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Monday, March 26, 2012

The road less travelled...





I have always loved just getting in a car or on a bike and seeing where the road takes me. I think this goes back to the days when I was a kid and Mum and Dad would take my brother and I out on a Treasure Hunt drive. Admittedly we knew where we were going, to a certain extent, as we were following clues, (easy for a copper you’d have thought) but still, the concept’s there, right? Day 6 in Belitong (Thursday and my penultimate day here) this was my chosen activity.

Heading out of Tanjung Pandan I first of all stopped near the town’s port. Next to the dock is a thriving market place so, camera at the ready, I went for a wander. Buying some sate sticks from a roadside vendor, i was munching on these as I took in the sights, sounds and smells of the place when i passed a coffee warung, full of blokes drinking coffee. Shouting at me to sit and join them, I thought what the hell, pulled up a chair and sat down.





As I’ve mentioned before, tact and diplomacy don’t come into Indonesian questioning techniques and the questions came thick and fast. The oldest guy in the group, at 61, spoke the best English, so when I or his confederates struggled with bahasa Indonesian he was usually able to help out.

The ringleader of the group whose name escapes me informed me that he was ‘Polisi’ and I, as expected, showed the correct amount of awe and respect for his position. Next minute, the same guy takes down a guitar, asks me if I like Liverpool, which I assume to mean the place, and heads into a version of Englebert Humperdink’s ‘Please Release Me’. At the third time of hearing the chorus I get the idea that he wants me to join in (the others are beckoning me to do so) and I’m a sucker for ad hoc Karaoke so happily obliged. A slight change and we’re into ‘The Green, Green, Grass of Home’ which suddenly turns into a whole table chorus. A great way to enjoy a morning coffee. What’s significant is that no alcohol was involved.




Following the coffee and impromptu sing-song I continued walking around the market, admiring the variety of foods on offer and then headed back to the bike. Seeing a sign for Sijuk, it seemed like as good as any to follow and I quickly found myself in the middle of nowhere. Putting my bag on the floor of the bike, I put my camera strap around my neck and made frequent stops to take photos.

I was amazed to find so many schools and I must look into the different types that I saw. I’m not sure of the population of the island but there are plenty of kids, I just assumed they were more homeschooled. I also found two signs saying ‘Homestay’. This is often where you stay in the room of a families’ house and share their food for a small charge. Might be a nice idea next time I visit.

I must have spent a couple of hours riding round the island. Alternating with the helmet on and off (because of the unforgiving sun) and it’s on the road less travelled that you see the most interesting sights. Today I passed my first albino Indonesian, which must be one of the cruelest jokes to play on humanity. I just mentioned the heat and I can only assume this poor girl of maybe 10 or 11 came from a tough background. She’s riding on a moped with her mother, but there is no cover, not even a hijab, to protect from the ferocity of the midday sun. I saw kids leaving school, the majority are primary school age. I did see secondary school kids too but they’re mainly girls. This is a pragmatic island. The boys work, the girls learn, or so it appears.

The road that I found myself on eventually brought me out at Lor-In, one of the more upmarket places to stay on the island and located very close to Tanjung Tinggi so, realising my location, I headed to Tanjung Tinggi for lunch. The Udang Goreng, Tempura style prawns, were served with a spicy, sweet sauce and an iced tea. I was joined in the middle of it by an Indonesian guy who I took the opportunity to ask questions of. I was wondering about how much it would cost to buy land and build a house. The response was a bit complicated but I got the feeling that the land would be about Rp70,000 per square metre. I need to do some more research but this is definitely an island with potential. I think it will get busy really quickly and it may be worth picking a good spot. The only thing is that there is little in the way of land registry and planning applications to understand what the government or individuals might be planning to do. It would be horrible to build a dream house here and then find that it’s right next door to the local waste disposal site!

Lunch over, I headed back to Tanjung Pandang to get some mosquito cream and bite cream. I had a run in with the Nyamuk Air Force last night and I don’t really want a repeat.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Harry Potter’s Internet Cafe







Today is Wednesday 21st March and today I checked out of the Kelayang Beach Cottages. The plan was to go back to Tanjung Pandan, find a barbers for a haircut and an Internet Cafe to upload all of the blogs I’ve been writing.

