I left the Mariott with a spring in my step. I had my book back and I had plenty of time to get to the train station, even considering the gridlock nightmare that is driving in Jakarta. But there was a problem. Two weeks ago when I was last here in Jakarta, Barclay’s bank, in their infinite wisdom cancelled my debit card (it would seem I’ve been abroad too long). After much kerfuffle, I managed to get it unblocked and told them in my best Monty Python voice to never do it again.
So I need to take out money for the train fare this morning, and what happens? Seven different ATM machines turn me down. Oh you’ve GOT to be kidding me. I get to the station and try to pay on Visa, but (of course) they don’t take Visa because THE ONLY PLACES THAT TAKE VISA OUTSIDE THE WEST ARE GOLF COURSES.
So I want to get on wi-fi to call Barclay’s via Skype, but the owners of the station café make me buy a can of Coke before they let me have the password. They look bemused when I leave the can on the counter as I frantically call up telephone banking.
Here’s the conversation:
Just a couple of security questions, sir… what’s your date of birth?
I gave it.
And what’s your mother’s maiden name?
I gave that too.
I’m sorry, sir, but that information is incorrect.
I roll my eyes – here we go.
No it’s not. I share the account with my dad – you must be looking at his details. Seriously – do I sound seventy years old??
I’m sorry sir, but you did not answer the questions correctly.
Yes I did. You asked for MY date of birth and MY mother’s maiden name.
I then gave them my dad’s DOB and my grandmother’s maiden name for good measure.
I’m sorry sir I can’t help you.
I’m just about to have a nervous breakdown… the train leaves in less than five minutes and this bitch is seriously wrecking my Sunday morning head. I grow angry and tell her, in no uncertain terms, that it is a joint account and I have every right to conduct telephone banking especially when I’m on the other side of the bleedin’ planet and I need the frickin’ ATM to frickin’ well work. It’s not my fault if she’s looking at the wrong information screen.
What’s your card number again?
I give it. Again.
Oh. Sorry, yeah, you’re right.
I hold my tongue, fighting an overwhelming desire to make a childish noise in the manner of the professors from History Today.
What seems to be the problem?
The ATMs here in Jakarta won’t give me any money.
Oh, that’s because all international ATMs are down for servicing. They’ll be back up in an hour.
The train leaves in three minutes.
FOR. F**KS. SAKE.
I run about the station asking if anyone will change my emergency dollars. A guy in a little phone shop agrees and gives me a lousy rate, but sod it, the seconds are ticking down, I’ve got a date in Bali and I don’t want to keep her waiting another day. I thrust my newly-acquired Rupiahs at the counter lady and I jump on the train as it is moving out of the station.
Big shake on the box-car moving…
The wonderful train journey across the northern coast of Java took me from Jakarta to the eastern port town of Surabaya, but it simply wasn’t eastern enough for my liking – I needed to get to the wonderfully named port town of Banyuwangi for the ferry to Bali. But by the time I reached Surabaya it was already getting dark. I clambered aboard a clapped-out old coach and paid my dues: could I get there today? No chance… how does 4am suit you? Ah, sod it, I knew the ferries ran all night, so I was happy to give it a red hot go. It would have been a slightly more pleasant trip if I didn’t have to change coaches in some random down in the middle of the night (I was half asleep). At 5pm the bus, an hour late, pulled into the Banyuwangi ferry terminal.
Many moons ago, when I was a wee nipper running around the playground in shorts annoying the hell out of people (not much has changed, the playground has just got bigger…) we used to have a game of ‘tick’ that involved giving people THE MANGE. The rules were simple: you ticked somebody, thus giving them THE MANGE, and then they had to tick someone else to get rid of it. You see, marvellously enough, like something out of an episode of The Outer Limits, the ‘mange’ only infected one person at a time, so by giving your best friend THE MANGE, you were miraculously cured from it.
I think it’s the way most African leaders believe HIV works.
This game is nothing new, in America they call it Cooties, and, according to Wikipedia:
For ages 5 onwards, Cooties are known in Denmark as “fnat,” or “pigelus” (literally “girl lice”) and “drengelus” (“boy lice”), and in Norway “jentelus” (“girl lice”) and “guttelus” (“boy lice”). In Sweden and Finland it usually refers to girls, where they are known as tjejbaciller” (literally “girl bacillus”) and “tyttöbakteeri” (“girl bacteria”) respectively.
Anyway, there was one way to insure yourself against THE MANGE in my Liverpool school folklore; and that was by crossing your fingers and declaring yourself to be “on Barley”. I was never made clear weather this meant you had stacked up an invisible mound of barley and were standing on it, or did it mean you were metaphorically on an island immune from THE MANGE that happened to be called Barley?
Well, whatever it meant, I was now ON BALI, so there’s absolutely no chance of me catching THE MANGE. However, with all these mangy dogs running about the island, there was a good chance of catching Rabies, which I hear you can’t get rid of by ticking the person next to you and hoping they haven’t got their fingers crossed.
A short coach journey later I was in Denpasar, the capital city of Bali. Then it was a short taxi trip to the town Sanur and the Watering Hole hotel to meet the delectable Anna, my good friend from Liverpool who runs the biggest pole and aerial dance studio in the north west (and possibly the UK – I’ll have to check on that). She’s been in Indonesia for a week now, pottering about in Java and Borneo, but now our plans converge on the little Hindu island of Bali – an island whose reputation precedes her.
After a marvellously tasty breakle-fast, we headed over to Seminyak, just up the coast from Kuta beach. Anna checked into a backpackers hotel there, but I had somewhere else to stay – at a friend of my mum’s friend’s gaff. His name was Neil – a hilarious and good-natured ex-pat hailing from Port Glasgow. With several years working on and with superyachts under his belt, he would be my unofficial CouchSurf host for the next week or so.
