Wonderful Indonesia – 19 countries left
Day 2,094 since October 10th 2013: 184 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country
(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross).
It is a strange thought; but I have seen more than most.
“Wonderful Indonesia” is the official tourist slogan for this extraordinary large country. I would say it is quite fitting. I haven’t felt this vibe among the population since I visited Uganda. And it could certainly be paradise on earth. However it is often the subject of natural disasters – well, depending on where you go. It is a very large country.
I’m quite taken with the idea of which adventures lie and wait for me in Indonesia!! They will in any case have to wait as I’m not here for that within the Saga. I reached Jakarta a week ago and set foot on dry land last Saturday. I would have been on my way again by Wednesday if there would have been a ferry. But the first ferry onward leaves today (Friday). Am I going to Bali? No people…I am not a tourist. However you who read the blog already know this. The many thousands who follow online have no idea. Or I’m sure that many actually know but I certainly do get a lot of comments from people suggesting all sorts of touristy stuff I should head out and do or which “I MUST DO!!” I’m sure Bali is nice and I have no doubt that seeing an Orang-utan in the wild would be a memorable experience. However who has the time? Who has the money? Who has the energy?
Indonesia is large in many ways! Some 17,000 islands make up this country however that number varies a little depending on which source you trust. There are in any case a lot of islands here!! Just imagine the logistics of managing them all. That is where a future adventure could be lurking. There are thousands of islands which have never seen the pale feet of a European. And the diversity across all these islands is rampant!! It is hard to put a finger on what it means to be Indonesian as it could literally be anything depending on which island you point towards. The length of Indonesia from east to west stretches across 5,150 km (3,200 mi) which is just mind-boggling. That means that while the capital region of Jakarta currently is undergoing a kind of drought the southeast of Sulawesi is currently dealing with a flood disaster. Equator runs through Indonesia and the entirety of this 264 million strong population lives across some sort of tropical paradise. There are however only few countries that can rival the amount of natural disasters which come in the shape of earthquakes, flash floods, forest fires, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, cyclones, tropical storms etc. And yet I have found this to be a country full of life and smiles.
Captain Manuel Nistorescu of the good ship "Jackson Bay".
I reached Indonesia from Singapore on board the good ship “Jackson Bay” and last Friday as the ship came along side in Jakarta the ships agent came on board to take care of formalities. The agent was Mr Fenly who was curious to meet the man who travels as a passenger on board container ships. He appeared friendly and was selling sim-cards to the seamen at $10 USD. I was ready to buy one but Mr Fenly said: “no – you do not pay. Welcome to Indonesia” and handed me one for free. That was already my first encounter with the rampant hospitality of Indonesians. The next day Mr Fenly picked me up and took me through the port. I needn’t worry about immigration as that had already been handled. Mr Fenly drove me to a Starbucks café near my hostel and dropped me off there. On the way we had the chance to talk about this and that and he was truly a very pleasant man and great ambassador for Indonesia. When he is not being friendly to strangers or working hard as an agent, then he is spending time with his four children and wife. Before I left the car Mr Fenly gave me his contact details and told me to reach out if there was anything I needed. Then he gave me 200,000 Indonesian Rupiah ($14 USD) and told me that was for a good start. And hence forward Mr Fenly shall be known as Mr Friendly ;)
I checked into my hostel which was a cool and friendly place called Stay Inn Hostel. The beds were comfortable, the hostel was clean but really the staff was what made the place special! The owners are a married couple who have a passion for traveling and for people. I mostly spoke with Marta who helped me out in a big way. Her husband Edwin had been looking into how I could buy a ferry ticket between Jakarta and Kalimantan. Okay – I figure you might be as illiterate in Indonesian place names as I was a few weeks ago. So here we go: out of the many, many, many islands there are seven major islands. Those are: Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Sulawesi, Timor, New Guinea and the Maluku Islands. Timor is shared with the country East Timor. New Guinea is shared with the country Papua New Guinea (PNG). And Borneo is shared with two other countries: Brunei and Malaysia. The Indonesian part of Borneo is called Kalimantan and that’s one of the places you can find Orang-utans. Fun fact: Orang-utan means “person of the forest”. Anyway, we’ve been to both Indonesia now and Malaysia as well. However the logistics of a flightless journey to every country now demands that we reach Kalimantan and continue across the part of Malaysia on Borneo until we reach Brunei in the very north of the island. We are talking about some great distance here and I’m very curious to see what form of transportation I can expect and what the road conditions are like? However it is not going to be anything we haven’t seen before – that is for sure. According to three prominent websites I am now among the 300 most traveled people on earth. My eyes have seen much, my ears have heard it, I have sensed many smells and I have shaken a great many hands. Nineteen more to go.
