Indonesian Thoughts

Indonesia is the 4th most populous country in the world. That is quite noticeable given the number of people about. It seems everyone drives either a motor or a mobil (motorbike or car). Considering the volume of vehicles, traffic moves quite well and there are very few traffic jams. During the night the vehicles are sparse but the drivers don’t muffle down just because most of the world is sleeping.

At 4 this morning I heard a sound that 30 years ago, on my first trip to Indonesia, haunted me for months after I got home. The Imam was chanting the ‘call to prayer’ over a somewhat inadequate sound system. I got out of bed and opened the window so I could hear with more clarity. Even though I do not understand a word of what is being sung I totally enjoy the rhythm and cadence. It got into me so much on my last exposure I had to go find a CD so I could satisfy my aural itch.

The Manado airport is chaos. We are flying from Manado to Sorong, West Papua this morning. Long, loosely formed and loosely adhered to queues, annoying passengers taking far to long to settle their business at the airline check in desk, and shifting check in desks, (all of a sudden they try to move the whole line from desk 12 to desk 9). When we get our turn at the desk we are prepared and all is done in about a minute. I am not sure why but we are not even charged for the bags we check. Both of us kept our mouths shut take our passes and split. From there on the journey to our seats on the plane is smooth.

Sorong traffic
Sorong traffic

Our digs for the night seem to on a major thoroughfare. The traffic is heavy and constant. There seems to be a significant increase in the number of motors compared to Manado. The rules of the road as we know them in North America are more or less suggestions here. The lines are there to indicate one is still driving on an asphalt surface. The speed is not posted and is anywhere from 20km/hr to 80km/hr all on the same stretch of road at the same instant.

Sorong

I was headed to the supermarket to buy water and I detoured into the local neighbourhood. The folks here are just as enamored with foreigners as they were yesterday in Manado. They catch my eye, smile with a wide grin, that gets even bigger when I say hello. We are somewhat of an anomaly here. Debbie and I spent well over an hour hanging around a small, local, reasonably busy mall while waiting for our room to be made up. Not one other white person entered. As we sat and watched the parade we again smiled and said hello a lot.

Sorong

Tomorrow we board our scuba dive liveaboard. It is the Coralia and we will be puttering around Raja Ampat for 10 days. There is no WIFI on the boat, so you stay tuned for news of our adventures under the waves.

Sorong

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SE Asia Immersion

Today is the day we leave the sterile environment of Singapore and jump with two feet into SE Asia.

am and we are waiting for the restaurant at the Mercure Bugis to open so we can grab some breakfast. The Silk Air (a regional carrier of Singapore Airlines) flight is supposed to have a meal but we don’t know at what time we will be fed and even if the food will be to our palates. I am reasonably fussy and Debbie has some food issues. So we stock up on the food we know.

As 6.30am, our appointed airport shuttle time, closes in both Debbie and I have butterflies. In the past we have sat and waited for other shuttles far past our comfort zone time and we did not want to have that happen today. 6.28 am and there are lights on the driveway and the shuttle appears. Butterflies calmed.

The Singapore airport experience is a bit weird but seems to be a lot more friendly and efficient than other airports in the world. The strangest part is the security x-ray machines are at the entrance to the gate lounge, so every lounge has it own security. This has the inefficiency of having staff for each bay but the line up is way shorter and moves quite quickly. The Singapore airport is a shopping mecca and feels like a luxury mall.

Upon arrival at the airport in Manado, Indonesia Debbie’s (and mine) angst rose to about the highest level possible. We had to check our dive gear as the airline’s carry on criteria is quite restrictive. My bag appears on the trolley in the 3rd or 4th bunch of luggage. Then we wait for Debbie’s. There is a screen with live video of the baggage handlers as they unload the luggage. We wait, and wait, people leave and we wait. The guys outside are down to the last cart and there are many bags on it but where is Debbie’s dive gear? There are very few folks left and only 20 or so bags to come when the Aqua Lung bag with blue accents pops through the shredded rubber curtain. Dodged a big bullet on that one! We don’t check bags for fear our dive gear will be misdirected to the Sahara and today that fear welled up huge.

As we leave the airport arrivals area we are, as expected, accosted by, ‘need a taxi’. Today ,we in fact do. I had done my research and it appears my findings are somewhat misguided. First they are somewhat dated and second our hotel is 1/2 again as far passed Manado, which of course will cost more. One can bargain in Indonesia and I did. I think I do an OK job and after checking at the hotel what a taxi should cost I hit the price right on the nose.

