been printed out and stuck to the front room’s wall to show his visitors his travelling to Amsterdam. Today, it is more likely that one will share it on Facebook with friends, family and (mainly) jealous followers. I sometimes have a cynical feeling that Facebook is the true destination of some nowadays travellers / tourists. I also sometimes fall in the jealous followers’ trap. This morning, I saw on Facebook a take-in-Paris photo of a long-time-no-see friend, and felt a certain level of jealousy. A sensible someone might tell me to stop being silly because I myself am in Amsterdam – the gorgeous and relaxing city. There is a sense of free spirit in the air here – which is probably desirable to many travellers. Thing is that I did not come to Amsterdam with a traveller’s mentality. The meticulous search for place to make home and work to pay for bills has overcome traveller’s urge to explore and traveller’s impulsion to take pictures. Should it be for better or worse? Or life simply is of different modes for a traveller.

Arrival gate

Every time the glass slides open, somebody walks out to the arrival lobby with a story. A lost child comes home to her beloved. A traveller passes by on his journey to see the world. A worker starts a  new job in a new country. A broken soul runs away to forget. Or an optimist looks for happiness.

Once they go through the gate, there might be somebody waiting. A lover. A friend. A colleague. A chauffeur. Or some total strangers.

A kiss. A big hug. An awkward hand shake. Sometimes the only thing awaiting is the blasting heat.

Keep in mind that whatever they bring and whoever is or is not present to welcome them: there is no coming back. Arrival gate is one way out. No return. From there, they start another journey, embrace challenge and move on. 

They will get in a car, drive to a place to get change, have a shower and enjoy some food. Then they will be ready for whatever ahead. Hopefully.

I stopped keeping track of arrival gates that I have walked through. I remember all who waited for me at the other side though. Fondly. Many I had to leave behind when I started  new journeys. No coming back. But in my heart, they remain.