My 104th talk and 48th Maersk office across the world. Great crowd!! :)
It turned out that the national shipping company (Pelni), which interconnects Indonesia with a great deal of ferries, just so happened to have an office near the hostel!! Good stuff. However the office was open between 9am – 3pm and I was set to meet Maersk at their office from 10am – 2pm with an hour of transportation in each direction. So I had to postpone the ticket. And yes…we did try online but didn’t have success. No worries. I met up with Maersk who just so happened to launch their new branding campaign: “All The Way”. That sentence obviously speaks to me as I am so definitely going all the way. 274,000 km (170,000 mi) across land and sea at this point. We had a good time as I spoke for the 104th time since the Saga began in 2013. I have incidentally seen a Maersk container in 180 countries now.
Padang is from west Sumatra and you only pay for the dishes you touch. Good stuff! Great company! :)
Afterwards I was invited to hang out at the office for a while before we headed out for a few drinks and dinner. On a side note I felt something in my sinus above my left eye just before embarking “Jackson Bay” in Singapore. I didn’t pay much attention to it but I did feel rather tired once on board the ship. Also not out of the ordinary as I work 50-100 hours a week and deal with constant stress. However once in Jakarta I felt that my airways were not completely clear and that it took some effort to take a deep breath. I felt a little low on energy. Sort of like if I was running at 70%. I figured it could have been the transition between the hot climate and air conditioned rooms. Who knows? But then I began losing my voice. That has never happened before. The night before meeting up with Maersk I wondered if I should cancel. But the next day it wasn’t worse so I pushed through. Well, well – a 70 minute speaking session followed by an evening of socializing might not have been the smartest move. Because as the evening progressed my voice nearly disappeared completely.
Can you believe it?!? I forgot my vaccination cards in Singapore!! And then some! Fortunately Bjarke (my host and friend) managed to drop it off at Maersk in Singapore. They have someone who is heading to Manila where I will pick it up. Logistics, logistics, logistics. Thank you all! :)
On my way back to the hostel I stopped at a supermarket to buy some honey. Honey has properties which can sometimes help a cough or sore throat go away. However not if you put it in tea as the boiling water makes the healing properties vanish. I chugged half the bottle that night. The next day my voice was nearly gone and it took a lot of effort to speak. And my energy might have dropped to 60%. However I didn’t have a broken leg or anything so it was more of an inconvenience and not something which had to keep me in bed. Marta from the hostel had agreed to visit Pelni with me and together we headed out into Jakarta’s hectic traffic. It was a short walk to Pelni where we were asked to wait. All I wanted was a ticket but after meeting with Anita and Titi from marketing I was told that they would be happy to upgrade my “regular” ticket to a business class ticket. All I wanted was a ticket so that was great – especially if they could help me get a ticket? And that was no problem! They operate twenty-six passenger ships and an additional fifty-three vessels, which create a web across the main islands and connect Indonesia by sea. The company was founded sixty-seven years ago and plays an important role in Indonesia’s transport system. They are also one of the world’s last remaining economy class long distance passenger ship operators. Historically most of the world’s well known passenger ship companies have stopped their low budget passenger since the 1960s due to shifting trends towards airplane transport. Before I knew of it Titi was offering me the ticket and upgrade complimentary!! WOW! All I wanted was a ticket! ;)
Thank you Pelni! Looking forward to coming on board! :)
Before I lost my voice I went for a walk around the neighborhood where I was staying. Within walking distance I could reach “Monas” which is a national monument built 1961 to commemorate the struggle for Indonesian Independence. “Monas” points high into the sky and is surrounded by a large fenced open area where people enjoy hanging out. It’s a great place to go and people watch but I was being watched too. Quite often students are asked to seek out foreigners for short interviews with questions such as: “what is your name? Where are you from? Why did you pick Indonesia for your holiday? What do you think about this place?” etc. A group of students approached me and I was open to answering questions. They were really kind and open. Indonesians smile a lot! It’s hard to walk down the street without encountering a smiling face and a waving hand to the line of” “HELLO MISTER”. It is quite frequent which is out of the usual for a city with about eleven million beating hearts. Yeah – I know – I’ve only been to Jakarta so far but Jakarta is a big city! It is if anything supposed to be the “scary” part of Indonesia. It really isn’t! People have just been amazing everywhere I’ve gone. I have been in the neat part of Jakarta and I’ve found my way to where the less fortunate live their lives. I’ve felt this amazing energy and utmost life confirming vibe all over the place. Sure, not everyone has as much in their pocket as they might want or need. But the kindness and helpfulness has been very apparent.
The National Monument (Monas).