You see, I was planning to leave on Friday (November the 5th) on the monthly Pelni ferry to Kupang in West Timor (East Timor being the 183rd nation of The Odyssey Expedition). But my laptop (Sony Jim) had other ideas. Yes, it was a few months ago when I cracked the screen, but the creeping darkness spreading itself like Venom over my liquid crystal display wasn’t too much of a mare until I got to Bali. Something about the climate, maybe, but the percentage of viewable screen reduced itself from (let’s say) 85% to less than 10% overnight. This meant I had to get it fixed asap. But first I had 25 hours worth of footage from Shanghai to Bali to upload onto the damn thing. Lucky that Neil had a spare stand-alone screen for me to abuse.
Thanks to a combination of lousy batteries and lousier advice from the fix-it people, it would be Thursday before I took the laptop to get fixed. They told me that they would order the part and that I should come back the next day with the laptop. I told them I was getting the ferry to Kupang tomorrow and it needed to be done today. But it was no way – I could either press on and hope to get my laptop fixed for a reasonable price in East Timor or Papua New Guinea (good luck with that!) or I could miss the boat (literally) and get it done here. No fear, I thought – with a bit of luck I could island hop down to Timor the conventional way using local ferries and it may only cost me a week.
Then again, what might happen is… oh, I’ll get to that later…
Anyway, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum; that afternoon, Anna and I went for a amble along Kuta beach and after beating off the advances of hundreds of old massage and bead-hawking women, eventually found ourselves enjoying a drink at the little bar at the base of the AJ Hackett Bungy (yes, that’s how they spell it) jump platform at the northern end of the beach.
Now the day before, Neil had been at a comedy night, and there he had got chatting with Paul, a young scouse guy who had been living in Bali for a few years now. Neil told him that he had the mad ging off that Nat Geo telly show staying with him, and Paul asked if we could meet up after work tomorrow.
So I called this Paul fella and told him we were at the AJ Hackett Bungy jump place and we waited for him to show up, which he duly did (eventually!), but while we were waiting I explained to the nice girl behind the bar that there really should be a dedicated AJ Hackett bungy jump place in the UK – specifically in Liverpool. Anyone with half a brain could scan the scouse skyline and hazard a guess where I’ve got in mind. She then dropped a piece of information that may (you never know!) make this pipe-dream a reality – Mr. AJ Hackett himself was here, in Bali, on a surfing holiday.
Could I meet up with him?
The girl humoured me, but I took it as a no. When this Paul chap arrived I told him the mad plan – and as if the planets aligned at that very moment, he explained that his mate Justin – who we were going out for drinkies with later – used to be the manager of the Double-Six club, part of the AJ Hackett Bungy complex.
Mr. Burns; Fingers tapping together; Ex-cellent…
Later that night, we met up with Justin. A real top bloke, he knew AJ personally and would have no problem arranging a meeting. Better still, he had a spare complimentary bungy jump (worth $100!!) that was up for grabs to anyone nutty enough to go for it.
I know someone!
That night descended (like pretty much every night I spent in Bali) into chaos, with Anna doing an incredible routine on the nightclub poles (the official dancers just had to wait their turn) and much utter jibber-jabberish being bandied about back and forth. It was lucky that Anna was with me, because otherwise I would have never found my way home.
On the Friday, it was Anna’s last day, so I asked Neil’s driver Madi to drop my laptop off at the fix-it place – I really didn’t want to have to waste half of my last day with Anna doing it myself (the congestion in Bali is epic). I thought that the screen would be sorted for the next day, I could do the bungee and meet AJ on Sunday and leave this burg next Monday.
Ha! That didn’t happen.
It was with a heavy heart that I said my fond farewells to Anna, but I was happy that over the last few months I’ve seen Hugh, Chris, Debbie, Stan, Helen, Thro and now Anna along the way: I just wish Mand had been able to meet me at some point too, but the fates… aye, the fates…
On the Saturday I fought through the traffic to the fix-it place, only for them to tell me that they couldn’t fix the laptop, so Neil’s driver Madi had kept hold of it. Would have been nice for him to tell us, nicer still if he had let us know that this weekend was some kind of Balinese festival which meant he would be unreachable until Monday. No laptop, no ferry, no escape, no fat cigar. What a frickin’ nightmare.
But this was only the start of my trauma. That night, I went out on the lash with Neil and we met with an Aussie called Ian who I (foolishly) tried to impress with my card tricks with the old Bicycle Deck. Turns out he’s a professional card magician and he saw right through my amateurish fumbles, but did give me one or two pointers as to how to up my game. By the witching hour, Neil was knackered and elected to return home. I stayed out with Ian and we headed into Kuta looking for Bintang and hilarity.
At around godknow o’clock I set off back to Neil’s gaff on the back of one of Bali’s ubiquitous motorbikes.
Only my hat didn’t.
My. Hat. Didn’t.
We went back, I searched and I search, but to no avail: Hat 5 was gone. Gone to join his brothers in the great milliners in the sky.
Hat 1: Lost at The V Festival in August 2003 after Ana Matronic from The Scissor Sisters got me so drunk that I passed out during The Pixies set.
Hat 2: Lost in February 2006 during the Half Moon Party in the jungle of Ko Pha Ngan thanks to Stan and copious amounts of beer and buckets of joy.
Hat 3: Disappeared in time and space some time between 2007 and 2008. May well have been destroyed by Mandy in a fit of peak (she no love Mr. Hat).
Hat 4: Retired in Feb 2010 after having shrunk in the wash. Kudos for having survived 142 countries on my bonze.
Hat 5: Lost in Bali, Nov 2010, after night out on the lash.
