Monthly Archives: January 2008

Fear and Loving in Bali

Posted by on January 31, 2008

I have found that you get the same questions from every cab driver in the world: Where are you from? Is it your first time here? How long are you staying? When did you arrive?

In the few taxi trips I’ve taken in Bali, after saying I’m an American, every cab driver has said the same thing “We don’t get many Americans here anymore.”

For those who are news impared, back in 2002 there was a terrorist bombing at Bali nightclub. 202 people were killed, mostly foreign tourists, the largest group of which were Australians. Since then, tourism in Indonesia has never fully recovered.

The subject of safety is probably the biggest issue which comes up when people talk about traveling overseas. Both for myself and other people who have taken longer trips, everyone is first and foremost concerned about safety. So far, I can’t say I’ve really had any experiences which I’d consider dangerous (other than almsot being trampled to death in Taipei). Everyone I’ve met in Indonesia has been exceptionally nice as they were in the Philippines, both of which the US State Department has issued travel advisories about.

This is due to a very asymmetrical information we get from other countries. We only hear about bad things so our perceptions of other places are built on only negative information. What have you heard about Indonesia in the last few years? There was a tsunami, a landslide, an earthquake, the Bali Bombings, a battle for independence over East Timor, and fighting in Sulawesi. When all the news is bad, it is natural to be apprehensive.

This is not to say I don’t take precautions while I’m on the road. I always lock my computer when it is in my room. (the potential of theft from other travelers is probably greater than what I’d experience on the street). I avoid nightclubs. I have no plans on visiting any war zones.

My biggest fear while traveling is being in a car crash. This is by far the biggest killer of tourists. I just read in a local paper that 800 people are killed in Jakarta a month on motorcycles. This is one thing that I really have no control over other than picking taxis that look relatively new. I also try to pay very close attention when doing simple things like crossing the street and walking. In Indonesia for example, most places do not have sidewalks or controlled intersections.

Likewise, I’ve met some Europeans who are terrified at the idea of coming to the United States. They think they will get off the plane and a gun battle will break out because every American carries a six shooter. What is even funnier, is that I’ve talked to Canadians who were afraid to come to he US. (I suppose the culture shock of crossing the Sault Ste. Marie bridge into the Sodom and Gomorrah of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan would be to much for anyone.)

I do not worry about terrorism. The are thousands of things to worry about before terrorism. Terrorism gets the headlines but the honest odds of being effected by it are very low, even if you live in a place such as Israel. The reaction to terrorism can often be worse than terrorism itself. In the aftermath of 9/11, many people avoiding flying and drove to destinations instead. The increase in traffic fatalities above the mean during three months after 9/11 was about 1,000 people. If you extend that out farther, you probably would equal the entire number of people killed in the terrorists attacks. Car crashes don’t dominate the headlines however, and there was probably never any one single accident you could point to and say “this happened because the person was afraid to fly”.

I actually don’t fault the media for only reporting bad things. A flood of stories every day from around the world about how disasters are not occurring isn’t really that interesting. It would quickly get like Homer Simpsons “Everything is OK Alarm”. That being said, when you think of travel, just remember that there are billions of people every day who are NOT being killed in natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

I have yet to meet a person who was hostile to me because I was an American. Usually, the reaction is quite the opposite as Americans are not nearly as well represented traveling as other countries. (The only time someone has yelled at me for being an American was in Iceland back in 2000, and that was because we spent money to release the Free Willy whale while Icelandic whalers were losing jobs.)

Daily Travel Photo – Savai’i, Samoa

Posted by on January 30, 2008

Southern Cross, Savai'i, Samoa

Southern Cross, Savai'i, Samoa

This is a long exposure shot of the Southern Cross taken in Samoa. The light on the palm tree is ambient light from a near by building. The exposure was about 30 seconds. I adjusted the exposure in Photoshop to make the palm tree more apparent, and that also brought out more stars.

The Southern Cross is on the flag of Samoa.

