Day 655: Monty Python’s Floating Circus

17.10.10:

ROLL UP! ROLL UP! For one day only: the magnificent, the hilarious, the intrinsically fascinating BLOKE WHO’S NOT FROM AROUND HERE!

Yes, I get stared at a lot.  Usually because I’m walking down the street babbling inanely to my camera, but mostly because I’m as whiter than a late-era Michael Jackson and I have the most unusual mutation on my 16th chromosome that makes my hair a most ridiculous shade of red.

I guess there’s a point (usually when you reach India) when you stop seeing it as rude, but you know like, sometimes, you just really want to – you know – scratch your arse?  Or maybe adjust yourself after a night’s kip?  What if doing so resulted in gales of laughter from the stalls?  I better explain.

Yesterday, after fighting Jakarta and losing miserably (and then winning by default) I was in no mood for caring nor indeed sharing.  The first on board the ship, I monopolised an entire cushioned pew designed for four to myself.  Knowing there were no beds on board and also knowing I was going to spent the next two nights sweating like Shergar on this floating cockroach farm there was no way on God’s Green Earth I was going to be scrunched up in a ball and then spending the following day attempting to get the crick out of my neck.  So I spread myself and my bags out across the bench, stuck my earphones into my lugholes and proceeded to ignore anybody and everybody who may or may not have some kind of objection to my selfish behaviour.

For its excellent position by the window and the telly, I had picked the bench on the very front row of the ship, which was great for keeping an eye on my stuff, not so good if I was hoping not to be gawked at by the 100+ other passengers for the subsequent 36 hours.  Yup, I was the only Johnny Foreigner onboard and boy did they let me know it.  I sat up, everybody laughed.  I laid down, everybody laughed.  I got up to go to the toilet, everybody laughed.  I reckon I could have told a couple of mother-in-law jokes in Yiddish and everyone would have laughed.
I took this all in good humour, I guess it’s all part of the experience, but there is a difference between people laughing with you and people laughing at you, is there not?

I should possibly tell you something about the ferry itself.  Man I thought I had been transported back to Africa.  No air-con (just an open window to keep things cool), plastic on the benches which was marvellously attuned to stick to sweaty human skin like superglue, people sleeping on the floor on bits of cardboard (I could have been back on the Sissiwani) and the aforementioned cockroach infestation.  BIG ONES.  Like, really big.

I managed to kill about 17 of the little feckers (much to the delight of my captive audience) but did wake up a few times in the night and have to pick one off my face or out of my hair.

But unlike the Sissiwani (almost exactly one year ago, pop-pickers!) at least there was a telly on board, which meant I got to watch half of The Gods Must Be Crazy and nearly all of The Frighteners.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get to watch the Merseyside Derby and see Everton well and truly trounce – going down! – Liverpool 2-0.

But you can’t have everything.  I just enjoyed the fact despite everything that the red half of the city had a much worse day than me.

Day 656: When I Left School

18.10.10:

Borneo.  The second biggest island in the world, home of the mighty orang-utan and some of the last virgin rainforest left on Earth.  It’s divided between three countries – Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, and I was here for two reasons – Brunei (country 181) and The Philippines (country 182).  There’s a ferry service that leaves Sandakan in the (Malaysian) north-east of the island for the troubled Filipino island of Mindanao, Hobson’s choice I’m afraid – there’s no other sensible way of getting there without flying.

When I left school, because I had only been taught completely useless things in geography like about the formation of ox-bow lakes, I thought Borneo was in South America, because I had heard word of there being a rainforest and the only rainforest I knew was in South America.  I also thought Brunei was in the Middle East, because I had heard of the Sultan of Brunei and naturally assumed that Sultans were a Middle-Easty thing.

Ho-ho-how wrong I was!

I hope on my jaunt around the world I’ve taught you I little more about where places are, who is next door to who etc.  I’ve got to the point now where I could feasibly draw a map of the world and correctly label each and every country from memory – in your face, Mr Schofield!!  And here’s me without so much as a GCSE in geography.  You see, we were given the ‘choice’ of history OR geography – we couldn’t do both.  So I could possibly tell you what happened, but I couldn’t for the life of me tell you where it happened.

Ah yes, The Battle of Trafalgar!  And, so, er… where exactly is Trafalgar?  Waterloo?  Marathon?  El Alamein? Midway?

Buggered if I knew.  Modern schooling – not exactly holistic if you know what I mean.

It was early afternoon before we pulled into port in Pontianak in the Indonesian province of Kalimantan.  It was too late for the morning buses to Kuching in the Malaysian state of Sarawak to the north, and since the border closed at night, it was a more sensible idea to take an overnight bus, saving on accommodation etc, and cross the border first thing in the morning; although after that boat ride I could have really done with a shower.