Without my hat I feel like half a man, the sun will bake my face and my ears will glow red like the Ready-Brek man. People won’t recognise me, I won’t be able to cover my bad hair days (which is pretty much every day – I’m a GING for Christ’s sake) I will have to dig out my sunglasses even though I think they make me look like a proper weirdo, I will have to invest in some sunscreen even though I HATE sunscreen with a passion. I will have nothing to use as a pillow against the window of the bus, nothing to cover my face when I sleep under the glare of the tropical sun, nothing to keep my hair dry when it rains and nothing to use as a fan on a dog day afternoon.
Without my hat, the expedition will go on, but with a heavy heart. I’ve lost my daemon. Hat 5, from country 143 (Libya) to country 182 (Indonesia): you may be gone, but you’ll never be forgotten.
But let’s look on the Mr. Brightside: the girls in the Champagne Bar here dress like THIS:
On Sunday I met up with Justin for my bungee jump at AJ’s, but sadly, no AJ. He was there earlier, but not now. However, we did get him on the phone and he agreed to let me break ALL THE RULES and do a jump with my camera, much to the astonishment of the bungy staff. Hee hee – it’s not WHAT you know…
First Justin’s girlfriend Natalie gaffered my camera to my hand…
(If you look in the background of this shot, you’ll see a bungy menu that includes one called ‘THE FIRE BALL’. Yes – they set you on fire before you jump. Seriously. ‘MOTO MADNESS’ has you going over on a motorbike. I kid you not.)
And then I jumped…
Here’s the video of it:
As I had my camcorder attached to my hand and my glasses attached to my head with tape, I look doubly ridiculous. This was so I could film a line for the trailer for the second series of the TV show – yes, I still have to convince the Vogons at Nat Geo that it’ll be a good idea to commission another series. YGADS! Anyone want to commission a TV show for a fiver?
Funnily enough, you can quite clearly hear me swear that I would ‘never’ do a bungee jump again after this jump in New Zealand back in 2002…
…so you can gauge my commitment to the cause of Series 2, even if most of you Brits and Yanks haven’t seen Series 1 yet (hold on, it’s coming!).
Taking of Series 1, that night Justin and I headed around to scouse Paul’s gaff for some beers and telly – specifically, my TV show which was being screened here in Indonesia. Narcissistic, I know, but I’ve only seen half of the episodes, and I was hoping it was one I hadn’t seen before (it wasn’t, it was the first episode, bah!).
After that Paul (who, obviously from being out of The Pool for too long, is a red) wanted to watch Chelsea kick Liverpool’s arse. Strangely enough, Liverpool won 2-0, but then stranger things have happened – I mean, Stephen Hawking has had, what, three wives?
It was a good night, and the next morning I was up bright and breezy to claim my computer back off Madi and head off on my errands. First up, I headed over to AJ’s to meet with Justin and a guy from the UK called Simon who Justin reckoned was ‘the guy’ to fix my laptop. Simon took down the serial number and said he’d give me a call tomorrow.
Justin and I grabbed some breakfast with a Scottish guy called Dennis who was pretty hilarious and (like me) a huge fan of the Viz. I thought it might be an idea to introduce him the OH SO WRONG joys of K— and the Gang. Woo haha. Ha. Then we headed back to the Bungy place: AJ was going back to France this afternoon, this would be my last chance to bend his ear…
Thankfully, the man himself appeared soon afterwards and I got to sit down and have a good chat with him. AJ Hackett is one of the guys who put bungee jumping into the global subconscious – mostly by his audacious (and illegal) jump off the Eiffel Tower back in the eighties. After over three million jumps (and no fatalities – yet!) his bungee platforms have spread out from his home of New Zealand to Australia, Malaysia, Germany, France, Las Vegas and beyond. His jump in Macau, China is the highest fixed commercial bungee in the world according to Guinness Book of Records.
Having done hundreds of jumps himself, he’s only had one close call, and that was when he plummeted off a helicopter at the wrong height for his length of cord: he smashed into the sea way, way too fast and did himself a proper mischief: breaking a bunch of bones and leaving him with some pretty nifty scars.
Oh, and ‘bungy’ is the Kiwi spelling, apparently – don’t blame me!!
I snagged myself a great interview for the TV show and afterwards, I put forward my proposition: a 400ft AJ Hackett bungy jump in Liverpool – with my Anna as His Girl Friday to run the show. AJ’s eyes lit up on seeing where I had in mind. He had been looking for a suitable site in the UK for years, but never found anywhere…
So yes, my funky little city, if bungee comes to Liverpool, you know who to thank 😉
I said my thanks and my farewells and headed off to the nearby Benoa port and marina to scope out another way of getting to Timor – nah – all the ferries leave from Padangbai a good few hours up the coast of Bali, and you have to island-hop your way there: via Lombok, Sumbawa and Flores. Well, at least I’d get to see a bit more of jolly old Indonesia AND WHATEVER COULD BE WRONG WITH THAT?
In fact, Indonesia has really really grown on me during this trip. I have to confess, when I was here a few years ago, I didn’t really warm to the place. I was on my own (as per usual) Bali just rained every day and compared with Thailand the beaches are blurgh (I’m not a surfer I guess), Java was dull and overcast, the memories I have of Sumatra involved copious amounts of mud and rather large and scary spiders and the LOCAL FOOD here is so damn awful it makes me *SHUDDER* just to think about it.
This time, with friends old and new, good cheer, hilarious escapades and copious amounts of alcoholic lubrication, I have had an utter utter blast: and I’m only a week into this little layover. However, the local food is still so lousy it makes me cry – if you like luke warm steamed rice and cold fish heads (no, seriously) then Indonesia will be your culinary delight. Then again, if you honestly like luke warm steamed rice and cold fish heads you’re a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic. I think the food here is what goes on in the head of a rabid Anglophobe French food critic when he lies back and thinks of England.
Other countries where the local food is AWFUL include:
All of the Caribbean except Jamaica
Most of Africa
The vast majority of The Middle East (with the notable exceptions of Lebanon and Turkey).
