I have been in Indonesia for a few days now and I’m not quite sure how I feel about it yet. In Indonesia’s defense, I am only in a tiny town in West Java and this country is made up of about 17,000 islands, so I haven’t exactly made it too far. Plus, the time I have been here has primarily been spent letting my body adjust to being on this side of world. This basically entails a lot of naps, sitting in front of fans, eating Nature Valley bars, chugging water and finding solace in cold showers at least 3 times a day. Let’s just say that it’s been an interesting few days in an even more interesting country.
I will admit that I’m rather giddy at the moment though for reasons that are entirely un-Indonesian. A few taxis got me to a Starbucks where I got a Jakarta gift card (that comes with a free drink!), an iced vanilla latte, a red velvet cheesecake with cream cheese frosting, and Fleetwood Mac is even playing on the radio! I know it’s the exact opposite of being adventurous, but sometimes you gotta indulge in the little things, especially one’s that remind you of home! Fear not, I’ll be heading back to my little suburb where food is only served after 6pm because of Ramadan, no one speaks English and city-wide loudspeakers play the prayer chants at 4am. Until then, I’ll enjoy this startlingly fast WiFi and working AC while I write about some of my experience so far.
For the first time, I am in an area where I legitimately am unable to communicate. You see, my Spanish may be decent at best but it gets the job done and in Europe I got off easy because English is everyone’s 18th language so I barely had to put in any work at all. But here? Nope. Nada. Nothing. Niet. Or, more appropriately, tidak, which is Bahasa Indonesia for “no.” Just yesterday I took attempted to take a cab to a coffeeshop (I really like coffee…), to which I somehow sincerely confused the driver. To help a brother out I used my phone and showed him the direction to go on the map, which was quite literally a straight line down the road. He didn’t understand and ended up pulling over and giving me over to a bunch of mall security guards who were hanging around outside. With the help of Google Translate, I tried to explain where I was going and that I would just walk, no big deal (no, seriously, I had all day to accomplish this mission). “No,” is what they said, “too far.” What? It’s 10am and 3 miles away, I’ll walk if I want! “No, you stay” they said. What? Tidak, sir, tidak. Can’t a girl just get some coffee in peace!? I ended up spotting a taxi down the road and snuck off, and by snuck off I mean I did a fierce speed walk as I waved goodbye from halfway down the road. (And that iced latte totally ended up being worth the trouble.)
I am constantly sticky. I don’t understand it; I take a shower, dry off, feel great, then about 15 seconds later realize it was all for naught because I’m sticky all over again when I barely even moved! Luckily, most everywhere has air conditioning (excluding my Airbnb, naturally) so it’s not terrible, but it’s also not great. Then again, I signed up for this, I mean, I didn’t exactly pack my parka for this trip.
There is a toilet for everyone around here! Bidet? Of course! Western style? Sure! Squat? You got it! But sometimes I get overwhelmed by all the buttons on the side and am at a complete and utter loss. There was even a button with a music symbol on it and, being the curious type, I obviously pushed it and suddenly there was a soft flushing sound (but no actual flushing occurred). I pressed it again to turn it off but instead it played a loud flushing noise. Press it again, a spraying sound. One more time and I’m encircled by the sound of rushing water violently whooshing. Feeling awkward that I’m making all this flushing racket, I finally figure out how to actually flush it for real and beelined outta there with what dignity I didn’t flush away. I can’t say I wasn’t impressed with the great many sound options though, quite a nice touch.
As the only white person within a 25-mile radius, I am constantly stared at. Now I’m not talking passing glances, I mean blatant, unabashed, straight-up staring. Groups of children get in giggle fits when I walk by, motorcycle drivers will look as they pass and then be yards in front of me and still have their heads turned around to continue staring so they aren’t even looking at the road anymore. A few days ago I even was asked to have my photo taken. True story.
I’m no stranger to bad driving and close encounters- Costa Rica easily made me never want to use public transportation again for the rest of my life. But here? GOOD LORD IT’S TERRIFYING. Red lights are ran, there are 4 cars lined up across 2 lanes, no speed limits, passing within inches, breaking within centimeters, motorcyclists flying between cars. If you need to get your heart rate up, look no further than a taxi ride in Southeast Asia.
They like it Spicy with a capital S! Think lots of peppers and even more sambal. Now I feel no shame to say that I’m a 1-star kind of girl, 2 if I’m feeling ambitious, so I’m going to have to somehow adapt to this whole spicy thing Indonesia has got going on. I don’t think it’s going to go well. I also have absolutely no idea what all the words mean and I definitely managed to order a ginormous chicken with a tiny side of rice. My inner vegetarian radar could use some fine tuning…
So far, everyone here has been incredibly kind and hospitable. Smiling as they point me in the right direction, waving as they pass by, and kids calling out to me Miss Woman! Hello, Miss Woman! Indonesians are no doubt a friendly and smiley bunch!
Since I’m not exactly in Bali, or any other tourist area for that matter, my Indonesian experience may be a little different, but I’d definitely like to explore more, and will, but distances and transportation make it a bit on the tough side. Hopefully I’ll get to do a short hike around Mt. Gede and see a few waterfalls next week!