Paying my bill at Kelayang, two days including pulsa, food, beers and room came to a million Rupiah but I didn’t mind as the setting was just perfect. The nights sleep on the two nights had been somewhat marred by stormy weather but I really didn’t know how bad until I arrived in TP. The beachfront looked like a tornado had hit. Trees were strewn over the road and even lamp posts had been bent over, I think they had it worse here than Kelayang.

Checking back into the Harlika and coincidentally the same room, I asked the receptionist where I could get a hair cut. Her glance at my balding dome followed by a quickly hidden smirk wasn’t lost on me and I wondered if she thought I’d be better with a spit and polish instead. Regardless, she pointed out the general area where I could find a hair cut although if her directions were correct I’d be being snipped and shaved by a catterpillar as she seemed to have directed me to a mound of grass...maybe a travelling barber frequents this mound and that’s what she meant.

Forgoing the leprechaun barber for now, I continued riding into town in hopes of finding an internet cafe. Parking the bikein the main town square I became immediately aware that as I moved away from the moped, a bystander started moving towards it.To test this sudden paranoia I thought I’d walk on and then double back to see what happened to the moped.So it waas that a couple of minutes later I came back to find the bike neatly parked exactly where I’d left it, but now facing the opposite direction, all ready to drive off. The guy who had done it was still there and he gave me a thumbs-up salute which I returned with a perplexed smile.

Walking up the side of the road, keeping my eyes open for a suitable restaurant for lunch, I spotted an internet cafe on the other side. On entering, I was directed to Harry Potters room beneath the stairs (see photos for proof). All that was missing was a door. The fact that this was A) at the farthest end of the shop and B) insanely small in terms of space to sit, I wondered if the shop assistant had something against tourists.






Anyway, i eventually completed all of the blog uploading that I’d planned to do (Nina will be pleased) and headed back to the beach for some food. It’s only as I sit here writing this that I’ve realised, I haven’t had a hair cut yet.

This is Yohanna




This is Yohanna. She’s 29 years old, works in marketing for a company that sells paper products and is the best thing in my life.

I’m here on Belitung and I have to say that there isn’t an hour goes by that I don’t think about her.

The cost of a holiday to Belitong (well, this holiday anyway)

This is not an exhaustive list of prices but it does give an idea of the general costs I incurred in getting there and back.

Taxi to the airport with Express Taxi Group (better than Bluebird I think) Rp 60,000 one way

Flight : Return Jakarta to Tanjung Pandang was Rp 1,150,800 with Batavia air. Swirijaya also fly to Tanjung Pandan. The flight takes aproximately 45 minutes and I was delayed by an hour on the way out. Standard baggage allowance is 20kg. I booked 2 months in advance of my trip but it is possible to find flights for Rp 350,000 each way.

There is an airport departure tax to pay which currently stands at Rp 40,000 per person, one-way.

Hotel : Here it get’s a lot more subjective. You could pay Rp 1 million per night or you could probably couch surf or do homestay. There are more hotels on the island than you can find on the websites but I have no idea why. I think the island is just badly marketed considering how famous it is. (Particularly for the book “Laskar Pelangi”( trans. Rainbow Troops), the amazing rocks that dot the beaches and bays and the pure white, powder-like sand compared to the volcanic, often black, grain sand you find on most islands.

I chose the Harlika Hotel in an executive room at Rp 250,000 for four nights and the Kelayan Beach Cottages in an air-conditioned room at Rp 300,000 per night for 2 nights.
Both places had western style toilets and a shower. The Harlika actually had a bath but I’m not a fan of cold baths, even in a tropical climate.
The Kelayan Cottages had a mosquito net and judging from the water on the bathroom floor this is extremely necessary.
Don’t forget, the cafe next to the Harlika is not suitable for families.

The staff at the Harlika and Pondok Impian II are really friendly. Pondok Impian II is one of the Harlika owner’s other properties where I stayed in 2011. The Pondok Impian II has a selection of rooms available from Rp 250,000 upwards and they also have two cottages at Rp 500,000 per night each which are beautifully appointed.