Pontianak is just as fugly as any other Indonesian city.  I know I’m a little obsessed with the aesthetical quality of towns and cities, but goddamnit I hate concrete in a clear and quantifiable inverse proportion to the love and affection shown it by all the lazy talentless hack architects and town planners out there.  The fact that it was teeming down with rain didn’t help the gloomy ambiance.  I decided to spend my time there wisely by heading over to the equator monument – oh yes, did I mention I that on the boat down to Jakarta I crossed the equator?  Yup, for I little while there I was in the sparse old Southern Hemisphere again.

Cracks me up whenever I see Australia or New Zealand try and snag a superlative by claiming to have the highest/longest/fastest/deepest/oldest/weirdest whatever “in the Southern Hemisphere.”  Yeah – it’s a bit of a cheat when you’re competing with Malawi, Tonga and Paraguay innit?  As opposed to India, China, Russia, the USA, Canada, every country in Europe…

The North Pole being a rather arbitrary designation (in terms of being the top of the world as opposed to the bottom, not in terms of its undoubted location), it seems strange that all the great landmasses of our planet had a tendency to tectonically meander ‘up’, but then for the lifetime of civilisation all of our compass needles have pointed North and I guess it makes sense for us to position our maps with a little arrow pointing up rather than down.  But as an aficionado of all things map-like, I do get rather excited when I’m in Australia and I see an upside-down map of the world, or even better an upside down globe.  I mean, why not eh?  It really makes you appreciate just how much of the Southern Hemisphere is given over to the ocean and just a handful of countries, the majority of them small islands.

But this trip into the lower half of the globe was just a blip: if there had been a ferry service from Peninsular Malaysia to Malaysian Borneo I wouldn’t have cross that line yet – Brunei and The Philippines are in the North.  But I will need to cross it next week when I return this way: the next fifteen countries I need to reach after Brunei and The Phils are all in the great SH.

The monument was (as expected) rendered in quite revolting concrete, but it was nice to know I was at 0 degrees, 0 minutes and 0 seconds Latitude – I last crossed the equator without much (if any) fanfare when I was in Kenya.  Heading back to town I encountered a guy selling magic tricks outside a department store – I took the opportunity to purchase a brand new pack of Bicycles (which are decidedly NOT going to used for playing cards – just for playing with people’s minds) and the guy showed me a couple more tricks to add to my (albeit limited) repertoire.

Exciting stuff!

After quickly stuffing my face with food and attempting (and failing) to answer all my emails (I humbly apologise for all you who have been kept waiting – I’ll get to you as soon as I can!) I headed over to the bus shop (not a typo) and clambered onboard the 9pm to Kuching in Malaysian Borneo – man o man I’m MOVING!!

Day 666: Such a Chill

28.10.10:

I awoke with my teeth chattering like I was camping naked under the stars in Svalbard: my jumper, jeans, waistcoat, sleeping-bag AND blanket were not enough to shield me from the searing frigidity of the air conditioning on this bus.  I mean, I’ve been on buses where the driver has had the same homeostatic malfunction that allows fat orange girls from Newcastle to go out in a blizzard wearing little more than a piece of dental floss, but this was just nuts.

I tried to get him to turn it down, but he just laughed and ignored me.  Was I the only one suffering?  Would I be the first person to die of hypothermia in the history of Borneo?  Everyone else looked just as frozen to death as me, but they seemed to be taking it in their stride.  One guy was wearing a woolly hat.

Imagine: A WOOLLY HAT.  In BORNEO.  A place that hasn’t known winter for MILLIONS OF YEARS.  Where did he buy it?  On the top of Mount Kinabalu?  More unpleasant journeys I have had on this adventure for a smorgasbord of reasons, but generally the unpleasantness ends once I reach my destination.

But it wasn’t all bad: the bus got me through Malaysian Sarawak and into the Kalimantan state of Indonesia.  The rumours were true: you CAN buy a visa on the border (which is what I did eight years ago and what I did again today) By about 2pm we were pulling into Pontianak.  I hoped there was a ferry leaving tonight for Jakarta, Pontianak isn’t the most pleasant place in the world to spend a lonely evening.

I went to the Prima Vista ferry agents.  They had nothing for Jakarta until Saturday.  This was a kick in the balls as my good chum Anna is now waiting for me in Bali and I hate to leave a lady waiting.  However, there was another option: a ferry to Semarang, which is also on the island of Java, left tomorrow at noon.  A lonely night in Pontianak then.

I was a bit short on readies for the ticket, so I walked down the block to find a money changer.  I asked in a travel agents but they didn’t change money.  Then I spotted on their departure schedule a ship leaving for Jakarta today at 8pm

“Jakarta?”

“Jakarta.”

“Eight o’clock?”

“Eight o’clock.”

And in my best Mr. Burns impression: “Ex-cellent.”

