Tales From Indonesia – Part I

August 24, 2015
As a backpacker, we generally take lots of pride in being able to navigate around a foreign country traveling as the locals do. Buses, trains, boats, motorbikes, tuk-tuks (three wheeled go-kart looking taxis). The list goes on. For starters, public transportation will be the cheapest option 99% of the time. That’s really the name of the game when you are backpacking. How far can you stretch your money?

More often than not, this frame of mind will lead to 15 hour bus rides sitting on top of your luggage, knees squashed up against your chest while sitting next to a farmer taking what appears to be his entire flock of chickens to who knows where. Meanwhile, the driver has decided to make a couple extra bucks by picking up a family of 12 on the side of the road when the bus was already at capacity. Sure, you can squeeze another person into this seat made for two and already sitting three! Not to mention that mysterious smell wafting up from somewhere in the back. But hey, you saved $50 by not taking that 45 minute flight! It was totally worth it. Right? RIGHT!

Ok, so that may be a bit of an over exaggeration (slightly), but you get the picture. Those $50 savings do add up over the course of a few months. Plus, the 15 hours isn’t a huge deal if you’re not constrained by time and have the freedom to go as far and as long as your money can take you. Not everyone can travel like this. Actually, most people can’t travel like this. The vast majority of people I meet on the road are scrambling around trying to fit in as much as they can in a set amount of time. Whether it’s a couple weeks or a couple months, time is ultimately the deciding factor for these travelers when it comes to deciding on transportation. Enter the organized tour.

For backpackers on a schedule, organized tours can be a godsend. After a bit of negotiating, they can be the perfect balance between cost and speed. Want to hit up five Buddhist temples, climb a mountain, take a llama ride through the jungle and then bamboo raft back to civilization in 2.5 days? Book a tour! Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it? That’s because they usually are. The tour operators try and jam so much into these things in such a short period of time, you really don’t have much opportunity to take it all in and enjoy the beauty you just sprinted through. So, as a personal rule of thumb, I try and avoid organized tours unless it’s under special circumstances. Most of the time, the extra hours and discomfort of taking that 15 hour bus ride pays off in a BIG way. This was never more true than the epic two week journey I took across the Indonesian island of Java. No tours. Four destinations. Lots of cool pictures.

Where did this expedition begin? That would be the capital city of Indonesia, Jakarta! I’ll admit, I wasn’t a huge fan of this place. It just seemed like a lesser, dirtier Bangkok without all the delicious Thai street food. But that’s not to say it didn’t have it’s charms. One in particular was the Jakarta National Museum, and it presented me with an awesome photo opportunity. The museum itself was fantastic. A few hours inside revealed just how incredibly diverse Indonesia is and got me pumped up to see as much of the country as I could.

I came upon a small courtyard in the center of the museum with various statues strewn about the lawn. It seemed like a good spot to snap a few pics. Having spent a lot of time in tropical countries, I knew from experience freak thunderstorms can come up out of nowhere very quickly regardless of the weather forecast. Then it happened. Huge thunderclouds formed right in front of my eyes and loomed ominously behind the museum, resulting in this terrifying shot of the approaching storm. First day on Java and I already had a pretty cool pic.

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