Daily Travel Photo – Savai’i, Samoa

Posted by on January 30, 2008

Southern Cross, Savai'i, Samoa

Southern Cross, Savai'i, Samoa

This is a long exposure shot of the Southern Cross taken in Samoa. The light on the palm tree is ambient light from a near by building. The exposure was about 30 seconds. I adjusted the exposure in Photoshop to make the palm tree more apparent, and that also brought out more stars.

The Southern Cross is on the flag of Samoa.

Bali. Hi!

Posted by on January 29, 2008

One of the realities of running a travel blog is that you can’t update every day. The last 48 hours I’ve been incommunicado and it has been a pretty interesting 48 hours. I didn’t get a lot of sleep, managed to drive down the funeral route of a former president, saw a volcano and almost died in a shower explosion.

My adventure started in Yogyakarta at about 8am on Monday. I wanted to get to Bali and the popular (sort of) way to get there from Jogya (as it is known) is to take a bus and stop at Mount Bromo on the way. The bus was an eight passenger van with myself, two Austrian guys, and three people I think where Indonesian. I’m not sure. One of the guys had a book written in Japanese, but he never said a word.

If you have been watching the news, you know the big thing in Indonesia right now is the death of former president Suharto. As it turns out, his funeral was being held in Surakarta (aka Solo) which was where we had to drive through to get to Bromo. When we drove through Solo, the streets were lined with people waiting for the funeral procession to pass. There were quite a few people who came out. Moreover, the entire time we were driving through Java, there were Indonesian flags in front of almost every house flying at half staff.

When we stopped for lunch, every waitress at the restaurant was glued to the TV watching the funeral. I still for the life of me cannot figure out what most people in Indonesia think of this guy. I asked a few Indonesians what they thought and they all sort of avoided the question. They didn’t say anything bad or anything good. The only thing I can say for certain is that the opinion of him in Bali and Java are very different. I haven’t seen nearly as many flags at half staff in Bali as I did in Java. Very few here in fact.

Travel by car through Java is slow. Very slow. It reminded me very much of taking the bus through Luzon in the Philippines. There are only two lane roads, the roads go through the center of every town, and there are houses and villages hugging the roads everywhere. Every few minutes the bus is passing trucks and motorcycles in ways which would seem suicidal on an American highway. A few times, we had to hit the brakes because we were coming head on with another truck which couldn’t get back into its lane.

Java has a lot of people. 120 million people live on the island which is half the population of Indonesia and more than the entire population of Japan. Despite the size, there doesn’t seem to be a transportation system designed to handle that level of population. The physical roads are in fine condition. It isn’t as if the roads are falling apart, they just don’t seem to be designed to be major transportation arteries. I read about a plan to link Java and Sumatra by bridge sometime in the next 50 years. It would be the longest bridge in the world. Would it would be very cool, I think a trans-Java highway connecting each end of the island would be a better use of money. A single four lane, divided, controlled access highway from the ports connecting Bali and Sumatra and all big cities in between would probably be one of the single biggest infrastructure projects that would help the economy of Java.

The van eventually arrived in Probolinggo where we changed vehicles for the trip to Cemara Lawang, a village sitting right at the rim of the caldera. We were told how cold it was going to be, given a pitch to buy a ticket for a jeep ride rather than walk, and warned about how early we’d have to get up.

Cemara Lawang seems to have made itself a niche in the Yogyakarta to Bali stop over market. Most people seem to stay there just one night on the way to or from Bali.

I woke up at 3:30am to get ready to see Bromo at sunrise. I was prepare for cold weather as we were pretty high in elevation. I also had all my camera gear ready including my tripod. We were going to a lookout point to see the entire caldera then would drive down into the caldera to walk to the brim of the Bromo’s crater.

It turns out that there was a helluva lot more walking than was sold to us. Not that big of a deal as I was prepared for walking, but they made it sound like we were just going to drive up to the top.

