A Travellerspoint blog

Still Stuck in Sick Street


Whole days passed in Yogya without suitable redemption, mustering only sufficient energy for a drudgery of nonetheless satisfying hours of work on the net, and descent into pain numbing bottles of Bintang. I pained further at the now tangible supreme outlying attractions of the temple complexes of Borobudur and Prambanan, yet the hours could not roll by fast enough so that I might pop another antibiotic in the impatient hope of alleviation. The other supposed distractions of Yogya city untypically failed to stir me, the old "Kraton" fortified enclaves of the local Sultanate proving uninspiring in my compromised state, and I had twice walked past the Army Museum, normally a draw card I would have savoured, without finding the impetus to explore it. I had even failed to appreciate that in my enforced wanderings out to the hospital, I had foregone the opportunity of checking out the nearby historical home of 19th century national hero Diponegoro. It was symptomatic of symptoms which afforded little further consideration. Though Borobudur especially was a long anticipated dream, my sole focus now in spite of obvious disappointment was to get by hook or by crook up to northern city Semarang and connect with my flight to Borneo. Java was doomed to become a wash out but I wasnt going to kill myself over it, nature seemed to be doing a fine job of that herself. More nights of uncharacteristic insomnia brought little relief and it was all I could do to enforce upon myself a necessary short stroll out in search of bits and bobs such as toothpaste, shaving gel, a diary, a pen, washing powder, all requiring careful consideration since my spartan lifestyle with little inbuilt redundancy meant that such elusive seemingly unimportant acceutriments had to be up to the demanding job yet suitably lightweight and compact. In that puirsuit, a super-rare excellent English language bookshop I discovered was a tremendous bonus, offering either of 2 titles pertinent to my trip I had long yearned for yet failed to trace, even if the Bahasa Indonesia tutorials were dissatisfactory and overpriced. Devoid of energy to endure anything further, I spent a full 7 hours on the net that day, a quiet compenstaion in whittling my diary backlog down substantially, also finding the time to pay suitable homage to distant neglected friends.

At the expense of displaying overt snobbery, that night (a party Friday) served to demonstrate in its kicking bar clientelle an affirmation that I had inadvertantly succumbed to a nauseating scene of "mainstream" travellers, who raped the world of its wonders with convenient flight sectors in between. It had been palpable in the number of locals who complimented me on my still very rudimentary Bahasa that most itinerants were obviously too busy having "the time of their lives" to bother, and I felt out of place amongst people who could happily wing it home saying they had seen the world, failing to understand that in the giant game of joining the dots, the joins surely mattered at least as much. There was a growing global culture of "cherrypickers", people shy of tasting the drudgery of the sponge cake underneath, and yet I knew very well from experience that sometimes a bite might reveal an unexpected wonder in jam or cream which made it all the more amazing. Could one visit Edinburgh Castle for example and say they had seen Scotland, understood it? I thought I could indulge myself enough in asserting that experience had to be hard won and if it was fun then that surely simply qualified the degree of its superficiality.

Sure of my convictions, my prolonged sojourn in Yogya had also allowed me contemplation of a fear, a fear that I had come so far that I might now struggle to re-adapt to the mediocrity of life in an "Auld Grey Toun", where for example the drudgery of postal delivery was supposedly a desirable vocation. I wondered if I could still do that, and yet I perceived that I had to. I could still plainly recall the endearing, enduring effects a year in Australia had had on me, rendering me a positivity which had turned my life forever in a brighter direction. Asia had been much harder, and yet had undoubtedly blessed me with such insight that I had to wonder if I could ever live without such a challenge again, such an opportunity. You get out what you put in so they say, no pain, no gain. I had put in more than most, and the pain? Yes, I had felt it. But what a gain!

Back home, I also had to wonder how I would be perceived and see others. Whilst travelling I had met more than a few who by their own admission struggled to get on my level, most palpably demonstrated in Western women's inability to imagine that I honestly wasnt so desperate to fuck them, and the guys failed to understand that too. It had always been a big enough problem hitherto. In moments of reflection I imagined myself back at home, assuming the same ignominious postures in the same old cavalier bars. It made me afraid that I had inadvertantly set myself up for an enduring future of disappointment, as if I hadnt had enough already. I found the strength to laugh at the perversity.

The super-prevalent Becak parasites of Yogya finally submitted the nail on the head by extolling a very uncharacteristically partisan "Transport, woman, make love". It was the same disingratiating holler as the much more succinct "Tuk tuk boom boom" of Bangkok, yet redeemed by a naivety symptomatic of the propensity of Indonesian people to be endearing even in sin. I felt pity for the sorry desperate fuckers, and a little for myself.