At “Monas” the group of students asked me the exact questions I mentioned above. But they were taken by surprise when my answer to one of them was that I was not in Jakarta for holiday. As the conversation continued the conclusion was: “TRAVELING is your JOB?!?” Well I would argue that my job is a lot of things: not to give up, to promote the Red Cross Red Crescent, to promote the good in the world, to manage social media, to raise funds, to create history, to reach every country…however as mentioned before it does involve a great deal of traveling. So in simplified terms: yes, to travel is my job. Once the short school interview was over we did a few selfies and they carried on. I had already been approached for a few selfies with random people and did a few more before I eloped to buy a ticket so that I could enter “Monas”. You can go all the way to the top but those were sold out. So I got to go to the “terrace” which was much lower but still offered a view. At the bottom underneath the monument I found a rather comprehensive display of Indonesia’s history from ancient times to the first kingdoms and then mostly in relation to colonialism and especially the struggle against the Dutch. Then also the horrible years under the Japanese during WW2 and finally the struggle for independence. Most of the information praised Indonesia in terms of how they won this or that battle. No tales about defeat. The overall picture I got about Indonesia’s history is that it has been one very long struggle for peace. First the kingdoms, then colonialism, the Japanese, independence and finally and always: the struggle against nature. And yet they smile. I eventually made it through all the displays having read all the information. Then I headed up on the “terrace” and then a million people wanted to take selfies with me!!! I never said no to anyone but it was quite hectic. I am by no means famous and nobody who wanted a selfies knew who I was. It was merely because I was a foreigner. What an odd thing? I would never ask anyone I had no relation to for a photo? But these Indonesia’s are in my experience very open and social people. Having delivered a great amount of selfies I couldn’t help realizing the horror it must be for those who are properly famous and recognized everywhere. It was sort of fun for me…for a while…but the fun was quickly wearing off. Imagine a life sentence of that?
Dutch colonialism...looks rather nice and is a window into a part of Indonesia's history.
There are some remarkable buildings to be found and in some cases renovated across Jakarta!
The day after speaking at Maersk I wanted to meet the Indonesian Red Cross aka Palang Merah Indonesia aka PMI. While most Islamic countries use the Red Crescent as their emblem and most Christian nations use the Red Cross it is always worth mentioning that the emblems do not represent religion. They are as neutral as the movement behind it which was founded in 1863 and has come to spread out across 191 nations today. And what demonstrates the neutrality of the emblem more than a predominantly Islamic nation using the Red Cross as their emblem. Well granted…it is one of the exceptions but it is nice to mention given that Indonesia is always mentioned as having the world’s largest Muslim population. Did you know that Indonesia is officially a republic with a compromise made between the ideas of an Islamic state and a secular state? You also have large populations of Catholics, Protestants, and Hindus…it all depends on which islands you go too. You are in fact required to have a religion in Indonesia as they officially do not recognize agnosticism or atheism. However they are super laid back with this topic and no one has shown any interest in what I might or might not believe in. And on another note: I have been to 184 countries which worship all sorts of religions and denominations. Some of those nations were vaguely religious while others were more pious. However the point I’ll make here is that people across the world have shown me the same kindness regardless of their religious beliefs. Anyway, I wasn’t feeling well and my contact at PMI had not replied to the latest emails regarding my visit so I more or less stayed in bed and postponed my visit.
Stay Inn Hostel, Jakarta, has some super cool pods for the guests. All included with lights, fan, curtains and electrical outlets :)
The next day I headed out to PMI who as you might expect play a massive role across Indonesia. Do you remember the long list of natural disasters I listed earlier? Well human lives get caught when Mother Nature shows her strength. You can count on PMI in such situations as they respond nationwide and almost all the time. There is ALWAYS something going on in Indonesia which demands the attention of PMI. That was the very reason why I had not had a reply by mail the day before. Tia who runs the logistics of PMI had to respond to the flood in Sulawesi. He was now back in the office and greeted me with all the kindness in the world. We had a conversation about how the Red Cross or Red Crescent is often falsely synonymous to the observer for one or two things in particular. In Denmark I doubt most people are aware of all the work the Danish Red Cross (DRC) does in Denmark. Most would probably just assume that the DRC raises funds to help the most vulnerable people in foreign countries. Especially in those hotspots highlighted by media. The DRC is highly active within Denmark in a great many areas but somehow that eludes public attention. The reason could of course be connected to a social media feed and website which overwhelmingly portraits foreign disasters and those affected by it or Red Cross staff raising money/attention for same disasters. That is evidently the media strategy of the DRC as far as I can tell. PMI is for many Indonesians synonymous with blood donations. And it is a vital part of the work PMI carries out. However they are doing an overwhelming large amount of humanitarian activities across the many islands that make up the country. I could list them all but how about this: you can try to think about ANY form of humanitarian aid and ask if they do that? The answer is likely yes.