But naff nosh aside, all I can say is this: don’t think for a SECOND that I’m not having the time of my life doing this adventure. Yes, there are lows: not seeing Mandy for a year, being chucked in jail in The Congo for no good reason, losing my hat, the depressing lack of w00t from the TV show, the crazy bus drivers, the deadly air-conditioning etc. but compared with the highs, the fun, the excitement, the randomness, the sheer joy of having a clear and defined mission to do and a blast to be had, I really cannot complain: ordinary life just doesn’t compare.
Justin picked me up from the port and together with his girlfriend Natalie (she who sellotaped my glasses to my head yesterday), we headed out to find THE LOST CROCODILES OF BALI!!
What what? Yes, any naturalists amongst you will swear that there are no native crocs on Bali, and you’d be right. But these snappers aren’t locals. In the 1990s a Balinese theme park was opened – a mini Alton Towers – with Balinese sculptures, a music hall, an artificial volcano(!) and a rollercoaster or two. Unfortunately, ten years ago the owner went bankrupt (or done a runner) and the bank left the theme park to go to rack and ruin. It has since been slowly – and magnificently – taken back by the jungle: a lost city which will hopefully bamboozle and confound future archaeologists… they made their sculptures out of concrete?
But there was the question of what to do with the crocodiles that had been shipped in and put in a crocodile pit for the thrill and amusement of the discerning public (knowing the Balinese, a daily live goat feeding show wouldn’t be out of the question). Well, this being Indonesia, the answer was simple: they just left them there to die.
But die they did not; fed for years by kindly locals throwing roadkill into the pit (and turning to cannibalism when the locals forgot about them), we felt it was high time to give these poor reptilian castaways a break. So we bought them some KFC.
Now in pretty much every country in the world (apart from the UK) you can choose between two types of KFC coating: original and spicy. I’m quite partial to original myself, but I was quite interested in seeing what these starving crocs preferred. So with a bucket of the Colonel’s finest (and some local cooked chicken as a control) Justin, Natalie and I joined forces to conduct an essencial scientific experiment – original or spicy – what will the crocs prefer?
Sadly, our expedition came to nowt. The crocs had been saved and taken to the zoo a few months ago (presumably as a result of the same magazine article that peaked our interest) and so I was left with a croc-less pit, a bucketful of fried chicken and egg all over my face. Well, at least the chicken didn’t go to waste 😉
By Tuesday afternoon I still hadn’t heard back from Simon about whether or not my laptop could be fixed in Bali. At this point I was kinda raring get on with the adventure (if things had gone to plan, I’d be in East Timor today), but there was something holding me back: I can’t say really what it was, but it definitely had something to do with the sheer awesomeness of everyone I’ve met here in Bali.
For instance, the other day I met up with Neil in a place called KuDeTa, the swankiest bar on the island. I was just meeting Neil and then we were going on somewhere else – this place was way, way out of my price range (if it’s not a pound a pint I can’t help you). Just as Neil is finished off his bottle of Bintang, a lovely Japanese girl comes over to us, asks me if my name is Graham (which it is), explains that she’s the DJ here and says she’d really like to buy me a drink.
“That would be amazing”, I said, going bright red.
“Does this happen to you a lot?” asks Neil.
“Not really, but it seems to be happening a lot in Bali.”
So what if my laptop wasn’t fixed yet? I was having a great time. Although I have to say that Neil was a real trooper for putting up with me (and my mess) for so long. I hoped to remedy this by having a new screen fitted tomorrow so I could be out of here on Thursday.
But, as I said, I was in no great hurry. It looks like after my amazing 11 country romp through October, November would yield just one new nation, and that’s if I was lucky. My visa authorisation for East Timor STILL hadn’t come through. This was getting ridiculous. I had visions of me waiting like a noob on the border for two weeks while they got their shit together. Anytime before Christmas, lads, thanks…
Simon called me in the evening to say that there was no chance of getting the laptop repaired.
I’d have to buy a new one.
However, all new small laptops do not come with a firewire port and I don’t have any other means of backing up my video tapes.
Well, if the blogs are to continue I guess I’ll just have to bite the bullet. And so that’s what I did. On the Wednesday I met up with Simon and we spent the ENTIRE DAY (seriously!) looking for a new laptop. It wasn’t like there was a lot of choice, it was more to do with the eternal gridlock that typifies Denpasar, the capital of Bali. In the end I opted for a little HP which, at less than 180 quid new, was a better deal than getting my other laptop fixed would have been in China.
I haggled and haggled, but the price wouldn’t go any lower. Done.
Simon the utterly ace chap that he is, took my new lappy to fix it up with the latest bits and bobs – he would return it tomorrow (Thursday). Fair enough – I’d leave for East Timor on Friday morning.
HOWEVER, my new Bali friends Paul and Justin had other ideas: tomorrow night there was a beach party at an exclusive resort – free booze and free food – and I was on the guest list. Hip-Hip Hooray! After missing out on the Ko Pha Ngan Full Moon party, I was well up for a piss-up on the sand, and so my departure date got pushed back to Saturday. Sorry, Neil!!
By the time I rucked up at the party, everyone was already utterly wasted: they had started drinking at 4pm and by now it was dark. I tried my best to play catch up, but I didn’t stand a chance: before I could fully enjoy the ruinous effects of Bacchus’ finest I was told that the free bar had come to an end. Bah!
Oh well, I nursed my last free bottle of Bintang on the beach watching the dark tide roll in. I chatted to a Russian girl who was there but I had to leave the conversation as I was suffering from a giggle fit brought on by just how amazingly miserable this Russian chick was. I don’t remember her exact words, but they were something along the lines of,
“I hate this place… it’s all beaches and sunsets and parties… I wish I was in Moscow.”