Staff at Kelayang are a little shy I think.

I hired a motorbike for 6 days at a cost of Rp 50,000 per day and petrol is about Rp 8,000 a litre. A car is available at Rp 250,000 per day.

Food is widely available and you get a variety of prices. You can pay 15,000 for Nasi Goreng/Mie Goreng and the main town has a KFC if you don’t like Indonesian food. I also saw a pasta rerstaurant in Tanjung Pandang. Loads of fish is available. Beers average out to about Rp 30,000 per big bottle (although they are cheaper in one of the shops, tokos, and can be kept in your fridge) and I paid Rp 1,000 for iced tea and Rp 4,000 for hot black coffee.

At Tanjung Tinggi I bought a fresh coconut for Rp 8,000 and Rujak, a fruit salad served with spicy, sweet peanut sauce for Rp 10,000 from a mobile seller.

So, working on an average of Rp 20,000 for lunch and Rp 100,000 for dinner it basically cost Rp 3,890,000 for 6 nights/7 days (about £250)

If you bear in mind that I was on my own and could have halved the room cost that would have brought it down by Rp 800,000 (about £50) I also stayed in mid range accommodation and could have brought that down significantly. Food costs could also be reduced depending on where and what you eat.

Check out the other blog entries on the island for more details and pictures.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tarzan’s Golf Course




The first person to tell me that Tarzan lived in Africa and not a remote island off the coast of Sumatra can go swing on a vine. What I do know is that if I were Tarzan, and I’d somehow ended up marooned on Belitung (actually Belitong, as i was informed by an islander) and I wanted to get my handicap down to scratch figures, then this is what I’d have built.

In the middle of the local jungle I found a golf course that, as far as I am concerned, wasn’t there a year ago. The other day when I arrived at the place, (courtesy of the blue sign that I mentioned in a previous  blog) that was the illusion I was under. I continued with that same illusion for two more days, in fact right up until the 5th hole when Kamil, my playing partner said, “30 years”.



In Indonesia it’s always worth checking yourself to make sure you’ve been understood. Jam dua (2hours)and dua jam (2 o’clock) mean completely different things so numbers are especially worth checking. I’d found it hard to believe the last time I was at Bilitong Golf Club that the iced tea was only Rp1000 not the Rp10,000 I assumed it must be, so with this in mind I dragged my playing companion by the scruff of his Ashcroft shirt and said “THIRTY YEARS???”

Ok, so the last part was the thought that fleeted through my mind, doubly so when the caddy repeated it. “they can’t both have misunderstood” I thought, when I realised they they can’t have both misunderstood. And of course they hadn’t, my Indonesian was perfect. I’ll say that again, my Indonesian was perfect much to my confusion, and they’d both confirmed that this course had been here since at least 1982!



Built, evidently, by one of the islands tin companies and up until recently a private course for the senior management from the tin company to use as their plaything, entertaining guests, holding ad hoc competitions or just getting away from the wife and kids on a weekend. Yes, this place now has 35 members and all of them are men.



There is a womens locker room but on the course are no signs of ladies tees.  The only women that I have seen are back at the clubhouse making perfect iced teas. Which is a shame because in Jakarta the caddies are all women.

The course could not be termed immaculate but I have played on a lot worse, Spofforth near Wetherby springs to mind. Some of the fairways are forgiving, such as on the first, some are  much tighter. The 9-hole course makes itself into 18-holes by altering the yardage, for instance, the par 3 third hole is also the par 4 twelth which is a great use of space saving. I may have mentioned but this course has been hacked out of a jungle and everyday the jungle wants it back.



Greenskeepers jobs are made doubly difficult when your job could also kill you. The four of us, Kamil, the two caddies and I, were followed around the course by plenty of people. Evidently I’m the first westerner to play here! But of our entourage, it was the job of three of them to look for errant shots. Basically, if your ball goes into the jungle it’s their job to go find it. You’ll be pleased to hear that we left no-one behind.



So what did this experience cost me? Well the whole bill thing was probably a bit contrived. When I came to pay it was Rp100,000 to hire the clubs, Rp100,000 Green Fees, even though the sign said Rp150,000, and Rp100,000 for the caddy plus RP50,000 danger money for the ball finders. Admittedly I have payed less than this at Gading Raya in Gading Serpong but golf is an expensive hobby in Indonesia and it was well worth it. With my own clubs here £15 would have been well worth it.

It never rains, but it pours




Day four on Belitung arrived a little earlier than I’d hoped. In Pantai Kelayan there really is very little to do on an evening. I’d sat up in the bar area until 8pm reading Sherlock Holmes stories while drinking a couple of large bottles of Bintang but, in the absence of anyone to talk to and the fact that I was getting up at 6.30am to play golf, I had an early night.

I’d nodded off a few times during the day and once my head hit the pillow I realised I was ready for sleep. Assuring myself of a peaceful night due to the mosquito netting (I’d checked and double checked for any ‘rogue’nyamuk, finding none) I was out like a light.

I can tell you what a volcanic eruption feels like. I can tell you what a small earthquake feels like. I had no idea what it is to experience a hurricane and I had even less idea what it is to experience a hurricane in a wooden shack with a tin roof...and hardly a solid wooden shack either. Dropping off to sleep, the noises of animals in the rafters, what sounded to me like rats preparing for some rat olympics, hadn’t  bothered me at all. I felt safe, cocooned in my mosquito netting, with two bolsters to remind me of Yohanna. Interestingly I’ve never heard any annecdotal evidence that a mosquito net will protect you from having the building surrounding you ripped apart as at around 1.30am that’s pretty much what i thought was happening. I say ‘around’ as my phone was charging,and nowhere within easy grasp to check the time.

I lay there for a few moments considering my situation. Having walked up the wooden steps to my cottage, I knew it had more in common with the second little pig’s house from the childrens’ story. I also knew from the noise outside that it was either one bloody big wolf or a storm of epic proportions..deciding on the latter, I worked out that I probably had two options. One, the roof would collapse on me and they’d find my corpse with a slightly undecided look on my face or two, I should get my ass outside and see what was happening.

One look told me that yes it was a big storm. Rain was lashing the place and the trees were bending in the howling wind but there was no sign of anyone. No rallying cry to warn of an impending Tsunami, no sign of people huddled in the doorways of the other shacks and at this point I realised this was probably nothing special if you lived here 24/7. Indonesia sits in an area known as the Ring of Fire, an area continually pounded by all manner of Acts of God and so it was with that little reassurancethat  I went back to bed and had a semi restless night, listening to the symphony of raindrops landing on the metal roof competing with the rats’ 100m sprint final.

My alarm went off at 6.15, a reminder to get up and go play golf but the rain was still thrashing down outside so I reset it for 7.30 and went back to my dreams. New surroundings and new sounds do not always make for the most comfortable nights sleep.

Kelayang Beach Cottages



2 nights had been spent in Tanjung Pandan and I opted for a change of scenery. I’d already found the Kelayan Beach Cottages and, once checked out of the Herlikat Hotel, rode the moped the 30 minutes to get to the cottages.



This place has a beautiful beach and the wooden shacks that overlook the beach are rustic at best. They have two cottages, fan or air con and as there is only 50,000 a night difference I agreed to the air con room at 300,000 per night (aprox £20). The rooms are spacious, mine has a big double bed surrounded by mosquito netting and a bathroom with a western toilet and a shower. The fan room has a squat toilet more traditional in Indonesia and the view from all of the wooden verandas is the palm tree-lined beach.  I arrived at 9.30am, changed my shorts to swimming shorts and went and grabbed the nasi goreng that I’d ordered when I checked in.



Straight out of a packet, it didn’t bode well for what I’d hoped would be good food here but for breakfast it was fine. Food over, I walked the 20 or so yards to the beach and just threw myself in the warm, blue water. The beach here doesn’t have as much detritus as the beach at Tanjung Tinggi. Last year, all the beaches were perfect but the tides at this time of year still wash all manner of flotsam and jetsam onto the beaches. This doesn’t really change until after May. Anyway, Tinggi was a bit of a mess but Kelayan is gorgeous. Palm trees swaying in the breeze, fishing boats parked just off the shore, the famous rocks dotting the bay and a couple of to gaze at. (One of these, i swear, looks like a chicken but found out later is thought by the locals to look like a Garuda, Indonesia’s mythical symbol).