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Still krank


That night my health worsened to the extent that I really did begin to convince myself that I had picked up some wonderful tropical delight as an impromptu souvenir, and help now became an urgent necessity. With my phlegmy cough, chronic headache and inflamed gums now maturing to add sore eyes and throat for good measure, the whole gamut of tropical nasties now became an uncomfortable reality. Failing to sleep was just one more unlikely symptom which left me too much time to ponder the likely onset of malaria, the worlds biggest killer, Dengue Fever, protracted and untreatable, and other such delights as Rabies, AIDS or a myriad of other death sentences. And yet though it was difficult to be sure under such clammy climes, I still didnt present a discernible fever which was very odd. I was on the point of seriously considering repatriation home courtesy of my travel insurance should it persist, and I waited impatiently for the sun to come up before fuelling myself up with a lardarse brekkie for the traipse out to a hospital a kilometre hence. It wasnt exactly where the guidebook promised it to be, a more serious shortcoming than most, but my by now Bahasa primed bulging bloodshot eyes eventually spied a largely obscured "Rumah Sakit" (Sick House) sign. Just as well it wasnt a heart attack! There was prompt efficient service in a small squeaky clean consultancy, with the motherly doctor being impressed with my Bahasa in spite of my mispronounciation of "kelapa", instead of head I said coconut. Same thing really. After a cursory examination disappointingly not finding justification for a blood or urine check, she wanted to give me an overload of unnecessary indulgences for what she deemed to be just a common systemic infection. Ever skeptical, though obviously I had zero inbuilt resistance to local bugs, if this was just another inconsequential temporary bacteriological storm in a tea cup, it was certainly the worst I had ever had. No NHS here hence the lack of a queue, I promptly paid my 6 quid to the fantastically alluring business suited honeys at the cash desk, thankfully learning that the extra zero on the till was just a typically Indonesian abberation. My Mastercard got away unscathed. It was another problem for me to be saddled with undefined antibiotics of questionable tolerance, but that was the deal, I took a pill and ran.

Dismayed at my lack of progress I must have walked another 15Ks that day in spite of my compromise, enduring more horrendous traffic, pollution and a constant nauseating procession of pavement hogging foodstalls which forced you onto the maniac road. Pinpointing from the absurdly non-English speaking tourist office miraculously helped me in tracking down a sign for the Air Force Museum after a mammoth trek, only for the partially intelligible sentries to excruciatingly explain it closed. They promised it for tommorrow but that was no compensation in contemplating the return marathon. Complicated by a gargantuan one way system and an inexplicable dearth of public transport, even the straight line trundle back to the city centre proved a let down in getting me thoroughly lost in a meandering loop, before jumping off the bus in frustration little farther from my start point. Sleep and beer were the only solution upon eventually slogging it back, really beginning to pain now at the incredible persistence of Becak touts, they slumbered in droves everywhere in this town. Though Yogya had initially proved to be a boon, with an amenable travellers ghetto larger than Jakarta's not a stones throw from the train station, the ensuing realisation of a town supercharged on tourism like no other finally left me grumpy in the preponderance of the "Hello misters" being replaced by cries of "Becak, becak" every 10 metres, also an unfitting begging scene of eyerollingly undeserving spoon rattling chancers. It was incredible to consider Jakarta of all places friendly and relaxed by comparison. I secured more inexorable hours on the net to chip away at my diary but it was slow in being whittled down such was its magnitude. The Asia Cup thankfully redeemed some sense of normality in Iraq deliciously beating South Korea to the final on penalties, then a superb game with excellent goals where Saudi Arabia pushed out new favourites Japan 3-2. An all Arab final then, a first I would hazard.

There was also the small matter of an email somehow apparently inadvertantly coming through from Helen dated 8 days previous, in which she pestered her supposedly dead fiancee Alexei for money, which was more a surprise in how I hade received it than its telltale nature. Having already hit and run in explanation that it simply wasnt practical for me to be her next squeeze, there was merely a sense of disappointment rather than hurt, and I was quietly both grateful and dismayed for the re-affirmation that my original cynicism had proved to be justified. You couldnt trust a single Asian woman as far as you could shag them. It very conveniently knocked that legacy on the head then, perhaps Helen had intentionally done it to deem it so, but it now left the very interesting avenue of playing mum and just seeing where the partisan princess would try to take it. How long would it be until little Jeffrey became desperately in need of an operation and I just had to help? In deliciously deeper contemplation, I perversely found perhaps at least a modestly renewed respect for guys who played their game. If you understood the undercurrents then by rights a man should just fuck every last one of them he could get his hands on and then scarper, never to be heard from again. They might have been good at their game, but were they street enough to understand that men could play that game too? Probably, but it was the only game in town.

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The next couple of days did not go as planned, with my resolve to ensure new focus under pressure of time being usurped by a decline in health which had me seriously worried. The copious phlegm accompanied cough I had picked up in Jakarta had now developed into a constant headache of hangover proportions and strangely an inflamation of the gums which made my teeth feel loose. It was the worst I had felt my whole trip, worrying in its persistence, and incapable of the important alluring daytrips I had planned from Yogya, all I could manage was a reinvestment of my time in squaring away much needed time on the net, anaesthetised by bottles of Bintang. First priority was to check my medical insurance, I really did have to begin to wonder if I had picked up one of the tropical nasties. Certainly malaria and Dengue Fever amongst a myriad of other possibilities were now serious considerations, god knows the mosquitos had been bad enough, and I had visions of having to imminently forego my trip and return home. And yet as long as I didnt develop a fever, the telltale sign of real trouble, I tried to stubbornly soldier on, baulking at the marathon foray required for the outlying tantalising temple complexes, only to be dismayed at the singular lack of transport headed towards the Air Force Museum.