We check in to a fairly funky place in what seems to be a strange area for a nicely appointed hotel. Don’t know why anyone would locate themselves here. We chose the place because of the good vibes we got while emailing back and forth prior to booking. The hotel is the S Loft Hotel has an arty decor, well appointed rooms and super friendly and accommodating staff.

Wandering around Manado, Indonesia
Restaurant encountered while wandering.

A short rest and we head out on the street. Lots of traffic, an incredible number of motorbikes, crumbling infrastructure, heat, dilapidated buildings, and beeping car horns. Although there are surprisingly few of the latter. We did notice one thing, the locals are all starring at us. Seems there are very few tourists, at least white ones, in this neck of the urban woods. Truth is I don’t know why tourists would come here anyway.

Wandering around Manado, Indonesia

Once we gather this in we start to say ‘hello’ and get a huge smile and a hello in return. As with most people in the world, the folks are extremely friendly. People here have not been tainted by tourists or tourism and are as curious about us as we are about them. We wander through parts of the ‘hood’ and are not once shunned. Even had a couple of people indicate I should take their picture, and of course I oblige. Not having to be sneaky about taking someone’s photo is my preference.

Wandering around Manado, Indonesia

I like places like this. So much different from our home life. There is always an opportunity stop and talk to someone and maybe learn and maybe get rid of the first world ideas of what is necessary to sustain life.

Wandering around Manado, Indonesia

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Touring Singapore

There is a place called Lorong Buangkok in Singapore and it is the last surviving kampong. A kampong is a traditional village. This particular one was featured in a film called “The Last Kampong”. Murray discovered this village while doing research about Singapore. We decide today is the day to go exploring and visit the village.

Singapore’s MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) trains will take us part of the way and then we must take bus number 88. We talk to three different people at the train station before one knows where to catch the bus. Once on the bus, Murray asks first one woman and then a second woman how far a certain stop will be. Eventually we have all 5 people in the back of the bus discussing where we should get off. It is a long ride and when we get close, even the bus driver chimes in his suggestion. We exit the bus with many thanks you and goodbyes. Traveling is sometimes about these ad hoc experiences and not about seeing this wonder or that.

Murray has very good walking directions and after about a 15 minute walk we are strolling down a path into the kampong.

Lorong Buangkok
Inside Lorong Buangkok

The houses are old and not that well kept. It is very quiet in the area and we only see one person. We are not sure all the houses have residents. There is a building that looks like a community center or gathering place. We cross paths with another curious couple of people as we are leaving.

Lorong Buangkok

After asking directions again, we hop on a different bus for the trip back to the train station and two train transfers later we are at the edge of Jalan Besar. It is an area worth walking through to see old architecture mixed with new trendy cafes and shops.

One building catches our attention. It is a two storey building built in the 1920’s that is considered in the “late shophouse style” of architecture.

Singapore

The exterior walls are covered in floral ceramic tiles that are still gorgeous.

Jalan Besar

Jalan Besar is just north of Little India, so we stroll through this mini India to get back to our hotel. The buildings are older with commercial or retail shops on the street level and houses, or more businesses, on the second floor. It is crowded today, a Sunday, people are doing their shopping and eating out. We stop for lunch at a busy corner eatery serving Indian food and have Tikka Chicken, Dahl Makhani, rice, naan and a Coke for Murray and watermelon juice for Debbie. It is very good and only $18!

The alleys in Little India are well used and almost like small streets, with folks using them for socializing and travel.

Little India, Singapore
An Alley in Little India
Little India, Singapore
The main thoroughfare in Little India

Today, although even hotter than yesterday, is a much better day of touring. It always takes a couple of days to get our chops back. Still jet lagged but working on that, there should be steady improvement from here on in.

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Singapore!

After one short flight and two very long flights, we are in Singapore.

Before talking about Singapore, I need to make a comment about security at the Edmonton airport. How can 3 of our 4 carry on bags, plus Murray’s laptop, all fail the X-ray scan at security. We go through there with the same bags and the same dive gear each dive trip and they suddenly need to check 3 of the bags?? The woman never did find what triggered my dive bag inspection but she did find my “knitting needle turned into a stabilizer stick” and it took the supervisor to okay it. And Murray’s stick in his bag didn’t even get questioned. So frustrating. I think the Edmonton security people have their radar setting turned up way too high and are over the top vigilant. The same four bags went through security in Vancouver and not one of them was taken apart. Same in Tokyo. So what is it with Edmonton?

Another comment. If you are choosing airlines to fly across the Pacific, choose Japan Airlines. Their service is exceptional. The flight attendants are friendly and very attentive and ground staff efficient and polite. I wish all airlines could be so outstanding.