Now we all get homesick, sure, but c’mon – this girl had just been tanked up for free in the swankiest resort in the whole of Indonesia. I guess what they say is true: there is no misery quite like Russian misery. That’s probably why I found it so hard to keep a straight face. Sorry, whatever your name was, I guess I may have come across as a tad insensitive. Poor girl, having to go to parties all the time in a tropical paradise and drink free booze…
The resort, I have to say, was quite exquisite: like something out of the brochures of other people’s holidays: luxury apartments overlooking a cliff, a funicular to take you down to an exclusive beach and an ‘infinity pool’ (a swimming pool which continuously pours a thin film of water over a ledge, creating the illusion that the pool has no wall on the far side) that catches the sunset each night like some kind of toothless yokel catching the moon in a bucket.
There was a large stylised ‘K’ drawn in the sand and lit with candles. It looked really cool from the top of the cliff. It looked even cooler after I rearranged the candles into a large comedy knob. I hope the honeymooning couples who had paid $1000 a night for a room overlooking the beach thought it was as funny as I did.
As I had caused enough trouble in paradise, Paul and I sped off back to Seminyak for a few more beers. However, considering how utterly plastered he and his mate were, it was a little like herding cats. We managed (just) to get something to eat from a burger kiosk and, well after that it all gets a little sketchy. I woke up in Neil’s the next day: FRIDAY… DAY OF ACTION!!
By 6pm on the Friday, I had got a good 5% of the things done that I wanted to get done before I left. That was the point at which Neil asked if I fancied coming out for a swift half. When I returned at dawn the next day it registered that I wouldn’t be leaving until Sunday. BUT ALL WAS NOT LOST! Last night I met a bloke called Tim who might be able to help me get to Palau next month from Sorong in West Papua. Yes yes there are some who may cock a snook at my partiality for socialising during this adventure, but a friendly chat over a cold frothy one has gained me (amongset other things) my passages to Cuba, my visa for Saudi and my escape from Dubai.
This journey is not about what you know, because unless you’ve already been there recently, ‘what you know’ is taken from the Lonely Planet or internet travel forums, and is, nine times out of ten, wrong. Maybe I should have had a scout to go on ahead and facilitate my course for me, then again, maybe I should have had two jeeps following me a la Ewan MacGregor and a helicopter on standby in case of emergencies.
But no folks, your hapless adventurer here has been flying solo without a support crew, safety harness or parachute (or landing gear for that matter) for the best part of two years now. Sometimes things work out, sometimes they don’t. But one thing is for sure: I’m going to wiggle out of the alluring siren-like clutches of Bali and GET ON WITH THE SHOW.
Keeping this in mind, I resolved to stay in on Saturday night, ensure that everything was ship-shape and Bristol fashion. Amazingly, I kept my promise to myself.
Neil had gone out to some kind of dinner party (I only get invited to chimp’s tea parties) and left me in the house on my own. As I gathered my stuff together, a storm broke and the tropical rain began to cascade down in large spherical blobs. I changed into my swimming shorts and plunged into Neil’s swimming pool. There are few things in life that are better than ending a hot sticky day by nightswimming and feeling the cool refreshing rain on your face whilst emulating Andy’s victory pose from The Shawshank Redemption.
I have to get out of here. Calypso has me firmly in her clutches. I need to break free and continue my journey home to Ithaca. I leave in the morning NO MATTER WHAT.
It was too early to fathom what was going on, but I seem to have found my way into a taxi and it seems to be heading to the bus station. These are good signs. I think I know where I have to go and I think that it takes three hours to get there. The guy is telling me I can buy a ‘through ticket’ which will include the ferry to the neighbouring island of Lombok as well. Okay, sure.
I woke up on the bus having dreamt that I had just been driven onto the ferry to Lombok. I looked around. I had been driven onto the ferry to Lombok. Excellent. It would seem I’ve been doing this kind of thing so long I can now do it in my sleep.
Goodbye Bali. Goodbye Neil, Paul, Justin, Simon and all the brilliant, brilliant people I’ve met over the last couple of weeks. I can see why people find it hard to leave Bali, I did.
Arriving in Lombok, I wanted to get taken to the other side of the island, popped on another ferry and taken to the island of Sumbawa. Luckily, that’s what the bus driver also wanted to do and I was happy to let him. So another short ferry trip and I was in Maluk on the western tip of Sumbawa wanting to go east. There was a bus leaving in less than an hour that was going where I wanted it to go. This was like shooting fish in a barrel.
What’s more, the helpful tout dude offered me a through ticket for the ‘fast boat’ to Labaunbajo, Flores – the place from where I can get another ferry to Indonesian West Timor (East Timor hopefully being country 183 of The Odyssey Expedition). I settled into my seat on the bus as it sped off into the night. Tomorrow I would be in THE LAND OF THE HOBBITS. No, really.
The bus drove through the night, arriving in the eastern port town of Sape at 8am, just in time for the ferry to Labuanbajo in Flores. The helpful tout dude from Maluk yesterday ripped me off good an’ proper. I paid 150,000 Indonesian Rupiah for a ferry ticket that was worth 40,000. 150,000 is about US$17: enough for three nights accommodation in a Indonesian flea pit hotel. I may have to return to Maluk and kill him.
He also lied about the speed of the boat: this was NO ‘fast boat’, it was slower than a West African internet connection and didn’t get me to Labuanbajo until it was almost dark. This a merry man did me not make. I checked into the cheapest joint in town and headed out to find out the times of the ferries leaving Flores for Kupang in West Timor. Easier said than done. According to the Lonely Planet there was a boat leaving Larantuka on Wednesday which sounded good, but nobody could give me confirmation and Larantuka is one the far, far east of the long skinny island of Flores – two days drive from here. It was doubtful I could make it in time without spending a ridiculous amount ($200!!) on a taxi. Like in Splash.
Unfortunately for me there was no confirmation, timetable, inkling nor educated guess on offer with regards to if, when and where the next ferry to Timor would be leaving FROM ANYWHERE ON THE ISLAND. I would have to visit the port first thing in the morning and see if they could help me.
I settled in for the night in a great little bar called The Lounge which (if I had arrived earlier) would have been a great place to watch the sun set.
The next boat that would sensibly get me to the island of Timor is leaving the southern port town of Aimere on Friday morning. It’ll take me all of Thursday to get there, but hey-ho LET’S GO. I also found out that the Wednesday ferry from Larantuka may well be a myth. I had found this all out by about 8am after a bunch of phone calls and frantic arm-waving.
My work here done, I went to the Lounge Bar for breakfast and ended up staying there all day, abusing the Wi-Fi, updating my website, researching the South Pacific and working on this damn promo video for series 2 of ‘Graham’s World’. With over 100 hours of video to sift through, we could be here for some time… I kind of wish that the first season was good enough to sell the second one, I think that the problem is that this year things have gone spectacularly wrong, but not in a particularly sensational way – ie. me getting chucked in a jail cell in Africa. You’ll notice (if you’ve seen the show), my utterly successful jaunt around Europe (45 countries in three weeks) was reduced to a one-minute montage.
You see, since Michael Palin shat his pants on the dhow to India, it’s all been about the hardship hasn’t it? You sick little puppies.
Anyway, if you live in the UK you could really help my cause by writing to the Head of Program Acquisition at the BBC (try [email protected] ) and asking her when “Graham’s World aka Lonely Planet’s The Odyssey” will be shown on British TV – the imdb link is http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1669770/. Say you saw an episode on holiday in the Middle East, India, SE Asia or South America on Nat Geo Adventure. And don’t the BBC own Lonely Planet anyway? Yeah, say that too.
Okay, stop nodding and GO DO IT.
C’mon, I’m not going to write anything more until you do it.
Now yesterday (all my troubles seemed so far away) on the way to Flores from the island of Sumbawa I passed two islands: Rinca and Komodo. And you know what’s on Komodo don’t you? DRAGONS! Komodo Dragons, to be precise – the world’s largest monitor lizard (and the world’s largest venomous creature). I booked myself on a trip to go and see ’em tomorrow.
Onboard my boat to see the Komodo Dragons were a couple of mad Italians from Milan called Franco and Frederico. The two-hour ride from Labuanbajo to the island of Rinca (better than Komodo itself for seeing the dragons) would had been uneventful had the engine not EXPLODED three-quarters of the way there. The boat owners rushed to fix the blown gasket (ignoring the fact that we were drifting dangerously close to some rocks) as Frederico, Franco and I whistled and hollered at any passing ships that came within earshot. After about half an hour, a small ferry gave us a tow into Rinca Island’s one and only port.
Rinca and Komodo are protected national parks, so there are no backpackers and beach parties here: with good reason – the dragons are not just fascinating species worthy of protection (as are all animals within our increasingly shrinking biomass, with the exception of mosquitoes, parasitic wasps and the worms that cause river blindness: we could do without them), they are also remarkably deadly and a drunken backpacker would make for a great snack – if he or she hung around long enough for the venom to take its toll.
If anyone missed the macabre scenes shot for the BBC’s Life series last year of the dragons killing a water buffalo, I humbly suggest you attempt to track them down via YouTube. They’re at the end of the second episode, the one on reptiles. You see, the dragon’s venom isn’t very fast acting: indeed it can take up to three weeks to kill its prey. This is where it all starts getting a little morbid. After inflicting the deadly bite, the dragons will follow the stricken animal around 24/7 as it gets sicker and sicker, until it finally shuffles off this mortal coil – much like great big lizardy vultures.
Incidentally – do you know the difference between an animal that is venomous and one that is poisonous? The terms are not synonymous: ‘venomous’ means that the animal will bite or otherwise inject venom into its prey to kill them. ‘Poisonous’ means that you will get ill if you eat whatever it is. So a snake is venomous, but you can eat one it if you’re feeling peckish. A blowfish, on the other hand, will never bite you or cause you any problems whatsoever… until you’re stupid enough to eat one.
A good rule of thumb is that predators = venomous and prey = poisonous.
And, just for the record, ‘flammable’ means the substance itself burns (paper is flammable) but ‘inflammable’ means that the substance doesn’t burn, the vapours do (patrol is inflammable – as are all liquids you can set fire to).
I just thought I’d throw that in there. Don’t say these blogs ain’t informative.
Anyway, we had a guide with a STICK! (woo!) just in case any dragon decided he or she fancied dining on ginger Scousers (or mad Italians). Seems a bit mad that one of the most fearsome animals in the world can be held at bay by a stick. There was a large group of dragons hanging out under the kitchen hut of the reserve lodge. After snapping some photos and getting some footage, we headed out into the jungley interior to try and find one of these illusive creatures doing what they do best: hang around waiting for their latest water buffalo to die (poor old Fred Flintstone). We soon found evidence that Here Be Dragons: the females will dig loads of holes all over the place and only lay her eggs in one to confuse egg-eating predators.
After walking for about 45 minutes we stumbled upon a couple of buffalo chilling out in a muddy creek, and, sure enough – there was a dragon keeping sentry.
It didn’t move much, though. I asked the guide if I could borrow his stick to poke it. I hope he know I was joking…! Magnificent animals, but I didn’t get too close: I didn’t want a septic leg – when they want to they can move lightning fast. But not today and not in the tropical heat of the noonday sun. If you come to see them in June you might be very lucky and see a couple of males fighting. In a quirk of evolution, (and like Adult Friend Finder) the male-to-female ratio is 1 to 4 – so competition is fierce.