When we got to the top, there was a heavy fog which prevented us from seeing Mount Semeru, the highest point in Java. Semeru is also active and has steam coming out from the peak. (I should also note that during my entire time in Yogyakarta, I never got to see Mount Merapi clearly because of clouds. When we left the city, I was finally able to see the peak and the plume coming out for about 15 minutes. Then the clouds covered it up again.)

I don’t think the photos I got from the view point of Bromo will be as good as some I’ve seen due to the clouds. I haven’t even looked at them yet and they are still on my camera. I assure you some will show up as a daily photo soon. We also hiked up to the view point with some German early 20 something hipsters who smoked and complained the entire time. It is nice to see that not all the bad tourists are Americans.

The drive down into Bromo was interesting as well. We transferred to jeeps and drove across the black sand/ash inside the caldera. At the base there were tons of men with horses trying to sell you horse rides to the steps of Bromo for 20,000 rupiah (about $2). I passed because I couldn’t take photos that well on horseback. The scene with all these men on horseback inside a volcano was sort of surreal.

My near death experience with the shower came here. They place I was staying had only one shower with hot water. It was a small gas water heater that heated the water as it came out. No water tank. As the water starts to flow, the flame is lit. However, when I turned on the water, the flame didn’t start but the gas started flow. I turned off the water and started it again after I smelled gas and there was a big ball of fire in the show. Sort of like what you’d see when you light a gas grill a few seconds after the gas starts. It was very odd to be standing naked in an enclosed space with a big ball of fire. Nothing important was burned.

The inside of Bromo was like being inside Kilauea in Hawaii. Lots of sulfur covered rocks, lot of evidence of mud flows and a never ending steam plume coming out from the top.

My the time I was done with the volcano, it was only 8am.

We drove back to Probolinggo and waited for the bus to take us to Denpasar, Bali. It was supposed to show up at noon but didn’t arrive until 1:30pm. I spent the time sweating and talking to local kids who came over to practice their English.

The trip to the ferry was one of the most boring experiences I’ve ever had. I didn’t put nearly enough music on my iPod, had nothing to read, and my battery was low on my laptop. There were five girls from Slovenia on the bus and I can’t say I’ve met any Slovenians on my trip yet.

We arrived in Denpasar at 12:30am. I had no room booked so I told the taxi driver to just take me some place good and reasonably cheap. This isn’t the busy season, tourism in general is down since the 2002 bombings, and it was a Tuesday, so I figured finding a room wouldn’t be hard. I was right. Got a great place near the beach for a pretty reasonable rate.

I haven’t a clue what I’ll be doing in Bali yet, other than use it as a jumping off point to go to Komodo. I’m going to do laundry today and other things and maybe get up a few photos.

I might shoot some video near the beach as well.

The Road to Bali

Posted by on January 27, 2008

My journey to the Sangiran Early Man Site was a bit of a let down to say the least. It was by far the least impressive World Heritage Site I’ve seen so far. It consisted of a museum with two rooms of fossils and fossil replicas in glass cases. That’s it. They are working on a new museum, and they need it.

Tomorrow I’m on a long bus to Mount Bromo. Transportation and lodging to Bromo then on to Bali are a whopping $28. I’ve been hearing so much about Bali for so long I fear I’m going to be disappointed. Even the Indonesians I talk to all love Bali.

If you haven’t watched the news, former Indonesian strongman President Suharto died today. When I went through the museum at the national memorial, there were a bunch of dioramas showing the history of Indonesia. The last two where about Suharto and were blatant propaganda. I thought it was sort of odd it was still there considering he wasn’t president anymore. Today I read an article in the English language about that very diorama and removing it.

Indonesia has declared seven days of mourning. I really don’t know what people think of the guy. No one has said anything good or bad, at least not to me. He has a kid in jail from corruption charges and I think there is still a ton of money his family has that might go back to the government.

While Suharto isn’t spoken of much, Sukarno (the first president of Indonesia) seems to be truly looked up to. He is the Indonesian George Washington.