We had lunch together and chowed down some more of Indonesia’s delicious cuisine which is as varied as it is tasteful. A couple of PhD students from France and Poland joined us for lunch. So did Ilham (also from logistics) and various representatives from dispatch and field assessment. Afterwards it was time to say goodbye and I was given a ride back to my hostel. Thankfully this was a rather short and simple visit at a National Society because I was still under the weather and fell asleep as soon as I was back.
Tia handed me a pin from Myanmar Red Cross which Susanne from DRC had given her. I lost mine along with my polo-shirt in a bus in Thailand. You cannot believe how many pins the Saga has collected. Still pondering what should happen to them at the end? Thanks Tia and Susanne. Logistics, logistics, logistics ;)
Meeting up with PMI became my 180th visit at the Red Cross or Red Crescent in a country. I estimate that I spend approximately two days on each National Society as it is demanding to set up the meetings, it takes time to reach them, the meeting themselves take time and so does the research and promotion I do for social media. Some visits are from morning to evening while others have involved several days. As such a two day average seems reasonable when I do the math. That also means that within my almost five years and nine months away from home my work as a goodwill ambassador of the Danish Red Cross has accumulated to a full year at this point. Keep in mind that the DRC does not fund this project in any way and I receive no logistical support or other type of support apart from the tittle I have been given. It is a lot of work!! And the main reason why I don’t stop it is because I feel that doing it is right. I also get motivated to continue when I think about the many amazing people I have met with the movement across the world. Probably many more than most would expect. My address book counts 709 contacts. There are those of you who have been reading enough of my entries to know that I am somewhat disgruntled with how little attention my efforts are given. However it is important to understand that I have seen far more of what the movement does, likely more than any living person, and I can vouch 100% for the enormous impact the movement has across the world. Few would be able to imagine the incredible reach of millions of volunteers and staff reaching the lives of even more millions of people in need. Is it always efficient? No. It is a big machine. Is it always worth it? Yes! Absolutely. I could not imagine a world without the Red Cross Red Crescent. From the remaining 19 countries the movement is present in 18. Now that does not add up to the 191 countries. But that’s because I also visited the movement in countries which are not recognized as countries by the movement.
Jakarta is so life confirming in so many ways! So full of smiles and kindness.
Yeah, so I’m getting ready to leave Jakarta. Pelni’s ferry will take two days to reach Kalimantan and then I will need a few days to cross Indonesia, Malaysia and reach Brunei. We are talking some serious distance. With that we are moving closer and closer to the Pacific and I’m really excited about the upcoming cooperation with both Swire Shipping. A part of the China Navigation Company, and PIL (Pacific International Lines). The final phase of the Saga is both complicated and demanding. No one has ever done this before so it is hard to look for answers anywhere to the complex questions. However if you break down the remaining part of the Saga into smaller pieces then there are answers to be found. That is how any complex task can be simplified. And yet there are too many variables left out in the open for me to plan anything on a strict timeline. My wonderful mother would like to visit me and I struggle to say where and when I will be anywhere. Certainly not to the certainty of a narrow window in time. If you all just had some idea how much of a puzzle it has been for my fiancée and I to meet up throughout the years. No small task.
Traffic in Jakarta can get heavy. But public transportation works quite well and skips traffic.
Indonesia, I can’t say I haven’t seen the best of you. Because I have met with so many amazing people and even the most beautiful beaches would not be able to rival that. However this is not farewell. I will get to see some of Kalimantan as well as more of this wonderful country as I head from the Philippines towards East Timor. My voice is nearly back to normal for those of you who might wonder and I am quite frankly more motivated to keep on keeping on than I have been for a long while. Sure, I’m nearly always tired but who wouldn’t be. However nothing great was ever done by those who said: “it’s too hard – I can’t do it”. When we give up in life nothing changes. When we keep moving forward we see results. And having moved forward every single day, in one form or the other, for more than five years, without a break…I can now see light!!
Indonesia has thousands of years of history. But also a present and a future ;)
So in the words Pacific International Lines: “Our Promise, Your Satisfaction”.
And in the words of Swire Shipping: “To be, rather than to seem” (Esse quam videri).
And let’s not forget Maersk: “All the way”.
Heck, let’s include Salomon: “Time to play”.
And of course the Saga: “A stranger is a friend you’ve never met before”. So let’s keep on keeping on people ;)
Late night Nasi Goreng from the street, Jakarta.
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - we've got this people! ;)
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga