Hurry up and wait!!! Leaving Indonesia for the third time.
Day 2,171 since October 10th 2013: 187 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).
Getting closer to country 188
Not much seems to come easy within the Saga. And yet I think we are moving towards easier times. The past week was quite rough. However we prevailed and right now it’s kind of easy. Albeit with the added weight of having been away from home for nearly six years and the never ending bureaucrazy.
Last week I left you as “Captain Facebook” had miraculously brought his minibus to the port town of Labuhan Bajo on the island of Flores (Indonesia). I’m pretty sure I have seen far more of Indonesia than most Indonesians have. The Saga has taken us to West Kalimantan, North Kalimantan, East Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Timor, East Nusa Tenggara, West Nusa Tenggara, Lombok, Bali and back to Java. All without flying of course. And yet that was just on eight islands out of Indonesia’s 17,000+ islands. People have been writing me “Oh, Lombok is so beautiful” or “Lucky you – Bali is amazing”. The truth however is that it has all been both beautiful and amazing. The food has been good wherever I have been, the landscape has been astonishing and the people have been kind and friendly. So your “Lombok recommendation” is probably just a product of the keyhole glance you have had of an extraordinary country in an extraordinary corner of our round world. I’m however very happy that you had a good time while here. Please come back again and see some more. My experience of most of these places has been that of a man in transit and certainly not as a tourist. However I did get to appreciate much of it in my own way. Anyone born in Indonesia should consider it a blessing as Indonesia is certainly a country of great richness, opportunity and diversity. However I do get it if some find it hard to smile.
I'll be doing another Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Sunday September 22nd starting at 09:00am Western Indonesian Time (GMT+7). It will go for about twelve hours giving everyone a chance to join in. I'm sure you have a lot of great questions. You usually do. Save them for Sunday ;)
Let’s continue where we left off last week. My nine dollar (USD) hostel was quite good and I managed to do some laundry while there. It was of course express service which would costs me 25,000 Indonesian Rupiah ($1.80 USD) which was fine by me. In the evening they were showing a movie on a wall which doubled as a screen. The movie the guests had voted for was “The Avengers: End Game”. I opted to watch it while I was uploading the photos to last week’s entry. Then I finished the blog and went to bed. The next day I got up early enough to have breakfast, collect my laundry and take advantage of the free shuttle which ran down to the ferry. I got into a small debate with the staff at the hostel as they now wanted 50,000 Indonesian Rupiah for my express laundry. I had a kind smile on my face throughout the entire debate. If these people only knew the negotiations I’ve had at corrupt checkpoints around the world. A few minutes later I left with my laundry having paid 25,000. The ferry from Labuan Bajo to Sape took seven hours. From there I caught a bus to Bima which was just one hour away. Because in Bima I could catch a bus all the way to Surabaya on Java 935 km (581 mi). We still had far to cover but I was still hopeful that we would make it to Jakarta in time. The clock was however ticking. The world we are living in does not accommodate a journey to every country without flying. Much becomes complicated without flight: conflict zones, visas, reaching islands etc. Pacific International Lines (PIL) is helping to make it possible! PIL is the world’s 10th top container ship operator and owns and operates a fleet of around 160 vessels. PIL had advised that the good ship “Kota Nebula” was scheduled to depart Surabaya on September 23rd and that I would be welcome onboard. Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) Indonesian embassy is located in Jakarta 736 km (457 mi) west of Surabaya while PNG is east. Not much we can do about that. The embassy requires four working days to process the visa. September 23rd is a Monday which then meant I had to be at the embassy in Jakarta no later than Tuesday morning in order to give the requested four days before the weekend. But so far we were still good on time.
This is as close as I got to Komodo Island with the famous Komodo Dragons.