Okay, Singapore! Hot hot hot! Tall buildings. Organized traffic. Humid. Friendly people. Food fairs. Air conditioning. No garbage on the streets.

Singapore

We venture into Chinatown today and walk far before we find the markets and small shops. We initially find rows and rows of restaurants and spas, all closed as it is too early on a Saturday morning. We enjoy looking at the older shorter buildings against the backdrop of newer tall buildings. The high rises are architecturally varied from what we have in Edmonton. It is very refreshing.

Singapore

We find ourselves in a huge food center for lunch. Small kiosks lined in rows, with tables everywhere. People out on a Saturday enjoying food and getting together with family and friends. We find a kiosk selling Thai food and enjoy Pad Thai and Garlic Shrimp for our lunch.

By about 2:00 we are hot and tired from our first day touring so we jump in the pool at our hotel, the Mercure Bugis. We scare everyone out of the lap pool by doing….laps. Once we are done and out, folks get back in! Oops!

Singapore

We must go for supper soon before we pass out.

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Limbo

We are in limbo. The problem with being too efficient is that we end up having a few days of being in a holding pattern before we leave for a trip.

We are packed, except for those last minute items that can’t be packed yet. The house is mostly ready to be left alone, except for those last minute chores. Can’t really turn off the water early!

So, we fill our days with exercise, doing chores not really needed for our trip, reading and playing games.

In limbo.

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Minimalist Packing

I should have been taking notes as I chose clothes and packed, but I didn’t. I will test my memory as I write this post.

Due to the luggage decisions we have made, I have pared down my clothes to a dangerous level (at least I think so – no frills, like a sundress, this time). There is always the option of buying an item if I find I need one – a shirt or a warm layer, but I do not anticipate having to.

Wearing on the long haul flights:

  • Socks (compression socks and a pair of ankle socks in case I get cold)
  • Light hiking shoes (my only pair of shoes)
  • Technical pants with belt
  • Undies, of course
  • Long sleeved Icebreaker wool shirt
  • Long sleeved rash guard shirt
  • Down sweater, with buff in the pocket for when I get really cold on the flight
  • Decorative scarf
  • Rain jacket (not sure if it is going all the way to Indonesia or staying in Singapore)

Packed in my dive gear suitcase:

  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 2 short sleeved shirts, one Icebreaker wool and one light cotton
  • 2 pair of undies
  • 2 swimsuits, one two piece and one single piece
  • 1 sarong
  • Bucket sun hat
  • Cheapo flip flops

Packed in the green, to be checked, bag and left in Singapore:

  • 1 pair of Linen pants
  • 1 pair of socks
  • 1 long sleeved Icebreaker wool shirt
  • 1 3/4 length sleeved Icebreaker wool shirt
  • Light wool gloves

Once we reach Singapore reviewed the contents of, and packed up the green suitcase that stays in Singapore, I may change things around a bit, but my dive bag is almost full so I do not have much room. I will have to see.

As you can see, I get cold on long flights, so I have to dress appropriately – down sweater, extra socks, buff and extra shirt. I think is has something to do with not moving around much. You may have also noticed that I like Icebreaker shirts. Over the years, I have found them to be the best shirts for traveling. They are warm and cool, whichever you need and as long as I do not sweat too much, they don’t need to be laundered to often. The 3/4 sleeve shirt has traveled with me on many journeys around the world.

When we are on the dive liveaboard and at the dive resort, all we need are very casual clothes. So I have my sarong and rash guard to wear during the day and shorts and a choice of two short sleeved shirts to wear in the evening. Easy. I will always have my “airplane clothes” as back ups.

All my clothes are mix and match for colours. Grey and light blue pants. Shorts are beige. Shirts are grey, coral, various blues and green. Scarf is a pattern with blue, black, grey and white.

This list does not include all my scuba diving gear and all the associated nonsense that goes with the gear.

I do believe that a person can travel with a few well chosen pieces of clothing. We always carry with us a small bottle of liquid detergent and wash clothes in the shower or sink. Since this trip is so long, we will try to send out our clothes to be laundered at least once, maybe twice. Plus there is always a store nearby willing to sell a shirt or pair of pants or sweater!

For fun, here is a photo of a clown fish I encountered at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival in early August. He was just a teaser for our upcoming trip!

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The Packing Dilemma

Our trip has two parts – scuba diving in Indonesia and touring in Japan. How should we pack so we do not take the superfluous warmer clothing needed in Japan all the way to Raja Ampat and do not lug dive gear around Japan with us?

