Island Hoppers, Part One: Fast Lane

If you recall me taking my first vacation to Jogja after being at site for 3 months last September, in a three part saga called “Because We Can” (one, two, and three), trying to hold strong to those feelings of elation as long as possible, I regurgitated into words what it meant to feel, well, liberated after serving the first three months as a PCV. Unfortunately I don’t think I will ever be able to relive those feelings and those moments ever again, even if I was with the same people, staying at the same little oasis in Jogja because those circumstances will never happen again. That’s okay though. Fortunately Indonesia is large enough, diverse enough, and has an abundance of different cultures to experience in equal if not more culturally enriching ways to satiate both my curious-nature and need for release.

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Colonial buildings that still exist in the Kota

After kira-kira (around) forty hours of travel, transfers, and layovers, Klaas arrived in Jakarta, where we were reunited! I had heard Jakarta was notorious for its traffic jams and it prove to be quite TRUE. Jakarta has some of the worst traffic that I have ever experienced suffered through in my life! I had thought traffic in Shanghai was atrocious but Jakarta’s traffic makes Shanghai’s look as fluid as the Yangtze. With a nonsensical public transportation that is as outdated as the dusty ‘ole typewriter that our school secretary still uses, it literally takes hours of bumper-to-bumper-near-death-collisions-stop-go-stop-go traffic to get from one end of the city to another. traffic! wooo!We were only in Jakarta for three days, but we concluded three days was enough. Like many other beyond massive, off-the-nonhuman-friendly Richter-scale, Jakarta tops the list as a place I would never want to live. Even if Beijing is an environmentalist’s nightmare and a city planner’s catch-22, at least it still has remnants of ancient China (though it’s slowly disappearing too) preserved. Jakarta lacked the East meets West modernized culture that I was looking for. However if I were looking for influences of Kurt Cobain or other 90’s grunge, Jakarta did not disappoint with its scores ‘grungy’ youth hanging around the old Dutch quarters. Being there made me hope the future of developing countries isn’t about demolishing history and replacing those voids with materialism by building lavished high-end malls that exclusively cater to the upper-echelons of society. Even though Jakarta was a bit of a mess and we returned to our B&B quite exhausted, I had fun exploring the city for the first time and it made relaxing in Bali and The Gili’s even more worthwhile!…Jafarta may have been a different kind of chaos than I’m used to but I enjoyed how new and visually chaotic everything seemed to be, it created quite the playground to capture the beauty lingering within the chaos. Scroll over for brief descriptions!this is what power looks like, wearing an orange vest

Istiqlal Mosque (National Mosque)From the outside, this looks like a crumbling, abandoned building, but when you step inside, it's a haven for photoshoots and overgrown rootsIstiqlal dome Inside every massive shopping mall in Asia, there's an ergonomic lesson to be learned _____

Two hours west of Jakarta is a more organized, though still chaotic city bustling with various universities and too many statues (one being over 20ft. tall!) dedicated to the most bad-ass fictional character that possibly peaked Sylvester Stallone’s acting career, RAAAAMMMBO! Don’t ask, just look up Jean Street. Not knowing much about West Java, it wouldn’t have been fair to head back to East Java in a hurry, so we decided to explore a bit. Ciwidey is a surrounding village area in the mountains that’s known for its seemingly limitless rolling tea plantations, strawberry fields, hot springs, and multiple sulfuric crater lakes. Bandung reminded me a bit of Malang, but bigger. Other than visiting those scenic areas, there really wasn’t that much to do in the city itself. We enjoyed eating Pizza Hut though (there’s something sad about that statement). I had to remind myself several times that this vacation wasn’t a marathon of trying to show Klaas as much as possible, but that this was our vacation together, time to allow ourselves to lose track of time (even though Klaas bought a new wristwatch), to relax and sleep and indulge in air-conditioning and satellite TV. Wanting to celebrate Christmas with other PCVs back in Surabaya, we bought business class train tickets heading back towards East Java. The difference between business class and economy class trains is that you’re actually assigned a seat. Everything else is still just as…miserable, it’s still a hot, sticky smoke box with the same annoying penjual‘s (sellers) selling old Indonesian snacks and minuman‘s (drinks). We endured over thirteen hours of the chain-smokers chamber, our pores teeming with sweat ,surviving merely on two pieces of sweet cheese bread, Pringles, and Barbie-sized oranges. If there were an Olympics for professional-sitters who could endure long, uncomfortable train rides, I have no doubts that I could take home the gold (my longest train ride being about thirty-three hours through southwestern China).

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I’d been meaning to visit my host family from pre-service training (PST). Yanti (host sister) had been calling me occasionally to check in and tell me that the family was thinking about me, asking ‘kapan-kapan ke sini, El?!’ (where are you coming here?). Not only did I promised them a visit, but I owed them one. This vacation with Klaas couldn’t have been a more ideal time, knowing it would be too difficult to bring him to my current home, I still wanted him to experience the village. Tlekung barely classifies as ‘rural’ according to the faithful KIRI indicator. Once we arrived, my Ibu had prepared a delicious traditional meal of favorites, which tasted especially incredible after constantly eating food from restaurants and street stalls our past few days. Though Yanti insisted on speaking English, it was being back there that I could see how much my language had progressed even though currently I feel like it’s plateaued. Revisiting my host father’s fields, absorbing the mountains, crisp air, and the same familiar organic eau de damp manure, the neighborhood brought back nostalgic memories of walking around (for what seemed like forever) with my village mate John.  I was reminded of the homesickness endured, the difficult Sunday’s, but more importantly the leaps of personal growth I’ve made in nine months. Moreover, running into other trainee families was wonderful–they’d watched us blossom from these vulnerable Americans into the resilient teachers we are now. Like watching a baby take its first steps who’s now up and sprinting.

After Tlekung, I brought Klaas to some of my favorite spots in Malang which meant visiting our cultural facilitators at UMM, grabbing homemade gelato at the Tugu, and walking through the bird (which isn’t exclusive to birds) market.

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Being stuck in traffic traveling by bus from Malang to Surabaya, Klaas and I kept our humor on high, critiquing gaudy Indonesian music videos, and our brains occupied, by playing Scrabble on my new Kindle Fire (Wow! Thanks, Mom!) but ended up missing most of the little Christmas shindig that a couple of PCVs had thrown together. Luckily we arrived while all of the decorations were still up and homemade cookies still left uneaten. The next morning, we awoke to have a scrumptious Christmas breakfast at Betsy’s (PC staff, she’s wonderful). It didn’t feel like Christmas, though my Christmas’s aren’t usually particularly festive. A couple of us created our own hilarious version of “12 days of Christmas” but Indo-fied it. Those lyrics can be found here! christmas morning We fueled up on some nasi goreng (fried rice) and fresh fruit slushies before boarding an overnight executive (was business, but we learned our lesson the first time) train heading towards Banyuwangi, that would eventually lead us to the infamous island of Bali.

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After cramming on a bus which then boarded a ferry…a Bali sunrise. Looking at this photo makes me thirsty for a refreshing glass of pink-lemonade.

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