In Bima I bought the ticket to Surabaya, boarded the bus and off we went. Over the next 17 hours we drove to Poto Tano, took a ferry across to Kayangan and continued by road to Mataram. In Mataram I had to transfer to another bus in order to continue to Surabaya. This in spite of the guy selling me the ticket guaranteeing that it was one bus all the way. But what can you do? The guy handling the transfer between busses spoke English well and managed to convince me that it would be far better for me to board another bus since I was going to Jakarata. It was a direct bus and would be much faster. My plan was to reach Surabaya and catch the train from there to Jakarta but this guy was convincing and I began to believe that it would be faster than the train. Time was of the essence so I had to make the best solutions (huge eye roll). I got on the bus and away we went to the nearby port. A ferry got us to Padangbai from where we again continued by land to Galimanuk, where we stopped for dinner. At this point my phone and all three battery packs had run out of juice which in turn meant no music, no podcasts, no photos, no emails, no work, no research – a modern day tragedy!! Nobody on the bus spoke any significant level of English so there was no chance of a conversation either. Just me and my thoughts. That’s good sometimes. However I found it really annoying. But now that we stopped for dinner I had a chance to charge my devices. We were not far from the port from which the next ferry would bring us to Java (from Bali). Everyone boarded the bus and the driver began to reverse out onto the road. Then he stopped…for a while…people began to get off…I saw my chance to get off and charge my phone some more. I however soon realized that something was out of the ordinary and walked to the back of the bus. The police was there. From some broken English I understood that we had hit a woman on a motorcycle and that she had been brought to the hospital. There was no damage to the back of the bus, no wreckage to be found and certainly no blood.
We all went back inside to wait…and wait…and waaaaaaaaiiiiit… As time went by I began to wonder if I should just take a taxi to the ferry and make it across? Would we leave soon? What was better? Should I abandon ship? Apparently ferries head across the narrow strait between Bali and Java all the time. And the first town I would reach on Java was Banyuwangi which has a train connection to Surabaya. “Should I stay or should I go now? If I go, there will be trouble. And if I stay it will be double”. I decided to wait it out a bit longer and several hours later around 02:00am the bus driver got back in his seat and we were on our way again. At this point I was under the clear impression that my bus would reach Surabaya late afternoon and Jakarta the following day (Tuesday) around 4pm at best. Okay – so my plan was now that I would definitely leave the bus in Banyuwangi in order to catch the train to Surabaya and a connecting train onward to Jakarta. I had found the schedules online and the two trains left me with thirteen minutes between the trains which should be enough. We crossed the waters, I said farewell, the bus left without me, I walked over to the train station, sat down to buy a ticket and then discovered that we were talking about two different train stations in Surabaya! And it would take an hour to transit between them and not thirteen minutes! Also it was now 07:00am and the train wouldn’t leave until 09:00am. Would those two hours give me enough time to reach Surabaya by bus? Darn it!! I had made the wrong decision! If only I was still onboard the bus I had arrived on then I would have been fine. Okay – so I got on the back of a motorcycle taxi and raced to the bus terminal where I was fortunate to get on a bus to Surabaya fairly quickly. But I was one our behind the bus I had just arrived on. And this new bus driver, although very friendly, was phenomenally slow!! We are talking speeds of around 30 kph (19 mph). Everything was overtaking us!! And we were stopping to let passengers on and off everywhere. Now what? Abandon this bus and get in a taxi or something?
Nice but slow driver.
I sat there sweating for hours while the driver promised that we would be in Surabaya at 2pm (the train left at 3:15pm). I was measuring the distance we had to go, our speed, made calculations…it wasn’t looking good. We would definitely be late! However I calculated a cut-off time at which I had to leave the bus if I did not think we would make it. Suddenly we turned off the crowded road and onto a nearly empty highway and for the next hour we were blasting away. We reached Surabaya at 2:10pm from where I caught a Grab (taxi) and made it to the train station on time. I even had time for a quick meal. It worked out. For the next eleven hours I had to be on the train to Jakarta and would arrive at 02:41am. By the way, pop quiz! What does a modern train in Congo, a modern train in Indonesia and a bus in Venezuela have in common? Some joker set the air-conditioning to arctic temperatures on all three modes of transport!!! I swear I saw a penguin at one point!! Oh well…I do not travel light and pulled out some warmer clothing and got a few hours of sleep.
In Jakarta another Grab got me from the station to my hostel and I went to bed at 04:16am when I wrote goodnight to my fiancée. I got up again four hours later, printed my paperwork, caught a Grab to the embassy and submitted my application before 11am. Now it was a waiting game. I was told to collect my visa and my passport Friday (today). If all goes well then I will be on a train heading the eleven hours back to Surabaya Saturday and in time for the good ship next week.