My wish granted, I bought my ticket and headed back to the main strip.  I returned to the Meck World café I had drank a copious number of smoothies last week, logged onto their wifi, rang Mandy via Skype and started throwing more blogs at the website.  That’s the problem with blogs: you can never get them done in time.  At 6.30 I thought it was high time to head to the port when Mand reminded me about something: East frickin’ Timor.

Last December in the minibus up to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, I was with a lovely Spanish couple called Asier and Silvia.  They, like me and like Chiefy, the Oz-Buses people and PRETTY MUCH EVERYONE I MEET were trying to get around as much of the world as they can without flying (travel agents and ferry companies take note: this seems to be a trend).  Asier wrote to me the other day warning me that a couple of months ago, East Timor had changed its visa regulations.  You couldn’t just get a visa on arrival anymore, unless you arrived on a ship.

Must be all the British refugees clogging up the streets.

So, anyway, get this: in a fit of red-tapery that would make India blush, if you want a visa on arrival you have to ask for it ten days before you get there.  All being well, I should be arriving there on 8th November, so I need to get my application in.

The procedure is the most retarded system imaginable.  You have to fill out a three-page fillable pdf, print it where you are (you can’t save it for later), staple a picture of yourself to the first page, sign the third page and then scan the pages and email the scans to them using the contact form on their website.

Only you can’t upload more than two files with your application.  And the document is three pages.  And no, you can’t zip it – unaccepted format.  So when I was in The Philippines I emailed the form to them using their ‘alternative’ email address.  That was on Sunday.  It was now Thursday and I hadn’t heard anything back from them and was beginning to worry: the last part of this journey is going to take long enough with me faffing about for two weeks in West Timor.

So quickly – or as quickly as this CRAPPY SONY LAPTOP will allow – I attempted to resubmit the pdf scans, this time using their forms.  I tried to put the three pages together using Word, but it didn’t like that format either, so I made a pdf document and uploaded that.  Watching the little grey percentage rise on Google Chrome was like watching the hour hand of a broken clock.

Eventually the file was uploaded, but FILE SIZE EXCEEDED.

No, seriously, the file was like 2Mb, and on the ‘attach file’ bit of the East FRICKIN’ Timor it said (in Comic Sans as if to add insult to injury) ‘5Mb limit’.  So then I fired up Photoshop, put two scans on one A4 page and one on a second A4 page, saved them as the lowest quality jpeg possible and uploaded the two files together.

I think.

I hope.

By this time it was 7.30pm, my boat left in half an hour and I needed a poo.

This was not good.  I used the loo in Meck World, but to my horror it was a squatter.  I had no choice.  Given the quality of the toilet facilities on every boat I’ve been on in this region so far, this was my best bet.  So I squatted.  Damn these nasty nasty things.  Wetwipes usually minimise the time it takes to go the bog, but in this case it made no difference.  I made the fatal mistake of nipping off the last log a fraction of a second too early, the result of which a bit like having a big brown Crayola crayon hiding up your bum, no matter how much you wipe, you can never draw the ace.  GOD I HATE SQUATTERS.  DAMN THEM.  DAMN THEM ALL TO HELL.  It took me a good five minutes and an entire pack of wetwipes to get my nipsy up to my up to my exacting standards, hunched down in that unholy position, my legs killing me and my balance askew.

By now it was 7.40pm.  I legged it out of Meck World and tried to find a moto-taxi, but there was none – there were HUNDREDS of motorbikes, but none of them were taxis.  I ended up having to run to the port, cursing East frickin’ Timor, cursing the stupid French f— who invented squatters and cursing Pontianak for not having enough moto-taxis.

I got to the port at 7.55pm.  By now I’m sure you already know the punchline:

The ship didn’t leave…

Until FIVE IN THE MORNING…!!

WAKKA-WAKKA-Bum-diddly-um-pum-dum-DAAAAAAAAR!!!!!

I awoke with my teeth chattering like I was camping naked under the stars in Svalbard: my jumper, jeans, waistcoat, sleeping-bag AND blanket were not enough to shield me from the searing frigidity of the air conditioning on this bus. I mean, I’ve been on buses where the driver has had the same homeostatic malfunction that allows fat orange girls from Newcastle to go out in a blizzard wearing little more than a piece of dental floss, but this was just nuts.

I tried to get him to turn it down, but he just laughed and ignored me. Was I the only one suffering? Would I be the first person to die of hypothermia in the history of Borneo? Everyone else looked just as frozen to death as me, but they seemed to be taking it in their stride. One guy was wearing a woolly hat.

Imagine: A WOOLLY HAT. In BORNEO. A place that hasn’t known winter for MILLIONS OF YEARS. Where did he buy it? On the top of Mount Kinabalu? More unpleasant journeys I have had on this adventure for a smorgasbord of reasons, but generally the unpleasantness ends once I reach my destination.