After the swim i thought i’d read my kindle...I’m reading “The Legends of King Arthur and his Knights” by Sir James Knowles...but instead, fell asleep on an uncomfortable single plank. Not so uncomfortable that i didn’t sleep though.



This afternoon has been spent swimming, writing, reading and I’ve just finished a really nice piece of roast chicken accompanied by a sauce made from sweet, thick soy sauce, chopped fresh chillies and a squeeze of lime juice. Served with rice, it obliterated all thoughts of this morning’s nasi goreng.



It’s so insanely relaxing here my only real regret is that Yohanna couldn’t join me.

Interrogation with a smile....



Indonesian nature is to be blunt. The language doesn’t really use please and thankyou, they have it but just don’t use it in the way that we do. Does it mean Indonesians are impolite? Not in the slightest. Just a lack of formally polite words and a seeming disregard for privacy.

Handshakes are a bit odd here too. I remember the first time I shook an Indonesian’s hand. The pained expression on his face, along with the eagerness he had to let go of my less-than-steel-like grip, was obvious. Along with a reluctance to shake hands on departure, this led me to believe I’d made something of a social ‘faux-pas’.

It turns out hand shakes are more symbolic here. I was brought up by my father to believe that a weak handshake was a mark of the man you were shaking hands with. A weak handshake meant possibly a wimp, possibly not to be trusted and at the very least, damnably insincere. (My dad was a copper and is a northerner to boot so weak handshakes were especially unmanly) “shakes hands like a girl, he does” still brings a smile on remembering an occasion when he talked about an example of the above description.

But, back to the story. March 18th found me writing blog entries outside a small warung in Tanjung Pandan. Located next to the beach I was drinking delicious local black coffee,  watching the world go by and getting inspiration for my writing. I was sat adjacent to a small park with kids play equipment and a great view of the beach and receding tide.

Do you know that feeling you get when someone’s stood directly behind you, staring at you? Hairs on the back of your neck are on alert and our nascent spider sense slightly tingling? Well, that’s what caused me to turnaround in my chair. There behind me was a short, stout Indonesian guy with a beaming smile and wearing an immaculate Batik shirt in hues of orange and black. ”Hello” he said. “How old are you?” What do you say to this? Do you look angry that someone’s interrupting your afternoon coffee?  Do you look perplexed at the question? Do you just ignore the question and hope he’ll go away? My time here has taught me many things and the first is to relax and see where it goes.

“I’m 44” i replied in bahasa Indonesian, “how old are you?” i continued. Ignoring the question, he carried on, “Are you married?” This is all extremely normal. Indonesians, especially those that don’t meet many westerners, are ridicolously curious. Turning the tables, I stood up and towered over him (I’m 5’9” by the way) holding out my hand i said in Bahasa Indonesian “My name’s Daron, what’s your name sir?” he looked at my hand a moment, maybe he’d met a bule from northern England before, then extended his hand, smiling all the time. Our palms touched, just the very slightest interlocking before quickly releasing. This is how Indonesians shake hands.

Turns out his name was  Ramansah, he’s 43 and he’s a govenment official. He was at the beach this Sunday afternoon with his wife, kids, brother and brothers family and wanted to try out his English. It’s not that he didn’t respect my privacy, it’s that I’m a westerner, on his island, and he speaks a little English and wanted to practice.  The questions came thick and fast and each time I asked a question in bahasa Indonesian he seemed a mixture of disappointed and frustrated that I wouldn’t just sit there and answer him. Still, the conversation continued and I continued to answer his questions. At one point he invited me to his house for dinner but I declined, partly because the thought of an extended interrogation over dinner wasn’t really appealing. Looking back I think it was a wasted opportunity and it always helps to know people in government. Still, I have his number and I’ll call next time I visit the island. Probably.

He left following another brief handshake and deliberately drove his car in a contrary direction tothe one in which he needed to go, just to give the family the chance of seeing up close the guy he’d been talking to. All of them beamed smiles in my direction, waving their hands.

Intertesting.