Escape day. With a full on party blitz the night before, the dancing continued horizontally that morning until necessity found Helen packing her bags before a final happy Padang cuisine splurge and a few final Bintangs to wash it down. Our happy huddle of new found friends saw us off out to the airport from where Helen and Linda, her Papua "sister" travelling companion were jetting off to Bali. It was a strangely incongruous departure with our car not able to wait, and having been usurped into coughng up the best part of a tenner for its facility, my enduring cynicism had me wondering if I had been suckered after all. It had certainly been an outrageously expensive week, on occasion being landed with the all day bar bill of people I barely knew, and Helen would unashamedly ask me to go and buy cigarettes or similar. But then I recalled that there had been at least one night I hadnt paid a penny, too drunk to care, and the meal and beers that day had similarly come to me without recourse to my pocket. It was simply symptomatic of a culture which didnt pay too much heed to such conventional customs as always paying your way or ensuring a sense of fairness, it was simply that if you had money then you paid and if you didnt you didnt. Immaculately turned out with incessant phone in hand, my final impression was of a fun loving yet professional woman of the kind she only professed to be. I had kept my heartstrings on a short leash, yet wondered if I had perhaps for once been too cautious. Certainly flying to Bali with her and then sometime onto Jayapura in West Papua held fantastic allures, boy I must have been nuts to resist.
I had just a couple of hours to sort myself out before similarly making tracks. I ditched long neglected incumbrances in soap, Ti tree oil and a belt, before failing to sell a surplus book or secure an outrageously pricey air ticket. It was a final default curry and beer swansong before saying farewell to the endearing and unusually subdued "Memories" cafe, with Helen had gone the soul of the scene and I was glad to slink away unhindered. Having met her not an hour after my arrival and now promptly jumping into a "Bajai" autorickshaw for the station upon her departure, Helen had been Jakarta for me.
Out at Pasar Senen station, the attendant trains stood habitually anonymous, and upon enquiry I learned that my train for Yogyakarta had not yet arrived despite its seemingly imminent departure. It was then with amazement that I noticed first one clock and then another confirming that I had arrived an hour earlier than expected. More than one friendly face on the ferry from Sumatra had promised "Java satu jam lagi" (Java is one hour more), and though this contradicted the guidebook I had no further reason to question it. It was only after a full 9 nights in Java then that I incredulously learned that I had inadvertantly put my clock fast, the seemingly arbitrary closing hours of the museums were at least now partially explained. Away from the tourist trappings, the only recourse at the station to kill an hour I could have much better used was "the manis panas" (hot sweet tea) on a night much too hot for it, though thankfully along with the beer I had left the mosquitios behind at Jaksa. Inexplicably in big city Jakarta of all places, their attentions had been unprecedented in their voracity and persistence, and another unexpected insight was gleaned from the experience. It was a not totally disinteresting deduction that in the intensity of the tropics, natural selection had deemed the local bugs to be supremely elusive, fast, invisible, undeterable, uncatchable. No wonder it was malarial here, there was no stopping the things. The train eventually materialised predictably late and unmarcated, and though I confirmed its identity I was still left perplexed when barely a soul got on it. Though the service was advertised as originating from here, it rested not a minute before trundling back out, with me left wondering whether this was for the customary pointless shunting around, or to do the world a favour and number the carriages for once. Accustomed to the unexpected, it was an instinctive last second realisation that I should get on it just in case. With the doors left thankfully ajar, I risked a dislocated arm or worse in throwing myself aboard at too high a speed for comfort and true enough, inexplicably, we were on our way to Yogya. After 2 hours of waiting I could have very easily missed it.
With Java's renown for soaking up more of the national revenue than perhaps it warranted, I was interested to see how the rail service would compare to that of its by and large ropey Sumatran equivelant. Though my "Bisnis" class carriage was more spartan than most, I was happy to find big comfortable chunky benches only 2 abreast, with legroom and cleanliness I might not have expected, and the ride was palpably smoother. More unusual still was to see half the seats empty in overpopulated Java, yet the appreciably relaxed atmosphere was scuppered by a heat which screamed for air-con and waistcoated attendants clearly on commission proving more persistent than even the mosquitos. In true testimony to Java's deeper investment though, we hurtled along at incredible speed without any of the inexplicable lurching around and delays characteristic of Sumatra.
It was a shame in that I had been resolutely thorough in my ventures thus far, exploring country after country in as much detail as my visa limitation and time considerations would allow, and yet here I was traversing in one fell swoop half the length of Java, the heart of this most fascinating of lands, and in the dark. I let the cities of Cirebon and Bandung slip by, and though my visa restriction couldnt be helped in this case either, there was a special frustration in realising that I would not now manage to travel Java's full length on point of overland completeness. Many "must see" wonders would remain undisclosed. Through the loss of my notes, memories of diminutive Banten's historical hotspots would fade, and then my time in Jakarta had been too long, too sporadic, the Maritime and Jakarta History museums were particularly crushing ommissions. Too bad.
Northern Sumatra's many diversions had been fully justified and its southern throes time consuming simply in its toughness, and so I would pay for it now in leaving Java incomplete. You couldnt do everything, but god knows I tried, so many things just had to be done. That rather epitomised my growing sentiment that it really had been a long time on the road now, 10 full months of living out of a bag, and most of that being constant change and something of a daily fight. Though I generally took challenges in my stride, convalescing periodically when I could, I still had a very long way to go and so the temptation to cut corners now was intense. A tour of Armenia had been an early casualty, spurred on by the onslaught of winter, and Afghanistan had loomed too intimidating after the dangers of Iraq and Pakistan. On paper then it seemed to make sense to just continue straight East along the natural continuation of the Nusa Tenggara island chain, with Australia at its conclusion. That had always been the primary ultimate goal, with subsequent New Zealand an important addition, and yet here I was contemplating further diversion in full knowledge that I might not have enough time off work. The remaining hemisphere to take me somehow home would also have to be done some kind of justice, it didnt bear thinking about. Therein lay the solution then, I didnt think about it, I just did it. For a man who should have been aiming East, I booked a flight ticket headed slightly West of North and just gritted my teeth for the last in an uncalculable number of times. And the reason? Borneo.