After much thinking, many conversations and, thankfully, no spreadsheet, we come up with a plan that we think is pretty good. We do, however, have to diverge from the only carry on luggage scenario. Here is what we are going to do Edmonton to Singapore.

Edmonton to Singapore

  • 1 checked soft sided bag (Murray’s green bag)
  • Debbie – purple day pack and Aqua Lung Dive Carryon Rollie bag, both as carry on
  • Murray – black day pack and Aqua Ling Dive Carryon Rollie bag, both as carry on

Singapore – We will then leave Murray’s green bag in the luggage storage at the Mercure Bugis Hotel. We have confirmed already that we will be able to do this. The bag will have extra clothing, umbrellas, electrical adapters, a few other items and our two courier (shoulder) bags inside.

Singapore to Sorong, Indonesia Return

  • Debbie – purple day pack (carry on) and Aqua Lung Dive Carryon Rollie bag (will have to be checked, on board baggage limit is minimal)
  • Murray – black day pack (carry on) and Aqua Lung Dive Carryon Rollie bag (will be checked)

The airlines we are flying restrict the number of pieces and weight of carry on luggage, so we are forced to check our dive bags. We will make sure we have the important gear and toiletries in our carry on packs. Fortunately, there are no transfers so there are less opportunities for checked luggage to go missing.

Singapore to Tokyo

  • 1 checked soft sided bag (Murray’s green bag)
  • Debbie – purple day pack and Aqua Lung Dive Carryon Rollie bag, both as carry on
  • Murray – black day pack and Aqua Ling Dive Carryon Rollie bag, both as carry on

Touring Tokyo

  • Debbie – purple day pack and courier bag
  • Murray – green soft sided shoulder bag and courier bag

The two Dive Rollie bags and Murray’s black day pack are being stored at the Edo Sakura Hotel in Tokyo. We have also confirmed with the hotel that they will store the bags for us while we tour. The Rollie bags will get packed with as many items we do not need from our day packs as possible. We opted for one mostly full soft sided bag instead of two partially full soft sided bags. The amount of clothing we are taking with us is not great so we always carry liquid laundry soap.

Tokyo to Edmonton

  • 1 checked soft sided bag (Murray’s green bag)
  • Debbie – purple day pack and Aqua Lung Dive Carryon Rollie bag
  • Murray – black day pack and Aqua Ling Dive Carryon Rollie bag

Depending on the checked bag limit for our flight home, we may check as many of the three larger bags as we can, after all we are going home and if a bag takes a circuitous route home, oh well, we are going home.

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Finding Accommodations

We have a plan, we have flights, all we need now are places to lay our heads at night.

When we were figuring out flights, I printed out a calendar for September and October and wrote the flights on the proper dates. So now we have a good idea of which locations and dates we will need hotels.

Murray is much better at sifting through the myriad of hotels in large cities so he tackles Singapore and Tokyo. I get overwhelmed in these metropoli, so I pick Manado and Sorong to start, where the options are fewer.

We discuss the type of accommodation we would like in Indonesia and we decide that we do not want an “American” style resort hotel. These are the places that we feel are targets for unsavory happenings. I look for smaller hotels and ones that the locals may stay in. After all, we are only staying one night and we can put up with quite abit for one night. I find a handful and I email them to start a conversation, just like we did with the dive liveaboards.

I typically ask something like the following:

Do you have a room for the night of …………? What is the cost for the room? Is tax included? Are there any other taxes or fees? Does the cost include breakfast? Do you accept credit cards? Is there an extra fee to use a credit card? Is the bath and toilet ensuite? Are there restaurants nearby?

Murray ends up taking over for me as I go on a road trip to visit my daughter, so he books hotels in both Manado and Sorong and then Singapore. I go along with what he decides as the are no stand out choices.

We are also communicating with two dive resorts outside Manado. Froggies and Two Fish. Again, we send inquiry emails, this time we include questions about diving and meals, and I find I like communicating with the Froggies people much better. They both have resorts in Bunaken and Lembeh, islands on different sides of Manado. After we receive replies, I create a spreadsheet to compare the two resorts. One gives us prices in Euro and one in Indonesian currency, so we need to compare apples to apples. Here is what the spreadsheet looks like:

We decide to stay at Froggies, spending a few nights at Bunaken and a few at Lembeh. We finalize the booking via a combination of emails and online payment forms. Exciting!

