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Monday, February 21, 2011

Indonesia Part Two: Jakarta to Raja Ampat

In Part One, Todd and I boarded a plane at Dulles airport for a 30-hour trip to Jakarta, Indonesia.  Our final destination is Sorong, the city that is the gateway to the incredible scuba diving in Raja Ampat.  Here, we'll make our way to Sorong with more adventures.  

We were in the hotel lobby by 3am to get a cab to the airport for our final set of flights.  As we waited, I kid you not, we saw a series of men with prostitutes.  One was escorting one out.  Others were coming in with them.  Hm.  Interesting.

The other weird thing was that no one in Jakarta knew where Sorong was.  For example, the taxi driver on the way to the airport asked where we were going.  We responded Sorong, but he hadn't heard of it.  We told him Papua, which the province where Sorong is located, and then he knew where we were talking about.  We were actually going to West Papua, which is a province on the island of New Guinea, and it's the least populated part of Indonesia (very different from Jakarta).

The airport in Jakarta was stressful.  Since Todd and I had neglected to get Indonesian rupiah, Matt and Ellen had to pay our exit fee.  No money exchanges were open that early, and the airport would not accept US dollars.  We had to pay a ridiculous amount of excess baggage fees, and they did take US Dollars for that, thank goodness.

I need to go off on a tangent here about Indonesian bathrooms/toilets.  While I was in the Jakarta airport that morning, I got my first taste of a public toilet in Indonesia.  Don't get me wrong, I came prepared.  I brought a Go Girl with me.  Go ahead and check it out, running or traveling girls, you will like it.  It allows you to pee standing up, something I wish I'd had at a certain truck stop in Italy in 2004.  Anyway, nearly all Indonesian toilets have a hose next to them with a spray nozzle - kind of the size you'd expect to have on a kitchen sink.  Some toilets don't have toilet paper, and presumably the hose is what is used instead, because I walked into multiple bathrooms that were either soaked everywhere (like, um, someone had been spraying a hose around the stall), or even one that had about 2 inches of water puddled around the toilet (Go Girl couldn't help me there).

The Jakarta Airport (note that I was in the domestic and not international terminal, and I think that made a big difference) didn't have toilet paper, just the hose.  I wasn't prepared right at that moment, as I'd failed to bring the Go Girl or my packet of kleenex, so I was at a loss.  I wasn't going to use the hose, and honestly at the time I hadn't made the hose-dirty netherbits connection.  I ended up using an old boarding pass, which was the only thing still in my pocket from the day before (and I must make it absolutely clear - that it was #1 only!!).  I'm sorry, TMI, but public bathrooms, or even bathrooms in general, are just different in Indonesia.

But wait, there's more.  I didn't see the squat potties in Jakarta, even though I probably would have if I had walked further into the bathroom.  I didn't get photos of my own on the trip, so the photo to the left is courtesy of bsmida.  It's pretty much what I'm talking about though.  The squat potties (what is their real name?  Who knows) were common.  There's basically bumpy feet areas on either side, and you're supposed to squat over them to do your business.  The bucket and scooper that you see there is so that you can fill the bowl with water in order to wash it down since it has no tank.

So, ok.  That's cool and all.  But, what baffles me about this style of toilet is that clearly people prefer it over sitting on a toilet.  Most public bathrooms that had toilets offered a choice - either a standard toilet or the squatty version.  This means that some people would prefer to go into the squatty version over the real toilet version.  I just can't understand this.  A lot of Indonesian women wear robes, long dresses or burquas.  I'm trying to imagine either the squatting version or the hose in those circumstances.  I don't know, I just think the toilet would be easier.  And toilet paper.  One woman that I saw coming out of a stall where she'd clearly used the hose was wearing skinny jeans and heels.  One would think she'd be wet, but she wasn't.  She must be really good at using the hose or whatever, because I mean, the stall was dripping wet.  It was crazy.

Anyway, I know all this is TMI.  I apologize, but I found this particular aspect of Indonesian culture just fascinating.

So, at the airport, we were boarded on to Express Air, which is an Indonesian Airline.  It was not as bad as I thought it would be.  They gave us little sandwiches on the flight, as well as tea, coffee or bottled water.  We headed to Makassar first, and had to deboard, but then headed out on the same airplane to Sorong. I took note of the Makassar airport, because we were scheduled to spend 6 hours there later in the trip.  Makassar, for the record, is also called Ujung Pandang.  The name changed around 1999 -- and West Papua's name changed from Irian Jaya in 2007.  I am not sure why names of places change so often in Indonesia, nor do I know why They Might Be Giants hasn't written a song about it.

On the Makassar- Sorong flight, they gave us food that I still have not identified.  It was in a styrofoam box, and it was chunks of some sort of vegetable.  It resembled potato, and it resembled tofu, but it was neither.  Its consistency was like raw dough.  Very chewy.  It was covered in peanut sauce and chicken, and actually tasted quite good.  I just never figured out what it was, and no one that I asked seemed to know.
Approaching our boat, The Raja Ampat Explorer with sister vessel TemuKira behind it.

Finally, at last, we were in Sorong, our final destination.  It had taken three days to get there.  It was sunny and hot when we got off the plane, and then we took a stuffy, crowded bus that took us to the tiny, hot terminal.  Porters were required, you could not pick up your luggage from the baggage carousel yourself.  A representative from the boat we were on was waiting for us at the airport, and we also met the other couple that would be joining us on our voyage.  Then, we were loaded into a taxi.

Taxis in Sorong - or maybe driving in Sorong - is a death-defying activity.  As far as I can tell, there are no driving laws.  They drive on the left, but they're certainly not opposed to crossing over and driving on the right when it's convenient.  Our cab driver beeped the horn a lot - I mean, beeped his horn at every single car that passed.  I was certain we were going to get into an accident in the 15 minute drive from the airport to the boat.  I had worried about the airlines, but honestly the cab was the most dangerous part of our trip.  Todd got out our video camera and took video, trying to ask me what I was thinking, but honestly I was thinking that I needed to focus on being ready to brace for impact.

We arrived in port, and then were loaded on to dingys and on to our boat, the Raja Ampat Explorer.  As we boarded the boat, it was approximately 11:00pm EST on January 23.  It took 53 hours to get there.

...and finally we were there, so in my next post you'll actually get to some of the meat of the story!!  Hooray!!


Mary said...

hmm, I wonder if the preference for the squat potties is because Indonesian public bathrooms might not get cleaned as frequently as they typically would in the U.S.? I learned in Chile that it's always a good idea to travel with a roll of TP.

Maybe your mystery veggie was taro?

Sandra said...

I find the bathroom stuff fasinating

Sandra said...

Oh and always have some tissues with you, or put several sheets worth in your panties, like a liner. then you have it when needed or if you have a bit of an accident!

Kim said...

Mary, taro was my first thought, actually. They looked like potato, but doughy. It was a weird texture, but I was hungry, so it worked. We didn't encounter taro anywhere else and I have limited taro experience, so we are unsure.

Wacky Neighbor said...

Kim, there are no travelblogs that leave me with my face in my hands, somewhere between hilarity and disgust, like yours. Thanks!

Whitney said...

I experienced the squatty potty in India too. It wasn't all that bad after trying it out but I don't understand how they don't use toilet paper. I can't wait to hear more about your trip!

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