Hmm… my pics don’t really do justice to these fellas. Since I use professional video kit (which sometimes even works!) I don’t bother with a professional SLR stills camera: too much kit to guard 24/7! The video I got was much better. I might sell it to the BBC.
At 3am the bus stopped so we could get something to eat. Obeying my circadian rhythms, I stayed on the bus and slept. At 5am we boarded the ship to the island of Lombok. Again, I didn’t get off the bus (although everybody else did). We hit Lombok by 7am and got to the main town of Mataram by nine. John and the Canadians, Mike and Josh, were told that the bus wouldn’t be continuing on to Bali until 1pm.
I was told that the ticket would be 150,000 Rupiah, which would bring my grand Labuanbajo-to-Denpasar total to 305,000 – just 10,000 (one dollar) short of what the other guys paid.
But that seemed a little too much for me, and I didn’t fancy hanging around the Mataram bus station for hours on end, so I jumped a motorbike taxi to the port of Lembar. It cost 25,000 and the ferry to Padangbai in Bali was 31,000. So if I could get the bus from Padangbai to Denpasar for less than 100,000 I would be quids in. In the event, I haggled the driver down to 40,000 for a grand Labuan-to-Denpasar total of 251,000 – a good 100,000 less than I was quoted for a through-ticket. 100,000 can get you four big Bintang beers, two nights in a pension, two pizzas or six and a half nasi gorengs.
I’m currently on the ferry to Bali. The sea is a lot rougher than it was yesterday, but nothing compared to the North Sea. I’m sitting on the back pew of a line of bench seats with my laptop plugged into the tuck shop power socket. It’s cheap and it’s cheerful – costing just over two quid for a three hour boat ride. Neil’s away in Singapore today, but he’s left a house key for me to pick up from his mate Cilian. Good stuff. Let’s go HATI HATI…!
I arrived in Denpasar in good time and grabbed a taxi to central Seminyak. I got in touch with Neil’s mate and he said he’d be at the pub at 9pm. This gave me a few hours to upload all these blogs that have been coming thick and fast over the last few days (I’m sad that ‘Oh Dear’ has been pushed off the front page: it’s well worth reading!).
So I met with Cilian and got the keys and had a good natter over a couple of beers. Cilian (and his brother Cuanna) work with Neil doing superyacht supplies – not just for Indonesia, but for nine other destinations as well, including Sri Lanka, Maldives and Seychelles (this may come in handy later on in the mission!!). But what’s particularly cool is their involvement in a wonderful little charity called YACHT AID.
“You own a yacht?! What do you need aid for??” I hear you cry. No – the aid isn’t for the yachties; what it is is a global distribution network that delivers school books and equipment to some of the most under-privileged kids in the world. The thinking is this: if a yacht is going to a far-flung destination anyway, don’t waste the journey! as my dad always says to me whenever he spots me going upstairs without some knickknack or other. So the boat captains get to give a little back to the communities that they visit. Which is nice. And with very low overheads and zero transport costs, it means that a very large proportion of the money raises goes straight into buying stuff for the people who really need it.
Anyway, it’s a worthy charity and if you sail, it’s one that is definitely worth getting involved with. You can learn more about Yacht Aid by clicking here.
And now that I’ve got you in a charitable mood (and since Christmas is around the corner…!) if you can give a little money (or, even better, a lot) to my chosen charity, WaterAid, I’ll love you forever.
So I got to Neil’s just after midnight. As luck would have it, Neil was just arriving back from Singapore on a business trip, so we caught up over a nice cold Bintang. And the hat? Neil suggested I wait until tomorrow to be reunited with my travel buddy.
The next day I was up early and hitting the streets. Sixteen hours of videotape and three hard-drives that I didn’t want to lose in PNG called for a trip to the post office. I also needed to stock up on my travel essentials – deodorant (wow did I STINK yesterday!), wetwipes, new belt etc. I was hoping to go surfing with Justin as I’ve never surfed before and although I quite detest the culture, I do have a strict guiding principle that I should try everything in life at least once. In the end, a disaster in work meant that Justin couldn’t make it, so instead I went and checked out what was happening in a nearby Hindu Temple – it was full of people dressed in white and sporting turbans. Apparently, today was a big ceremony of renewal and later on there would be some kind of shindig in a graveyard. Sounded groovy. But my own personal renewal – the hat replacement ceremony – was fast approaching.
Neil told me to meet him at the Harry Juku bar at 7pm and after a bit of an adventure on the back of a motorbike (whose driver had no clue where Harry Juku’s was) I arrived to find Skye, the hostess with the mostess, wearing my new hat. Skye is the Aussie manager of the bar who is so good-looking that she reduces my power of speech to baby-like gurgles (something I pointed out a couple of weeks ago to a chap called Russell – who then turned out to be her boyfriend – D’OH!). She was happy to hand it over though – an investiture that should come with the line ‘you lost today kid – doesn’t mean you have to like it’. And onto my ginger bonce descended HatSix, the latest incarnation of the Kangaroo-skin akubra that’s been keeping me jolly and wise for the last eight years of my life.
My hats are a bit like James Bond – they may be played by different hats, but they are always the same hat. In which case, this hat is squidgy-faced scouser Daniel Craig, and, being a six, will no doubt conjure up a leggy blonde woman who nobody else can see wobbling around in a red dress and high heels looking not quite as sexy as Boomer (who doesn’t even have to try).
So, hat on head, I joined forces with Skye, Russell and their mates and hit the town – Neil doesn’t like the Kuta area, which is fair enough – he lives here! First up we went to a little pub (whose name sadly escapes me) which offered double vodka RedBulls for just 15,000 Rupiah (a quid) and after that closed we went to a place called Eikon which seems to have replaced the Sari Club (I was here just before the 2002 bombing) as the place in Kuta to be. It’s a charmless little affair and happily we didn’t stay too long – a few doors down is M Bar Go where outside I met Natalie (Justin’s girlfriend and she of the crocodile KFC expedition) and inside I met up with the man himself – Justin, who, being the bar manager, was more than happy to sling a few free beers my way.