We meet up with our friends, L&R, to talk about Japan and we formulate a three week tour of the country dividing up the search for accommodation. Again, Murray tackles the big cities and I tackle the smaller ones. We once again use the email method with slightly altered questions as we are looking for two rooms now and the spreadsheet to compare the various choices. We now have a workbook, with eight tabs for Singapore, Tokyo, Kyoto, Kyoto 2, Kobe, Hiroshima, Izumo and Tottori. Here is what the Hiroshima hotel spreadsheet looks like. We ended up booking the Hana Hostel.

It takes time and effort, but we eventually pin down various accommodations in all the locations we are traveling to. We do not like to be so scheduled but a tour guide friend who lives in Kyoto recommended we book everything as autumn in busy in Japan. Looking at our list of places to lay our heads, we are staying in western hotels, Japanese hotels, hostels, temple stays, an airB&B Japanese house, a ryokan and a capsule hotel. To me, it sounds terribly exciting to experience so many varieties of accommodation.

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The Planning Continues for Raja Ampat

We have booked our liveaboard to Raja Ampat, so now we need flights. One of my tricks to finding out what airlines fly to where we need to go is to go onto the airport website of the city where we need to end up. In this case it is Sorong, West Papua. I check out the Arrivals and Departures information for airlines and where they are coming from. This time it was a little difficult because I could not find the Arrivals and Departures info, just lots of government type info.

So, I resort to Skyscanner and wego and get a list of airlines and cities to fly from. And now the hard work begins. It takes days working on and off in between my activities. I ask questions to Murray….”Do you want to fly through Jakarta or Singapore?” “Do you want to fly Garuda?” His answer was preferably NO to the Garuda question as he was not impressed with them a long time ago when he was in Indonesia.

We narrow things down and start asking ourselves, “Are we going to do some touring while we are across the ocean, or just scuba dive and go home?” Should we stop on another island and dive more, since we are there, of course. We make a decision to stop on Sulawesi as Murray as wanted to go there for a long time.

While we book a dive resort to stay in on Sulawesi and continue our search for flights, we get a call from our friends L&R.

L&R had just spent time on a Wild Frontiers tour in China where they met an American tour participant who happens to be a tour guide, and lives, in Japan. L&R got quite excited about visiting Japan, and since we had discussed this possibility with them awhile ago, they wanted to know if we wanted to go to Japan in the fall. Well, what luck!

We explained that we were booked for September already and if they wanted to go to Japan in October, we would meet them in Tokyo on our way home. They agreed that this plan would be great!

After some more searching of flights, we found a definite route to Sorong. We book the flights backwards. Short haul ones first and long haul second. We give ourselves sometimes a night, or a day in most places to catch our breath and stretch our legs. We double and triple and quadruple check the time zones and crossing the international date line. After much angst and charging of credit cards, we have flights (backwards, of course!):

Manado, Sulawesi, Indonesia to Sorong, West Papua return

Singapore to Manado return

Vancouver to Singapore outgoing

Singapore to Tokyo, stopover Tokyo, then Toyko to Vancouver coming home.

Edmonton to Vancouver return

The next step is to book hotels in the myriad of cities we are traveling through.

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Another Sojourn in the Works

In the spring, Murray and I started talking about a fall trip. Where should we go? What should we do?

One of our methods of deciding where to go is to ask ourselves “What destination is on the list that we need to travel to while we are still young (ish) and mobile enough to do the traveling?” And also” What is on the list that has been on the list for too long?”

One destination came to mind right away. Raja Ampat. It is a scuba diving destination in Indonesia, off West Papua. We wanted to go there years ago when it first popped up as a superb place to dive. It is hard to get to, so we never made the effort to get there, and now EVERYONE goes there. We talk often about going to spots before they get popular, and we missed that chance with Raja Ampat, so we decided we had better go now.

We started looking for scuba dive liveaboards, as that is the best way to experience Raja Ampat. During our preliminary search, we realize right away that it is already late for booking for the fall. Some of these boats get booked up to two years in advance!

We do have a standard of quality for liveaboards and Murray compiles a long list of possibilities. (Sort of like the Giller Prize method of determining the best fiction for the year.) It is then my turn to look deeper into them and find openings and get a very short list.

From this short list I email the companies directly and start asking questions. I ask the same questions to everyone so I can compare responses. Sometimes I even ask for info that is on the website. I want to see what the response is. Most responses are chatty, we’ll answered. Some just say….See our website. These guys get dumped off my list rather quickly. Building rapport and having a conversation is the goal.

Combining availability, dates and email responses, Murray and I decide to book the Coralia Liveaboard for September 11 to 22, which we do right away. It is a 10 day liveaboard doing 4 or 5 dives a day. Basically, we will eat, sleep and dive. We are now excited!

The next step is to get to Sorong, West Papua, where the liveaboard departs.

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