One important task I did belatedly get done however was the purchase of an air ticket, resisting the overstated promises of a plethora of backstreet pretenders to finally discover a reputable agency up to the job. It had been very insidious, and god knows there had been too many distractions, but I now found that even in the absence of a tutorial book I managed to bag my one way ticket from Semarang to Pontianak entirely in Bahasa, and it was a suitable reward to find it still available for my chosen date at a price markedly less than what had hitherto been quoted.

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The dawn broke to reveal a carpet of rice, houses roofed similar to Maning Kabau style and then at 7, big city Yogyakarta appearing suddenly, apparently not so big. Normally pronounced and referred to as "Jogja", if Jakarta was Indonesia's heart then Yogyakarta was its soul, a historical and cultural focal point from whence ancient empires had evolved and Indonesia's independence movement was also conceived. After crashing out at a supercheap Losmen delightfully close to the station, I woke to belatedly hit the sights, expecting to be scuppered again due to infernally short opening hours. The continuation of Yogya's main shopping street was nothing to the gargantuan proportions of Jakarta, and though I should have been happy for its amenable size, it was a patience sapping exercise checking out uniformly whitewashed colonial vestiges whilst being relentlessly hit upon by Becak and Ojek drivers and the odd tout cum guide. Answering back in vaguely accomplished Bahasa probably helped stave them off, but I did have to resort to blanking mode occasionally such were their periodic excesses. Yogya's real attraction lay in its convenient location for visiting 2 outlying temple complexes, one of them Borobudur being Indonesia's number 1 attraction. The place was discernibly touristy with sadly more white faces than the capital, and bullshit such as dickhead conveying horsedrawn carriages, Dunkin Donuts and the hard sell tactics of Batik ware vendors. A local artform, its intricate patterns were variously worn or painted, and it was on a par with the overwrought antics of Istanbul's carpet sellers that they would try to scam you, cajole you, anything to convince you that you couldnt possibly survive without buying a crazy Nelson Mandela shirt. The museums had proved closed sure enough, yet I thankfully managed to concoct a passable afternoon with first of all the unexpectedly open Dutch fort, Benteng Vredeburg, then a jaunt out to the inspirationally named Istana Air (Water Castle).


Now housing a museum illustrating local history by means of many dioramas, the fort itself was a pretty benign looking affair, the walls too low and thin to have been much of a deterrant to determined aggressors I imagined, and the internal buildings merely resembled large red tiled chalets. Its pristine whitewash, gardens and odd corner pillbox added character though, and I was left wondering how the pillbox had clearly been peppered with bulletholes fired from within the compound. First off there was a depiction of the arrest of local boy hero Diponegoro here in 1830, finally scuppering his 5 year resistance campaign, and then it was related that the important Budi Utomo (1908) and Mohammadiyah (1912) movements were founded here. There was a notable sugar cane workers strike here in 1920, and then the "Taman Siswa" (Students Park) home grown educational system was also born here in 1922. Also held here was the second conference of the youth organisation called "Jong Java" (Young Java), which pledged to unite the youth nationwide in 1928. After the Japanese invasion in 1942 they sought to exploit anti-colonial resentment under a "Greater Asia" slogan, and Japanisation occured with the formation of PETA (Pembela Tanah Air). Upon the Japanese surrender the locals seized the printing presses to ensure reporting of the Proclamation of Independence, halls were also seized for meetings and broadcasts. Amazingly, these were subsequently bombed by the RAF in support of the Dutch agenda the "Second Aggression", and the nationalist government retreated to here from Jakarta in January 1946. Yogyakarta also saw the foundation of the Republican Air Force and Indonesia's first independent university. The next series of dioramas now fell inexplicably devoid of translation, but were all clearly about acts of aggression by and towards the Dutch. An Australian registered Dakota of which I had already seen photos of its crash scene in Bukittingi was shot down here by a Dutch fighter in 1947, though ostensibly a Red Cross flight it was assumed to be helping the nationalist cause. The final revelation was that with UN arbitration and then the later Inter Indonesian Conference of 1949, independence was then re-affirmed here 4 years to the day from its initial proclamation.

After quite a trek the Water Castle also materialised miraculously open, evidently over-restored and yet still an appealling oddity of overstated entrance portals. The allover cream paintjob added to the impression of a wedding cake overindulgence, and indeed that is what it had originally been. Outbuildings variously adorned with welcoming sun faces and fanged lionesque figures led onto a courtyard dominated by an aesthetically pleasing pool studded with columns, overlooked by a squarish tower from whence the Sultan might ogle his harem of wives cavorting in his personal paradise.

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Jakarta to Yogyakarta


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.

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