It would be 4am before I got back to Neil’s. I was thinking of doing a dawn surf, but I was a) too tired and b) far too drunk. Although those two factors may have improved my balance – who knows?
Major, MAJOR thanks to Neil, Vic Market and, most of all, my delightful girlfriend Mandy for sorting the new hat out. Double points to Mandy considering she hates the hat and EVERYTHING IT STANDS FOR!!
I was up the next day at seven (I’ll sleep when I’m dead) and busy getting all my remaining stuff together. I planned to get to the bus station early, but in the event, Neil and I went out for brunch and I didn’t end up leaving until 2pm. The journey time to Surabaya (the port town on Java from where I’ll hopefully be getting the ferry to West Papua tomorrow) was twelve hours and, as I didn’t fancy turning up at two in the morning, I killed a few hours in an internet café catching up on the latest nonsense from the rest of the world.
On this very topic, I have something to say: England not getting the World Cup was gutting, fair enough (but the BBC was right to expose the corruption that goes on in Fifa) – but my outrage is focussed on the fact that QATAR is going to be hosting the games in 2022. WHAT. THE. HELL…?
!!===WARNING! RANT APPROACHING===!!
Let me make this quite clear – Qatar is a boring little shithole in the middle of a scorching hot desert. It’s a nasty wahhabist dictatorship where the guy in charge got there much in the manner of Kind Hearts and Coronets – BY KILLING ALL HIS RIVALS. And it’s all well and good for Bahrain to host the Formula One GP, as the people who go to watch these races are generally well-to-do and probably own a yacht, but footy is a game that is supposed – supposed – to be the game of the working class – ie. accessible to all. Qatar is one of the most expensive countries in the world.
And yeah, good luck with your Russian visas for 2018 – don’t forget to check in with the KGB every time you burp, fart or whistle unless you want to be deported. But free and fair democracies aren’t good for bribery and corruption, and so I guess its fair enough that the 2018 and 2022 World Cup Tournaments will be held in ruthlessly oppressive, backwards-looking oil-rich oligarchies.
The adverts for Qatar 2022 appeared on every single ad break during the World Cup (I was in the middle east at the time) and grew ever more tedious by the second. I must have seen the same frickin’ ad over one hundred times: and one thing that struck me was the lack of women being represented. There are little girls running around looking happy at the lifetime of meekness and servitude that awaits them, but the only women you see have their back to the camera and have black sheets draped over their entire bodies, lest they peak my uncontrollable lust.
This is understandable since women don’t really like football, do they? Best they just dress in black and stay at home, a veiled breeding machine for when you’ve had your fill of Filipino whores, eh?
Oh and don’t give me the feint praise of Qatar being a more progressive state than the others in the area. The relationship between parasitic wasps and the caterpillars in which they lay their eggs is more progressive than Saudi Arabia SO IT’S NOT SAYING MUCH.
But that’s not what REALLY sticks in my craw. What’s making steam shoot out of my ears is the reckless, wanton and Machiavellian disregard for the global environment.
Yeah, as per usual, it’s up yours Pale Blue Dot, we have $$$ to make.
The tournament will be held at the height of summer in a country where the thermometer often tops fifty degrees and humidity stands at 90% on a good day. And so what are they going to do to prevent the players – and fans – keeling over from heat exhaustion? They’re going to install air conditioning! IN 100,000 SEATER STADIA. IN THE DESERT.
This is Turkmenbashi levels of insanity. Yes, he wanted to build an Ice Place in the desert in Turkmenistan, but AT LEAST HE ONLY WANTED ONE OF THEM, NOT EIGHT.
It’s a good we’ve got that Climate Change thing NIPPED IN THE BUD EH? Isn’t that right England…? I believe you’re currently toiling under the coldest start to December since the Ice Age. Well, I’m sure it’s a cyclical thing and the oil companies will be vindicated against what those mean nasty scientists have been politely saying since the 1960s. Next they’ll be telling us smoking leads to cancer! Ha! Imagine THAT Christopher Hitchens*! What do you have to say on the matter, Bill Hicks? Madness, I know, Patrick Swayze.
So, thanks to Fifa, the amount of fossil fuel burnt over the four weeks of the tournament JUST KEEPING THE STADIA COOL will be more than the ENTIRE CARBON OUTPUT of the FIFTY FOUR Nations of Africa for ONE YEAR. A micro-state of less than one million inhabitants producing more pollutants in a month than one BILLION people spread out over an entire continent can muster in twelve.
Oh, and one last thing… UNLESS YOU’RE LUDICROUSLY RICH, THERE WILL BE NO BOOZE FOR YOU!! Ha! Good luck with that Fifa, you stupid miserable contemptible – (and easily bribed) – morons.
Phew! Had to get that off my chest.
So at 6pm I boarded the bus back to Java, over a month since I left. I’ll be heading to the Pelni shipping offices in the morning – I hope they’re open on Sundays – and by Wednesday I should be in Sorong, West Papua. I can’t get phone coverage at sea, but I’ll try to update my Twitter feed when we stop a Makassar in Sulawesi on the way. Wish me luck!!
*After watching the Paxman interview with a resigned-to-die Christopher Hitchens this week (which almost had me in tears, by the way), the most poignant moment was when Paxman asked if Hitch had any regrets about not leading a more healthy life. Hitch replied yes, but not for himself: for his family that he would be unjustly leaving behind years (if not decades) before his time.
If that doesn’t make you want to buckle up, fly straight and PACK IN THE FAGS, there really is no hope for you. This isn’t a rehearsal you know. This is all there is.