But it wasn’t all bad: the bus got me through Malaysian Sarawak and into the Kalimantan state of Indonesia. The rumours were true: you CAN buy a visa on the border (which is what I did eight years ago and what I did again today) By about 2pm we were pulling into Pontianak. I hoped there was a ferry leaving tonight for Jakarta, Pontianak isn’t the most pleasant place in the world to spend a lonely evening.

I went to the Prima Vista ferry agents. They had nothing for Jakarta until Saturday. This was a kick in the balls as my good chum Anna is now waiting for me in Bali and I hate to leave a lady waiting. However, there was another option: a ferry to Semarang, which is also on the island of Java, left tomorrow at noon. A lonely night in Pontianak then.

I was a bit short on readies for the ticket, so I walked down the block to find a money changer. I asked in a travel agents but they didn’t change money. Then I spotted on their departure schedule a ship leaving for Jakarta today at 8pm

“Jakarta?”

“Jakarta.”

“Eight o’clock?”

“Eight o’clock.”

And in my best Mr. Burns impression: “Ex-cellent.”

My wish granted, I bought my ticket and headed back to the main strip. I returned to the Meck World café I had drank a copious number of smoothies last week, logged onto their wifi, rang Mandy via Skype and started throwing more blogs at the website. That’s the problem with blogs: you can never get them done in time. At 6.30 I thought it was high time to head to the port when Mand reminded me about something: East frickin’ Timor.

Last December in the minibus up to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, I was with a lovely Spanish couple called Asier and Silvia. They, like me and like Chiefy, the Oz-Buses people and PRETTY MUCH EVERYONE I MEET were trying to get around as much of the world as they can without flying (travel agents and ferry companies take note: this seems to be a trend). Asier wrote to me the other day warning me that a couple of months ago, East Timor had changed its visa regulations. You couldn’t just get a visa on arrival anymore, unless you arrived on a ship.

Must be all the British refugees clogging up the streets.

So, anyway, get this: in a fit of red-tapery that would make India blush, if you want a visa on arrival you have to ask for it ten days before you get there. All being well, I should be arriving there on 8th November, so I need to get my application in.

The procedure is the most retarded system imaginable. You have to fill out a three-page fillable pdf, print it where you are (you can’t save it for later), staple a picture of yourself to the first page, sign the third page and then scan the pages and email the scans to them using the contact form on their website.

Only you can’t upload more than two files with your application. And the document is three pages. And no, you can’t zip it – unaccepted format. So when I was in The Philippines I emailed the form to them using their ‘alternative’ email address. That was on Sunday. It was now Thursday and I hadn’t heard anything back from them and was beginning to worry: the last part of this journey is going to take long enough with me faffing about for two weeks in West Timor.

So quickly – or as quickly as this CRAPPY SONY LAPTOP will allow – I attempted to resubmit the pdf scans, this time using their forms. I tried to put the three pages together using Word, but it didn’t like that format either, so I made a pdf document and uploaded that. Watching the little grey percentage rise on Google Chrome was like watching the hour hand of a broken clock.

Eventually the file was uploaded, but FILE SIZE EXCEEDED.

No, seriously, the file was like 2Mb, and on the ‘attach file’ bit of the East FRICKIN’ Timor it said (in Comic Sans as if to add insult to injury) ‘5Mb limit’. So then I fired up Photoshop, put two scans on one A4 page and one on a second A4 page, saved them as the lowest quality jpeg possible and uploaded the two files together.

I think.

I hope.

By this time it was 7.30pm, my boat left in half an hour and I needed a poo.

This was not good. I used the loo in Meck World, but to my horror it was a squatter. I had no choice. Given the quality of the toilet facilities on every boat I’ve been on in this region so far, this was my best bet. So I squatted. Damn these nasty nasty things. Wetwipes usually minimise the time it takes to go the bog, but in this case it made no difference. I made the fatal mistake of nipping off the last log a fraction of a second too early, the result of which a bit like having a big brown Crayola crayon hiding up your bum, no matter how much you wipe, you can never draw the ace. GOD I HATE SQUATTERS. DAMN THEM. DAMN THEM ALL TO HELL. It took me a good five minutes and an entire pack of wetwipes to get my nipsy up to my up to my exacting standards, hunched down in that unholy position, my legs killing me and my balance askew.

By now it was 7.40pm. I legged it out of Meck World and tried to find a moto-taxi, but there was none – there were HUNDREDS of motorbikes, but none of them were taxis. I ended up having to run to the port, cursing East frickin’ Timor, cursing the stupid French f— who invented squatters and cursing Pontianak for not having enough moto-taxis.

I got to the port at 7.55pm. By now I’m sure you already know the punchline:

The ship didn’t leave…

Until FIVE IN THE MORNING…!!

WAKKA-WAKKA-Bum-diddly-um-pum-dum-DAAAAAAAAR!!!!!