Opposite the PNG embassy you'll find the Pemuda Membangun Monument. The statue was erected in 1971 to inspire people to participate in the nation's building, especially the youths of the new nation.
It has been good to be back in Jakarta. I haven’t really gone anywhere. I have been catching up on food and sleep. Most nights I’ve managed eight hours of sleep and I have had three meals a day. The wifi connection has been good so I have been working my way through the piles of bureaucrazy, paperwork and obligations which have built up. I’ve also been researching PNG, I’ve been helping various travellers, filled out more paperwork, done some shopping, coordinated the upcoming transportation and managed social media. I have however also pulled out some mornings to sit and watch YouTube! Sometimes you’ve got to ;) Quantum Physics are incredibly fascinating! Oh well…let’s leave that for another time.
"Throwback Thursday" posts on Facebook have been updated to run until January 30th 2020 :)
I had a haircut. Do I look handsome now? ;)
And here we are. Another short entry for you guys. There probably won’t be one for next week as I expect to be at sea. I might write one while onboard though. In other news the Saga’s social media has recently seen quite a jump. Especially Facebook grew with more than a thousand new faces. It has been hard to pinpoint why but I tribute it to at least three things: 1) an excellent article by Andy Leve for ‘The National’ in UAE (read here), 2) a feature in ‘Hjemmet’ which is Norway’s largest weekly magazine and 3) something which I’ve just been wrecking my brain to remember what was but it has slipped my mind? I’ve definitely been thinking about three possible sources lately which sort of all collided all at once. The Saga does see a lot of media. There have definitely been interviews across more than 140 countries by now and remarkably all the press I know of has been positive. I continue to give interviews large and small and suspect that will only increase now that we are left with “only” sixteen countries left. I have the full support of PIL as well as Swire Shipping | The China Navigation Co. and that sets us on a solid path to conquer the Pacific Island nations. So for some foreseeable time I’ll sort of either be on a ship on my way to an island or on an island waiting for a ship. However I will not be spending time chasing ships as this has already fallen into place between the might of PIL and Swire. So (knock on wood) I think the Saga could be getting easier from heron out? Yeah!! How strange would that be? For most of the Saga I have been working some 60-80 hours per week and sometimes above. But I can’t do much onboard a ship and there will be plenty of shipping going on from now on. Let’s see though.
Probably my favorite from the OUAS-SHOP. Bob in Uganda is managing it competently so why not visit and see if there is something you like :)
I’ve got two things I need to say before rounding this entry off. First of all I want to express huge appreciation to all of you out there who have been helping and supporting in one way or the other. The many of you who continue to cheer me on with the kindest of words! Those of you who have processed paperwork for me! The many who contribute financially to ensure the Saga continues. All of you who have been silent observers throughout the years. Those of you which I have met and those which I have still to meet: THANK YOU! You bring tears to my eyes. The Saga’s family, fans, followers, friends and everyone else now counts above 50,000 accounts across social media and I have no idea who most of you are. However you are definitely a supportive lot!
The padlock to the right has been with me since Peru 2014. It has traveled 231,268 km (143,703 mi) across five continents before it gave up. Everything breaks in this project. Now it has been replaced by the one to the left.
Secondly a woman asked me a few days ago what the Saga contributes with. And as such I replied that we are creating world history by reaching every country without flying. I replied that the Saga also inspires by demonstrating that goals are achievable if we remain motivated and are willing to fight for them. Furthermore I told her that the Saga has symbolically linked the Red Cross Red Crescent across 180+ countries, as I have paid them all a visit and shared information about them, which in turn has lead people to donate blood, donate money, volunteer or in other ways take part in the humanitarian efforts. Finally, I told her, that the Saga has brought a positive focus to countries all around, which has helped in normalizing the world we live in, in the eyes of people. Because people are just people. And you’ll find that in both Syria and Yemen people take selfies, fall in love, get married, enjoy good food and get stuck in traffic.
And that’s all I have to say about that :)
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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - this entry came to life while I listened to Chopin.
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga