Arriving in Bali we went on another one of the dozens of crazy taxi-finding missions we had during the trip, after which we made it to our hotel – the Next Tuban Bali, where we were greated in a tall, opulent lobby. (The next day we would spent a little too much time in it while trying to find transportation to the other hotel: we were always asking for bluebird taxis – the cheapest and most reliable ones – but they are somehow never available). We had booked the first night there, because it was close to the airport and we would be landing late.
Arriving in Bali was definitely a change from Yogya. Clearly much more turistic, but also, in the area close to the Denpasar airport, much more urban (aka dirty and smelly). After checking out our rooms (some of which were fine but ours had a REALLY weird smell we had read about on Tripadvisor beforehand), we went for a walk around the block looking for something to eat. The neighborhood was very dark and we were more than once surprised by small creatures, usually cockroaches, creeping over our toes – which was expected in such a busy area and in such a hot climate. The hotel sorroundings were quite deserted so we ended up buying some instant noodles and snacks at a supermarket, along with air freshners which we sprayed all over our hotel room, and went back to the balcony overlooking the hotel pool to eat and enjoy the warm nightly breeze. The hotel was actually quite pleasant, especially the common areas, and here is where we first noticed something that became more evident the more hotels we stayed in: in low budget hotels the bathrooms are built based on purely practical needs – they are in basic concrete, open showers… often contrasting with very comfortable and high-end bedrooms.
The next morning, we joined the rest of the group, who skipped the second day of Yogya and went straight to Bali where they found a hotel near the beach, at Legian. The Kuta-Legian-Seminyak strip is is where everyone seems to be. Bustling with scooters, lobster-skinned tourists with neon sunglasses, souvenir shop after souvenir shop, bars, restaurants, massage salons… – it reminded me of Praia da Oura, in Albufeira.
Entrance to Legian beach
We stayed in a great hotel (a tiny bit over our budget), the Rosani, in a narrow side street between Jl. Melasti (which leads directly to Legian beach) and the very central Jl. Legian, right in the center of action. The day was spent driving around in scooters (mainly the boys) trying to book tickets for the bus to Ubud the next morning, walking the Legian streets, and then relaxing at the wide sandy beach, drinking Bintang, eating Mie Goreng and swimming in the wavy ocean until sundown. The beach day ended with an incredibly relaxing and at the same time invigorating Balinese massage at PIP’s (Pampurring in Paradise) and a dip in the hotel’s swimming pool.
Then it was off to dinner at a pretty touristy restaurant on the main street, which played an eclectic musical selection (I remember some 90’s gangsta hip hop). After some drinks in a weird shady and extremely crowded bar on a narrow road (which we left after a big fight broke out), we ended the night on the top floor of the fabulously famous Sky Garden, overlooking the sparkling lights of Kuta’s nightlife to the sound of some great music that had us dancing for hours.
Bintang, coconut water and the Legian sunset
The next day started with the hectic rhythm of trying to get a 10-people group ready and checked out to catch a bus to Ubud. We closed the taxi door a few minutes before departure time, after being stuck in traffic for what seemed like an eternity for a 2km ride, and rushed in to the bus filled with other tourists headed to the peaceful majestic and very spiritual Ubud, in the center of the island.
I woke up to the busy sound of Jakartan traffic, well-rested and fresh faced to start the new step of the trip. We hadn’t planned much, just that we were flying to Yogyakarta (or Jogjakarta or Jogja) at 10:30, staying at the Rengganis Hotel for one night, and then moving on to Denpasar (Bali), the next day 20:50.
We packed everything so we were ready to go right after breakfast and rode the elevator down to the dining area near the reception of the Pop! Hotel. Next to a few scattered tables and a balcony, there was some mostly Indonesian breakfast food displayed, which means coffee cooked similarly to Turkish coffee (steamed water over ground coffee beans) and, if I remember correctly, some bubur ayam (a sort of rice and chicken porridge), as well as some bananas. Since I usually only have coffee for breakfast, it wasn’t much of an adjustment, but having rice and chicken for breakfast may take a little getting used to for those us used to a Portuguese breakfast. So, when we arrived at the airport and went through security, it was nice to have some extra time to hit the pleasant and bright food corner and fill up on (expensive) fruit juice, water and Beard Papa’s, i.e., Japanese cream puffs. Before we knew it, we were flying over (and next to) vulcano summits and landing in beautiful Yogya.
Flying next to volcanoes to Yogya
We landed and were immediately badgered (as happened during the whole trip) “Taxi, taxi….!” Non-stop, everywhere we looked, anyone you made eye contact with seemed to want to offer you transportation. This disoriented us more and made us take more time than we should have figuring out how to get to the hotel. That and the fact that many drivers didn’t recognize the address we had written down. But we finally got to Rengganis – and what an oasis it was! We had some fresh juice fruit, mie and nasi goreng on a sort of gazebo overlooking the pool, and checked into our colorful rooms with cozy and green tiny balconies in front of them, with wicker chairs perfect to sit and read, and, at night, to hear Nature’s silence under the starry sky. Don’t get me wrong, Yogyakarta is a quite a big city (636.660 people according to Wikipedia), and some parts of it are all but quiet, but our hotel was a bit South of the center in a tranquil area.
After lunch we decided to check with some travel agencies we had seen on the way, and ask for advice on how to visit what we had come here for: Borobudur and Prambanan. On the street of our hotel, in a dim, messy house with walls covered with books and posters of maps, we discussed our travel plans with our agent [I am very sorry that I don’t remember practically any names of the people we met during our trip, I feel really bad about it but it’s been seven months and my memory for names is usually really bad]. When I say discuss, it is an understatement. The truth is we stubbornly haggled the price, as we always did, until all sides were happy with our itinerary and schedule: we would leave the next day early in the morning to Borobudur, stop for lunch, head to Prambanan and then be dropped off at the airport, which meant we had to take our luggage with us in the van. (We didn’t bring much luggage anyway since we knew we would be moving all the time, in my case it was a 7kg bag).
We had the rest of the day free to roam around the area, ride on a becak (trishaw), take a dip in the swimming pool, and at night stroll around the shopping promenade Malioboro, where we haggled some more and bought a bunch of stuff we didn’t need, as well as some really unique souvenirs. The prices here were truly, unbeatably low. We exchanged some money in a shady looking shack on a side road, after looking around for the best deal (we are the ultimate thrifty travellers), all the time thinking about all we had read in guide books about being alert and counting the bills etc. (it can be difficult due to all the 000’s – 1 Euro was around 15000 IDR, so you end up with millions of IDR in your pocket at times). All around us were beautiful fabrics in traditional patterns, gorgeous dresses, but also cheap looking touristy T Shirts, some handcrafted pieces, some trinkets… It is easy to get lost in Malioboro. We walked it up and down many times, also trying to find a place to eat. There are a lot of fast food restaurants, especially in and around the shopping center. We looked in the side streets for a place that would not be too touristy but also not just a street car vendor, and ended up in an ok place, where we had a (very) cheap meal with some tea. (The whole experience in Yogyakarta just made us spoiled regarding Indonesian prices, we thought everything would be as cheap as here, but it was not so)
The next day we got up, had some delicious omolettes and scrambled eggs and fruit by the pool, packed our backpacks and met our very nice driver, a quiet, smiling, bony man with a mustache. It was a more or less 40km ride to Borobudur, and on the way we got to see the different parts of Yogyakarta, marvel at the anarchic traffic, motor bikes carrying a whole family of five, beautiful Javanese architecture, such as archways over the road, and, while we drove away from the city center, at the lush greenery and rice fields.
Tip: It is really worth to bring a student card with you to both Borobudur and Prambanan, if you have one, because the ticket is much cheaper with one.
Borobudur is simply stunning, not just the temple but also the vast green fields around it, landscaped gardens as well as the forest, with tall palmtrees. We walked around under the warm sun and the sound of chirping birds and, more soothing even, the Gamelan playing from the loudspeakers. The 9th Century Buddhist temple was built with a mixture of Indigenous Javanese as well as Indian influences, with stunning statues of Buddha, and beautiful relief panels and narrow stairways with spectacular views. The most amazing aspect of it, though, was the amount of times we were asked to pose for pictures with other tourists visiting the site, especially the boys who were constantly approached by groups of schoolgirls in headscarfs calling “Mister, mister – photo!”. The fact that the boys were wearing some traditional shirts they bought at Malioboro the night before was also a success. When leaving the temple, you go through a path filled with very persistent souvenir vendors, and then through a maze of stalls, like a bazar, where we stopped for some refreshing coconut water.
After a huge scare, consisting of us not finding our driver (and the van with all of our luggage) anywhere in the large parking area, ultimately having to ask the reception to call him through loudspeakers (he was just waiting for us somewhere else), we stopped at a Silver factory (a touristy place where you see some people working on jewlery), where there were some overpriced restaurants for tourists. Aside from being on a tigh budget, we really didn’t want to eat where all the tourist buses stopeed and asked our driver to take us to some place where locals go to eat. He took us to a beautiful place, on the water, where we shared dishes like caramelized fish and fish cooked in coconut milk, as well as some delicious fruit juices, and asked the driver to join us for lunch (although at one point he disappeared to the main restaurant bulding and eded up eating there).
Where we had lunch
We drove through some rural roads, where we saw groups of schoolgirls in all white uniforms walking, to Prambanan, a 9th Century Hindu temple compound which is still being reconstructed, with different small temples each onde dedicated to a different divinity (I just went up the stairs to Shiva and Brahma, they are quite steep and it was very warm). Around the complex there are also some calming lakes where we rested under the shade, again to the relaxing and magical sound of the Gamelan. After giving back our sarongs, we met our driver at the entrance to go to the airport.
I recorded this sound at Prambanan
At the small airport we had a really hard time finding a place to eat something substantial. There were some fast food places (like a KFC with a huge Cristiano Ronaldo ad – Crisitiano is, as we found out, the most recognizable Portuguese reference in Indonesia, and I guess anywhere in the world right now) and a local food restaurant where we ended up, even though they didn’t have that much food available. We had a long wait for our flight, and, while we were sitting in the back of the restaurant, we noticed a lot of commotion outside, and the waitresses shrieking excitedly and running towards it. So, of course, we did too. Just outside the restaurant was a car with the backseet window rolled down and a smiling man waving to the large photo-taking crowd. We asked “who is it?” – “The President!” the waitress giggled. It was newly elected Joko Widodo, known as Indonesia’s Obama as I had read before our trip. Inside the terminal, while we were waiting to board the plane to Bali, the agitation when he passed to board his plane was even more frantic. We were almost just as excited: it’s not every day you see the head of State of the country you’re visiting.
We boarded our Lion Air flight to Denpasar for the next part of the trip: Bali.
After more than 30 hours travelling by train and plane, from almost 13000 km away, and layovers in Lisbon (huge line, long wait), London (rushing through the airport to pick up our luggage from one flight and check it in at the next, and then boarding the amazingly comfortable Airbus A380 – yes, the Superjumbo – which made 12 hours feel like no time at all) and Kuala Lumpur (SUPER comfortable and bright airport – where some in our group encountered squat toilets for the first time), at around 11 pm, we finally stepped out of the airplane into the outdated carpet-floor of Jakarta’s Soekarno Hatta airport, where we stayed for far too long standing in long confusing lines to get the stamp and pay the 25$ on arrival visa to enter that beautiful country.
At this point, I was in that phase when, no matter how excited you are about all the adventures to come, all you can do is dream about a fluffy pillow and cozy mattress, and you’re almost too tired to people-watch all the strangers sorrounding you in the bustling baggage claim area. So, when I heared that some of our group’s bags hadn’t arrived, and we’d have to wait even longer for them to file a complaint, sitting on the few and uncomfortable chairs under the bad lighting of the airport, my mood wasn’t exactly at its best.
The problem here was that, in the name of spontaneity, we decided to only book our first night in each of the first destinations: Jakarta, Yogyakarta (here only part of the group stayed overnight) and Denpasar. And since we would be travelling around a lot and didn’t have a fixed itinerary, there was no stable address to ship the luggage to. But a solution was found, eventually.
After everything was settled, and we passed yet another metal detector on our way out of the airport, in the dense warm humid air that I love so much, we took two taxis straight to our hostel, the POP! Hotel Airport Jakarta, which was supposed to be next to the airport, but, because of the way the main roads were built, was actually not easily accessable on foot – at least not at night. Luckily one of the boys in the group, who had to take another flight alone because he booked it a few days later than the rest of us (but ended up getting a better deal, with a shorter trip and leaving directly from Porto), had arrived earlier and gave us the tip of not even trying to go on foot. So we squeezed in 5 of us in one taxi, and 4 in the other, causing the first of countless situations during our trip in which we made the local people we’d meet laugh at the scale of our thriftiness.
Here we were, at the hostel – a modern building with bright lights and decorated in vivid colors like green and orange. The tiny rooms, where only the bed and a tight shower fit, were clean and comfortable and all I wanted was to sleep – so I did, right after washing away all the travel stress with a hot shower.
Our trip, which we had been planning for months, had finally started. But it only felt real once, in the darkness of the hotel room in Jakarta, I took in the noises from the busy streets outside, and while drifting off to sleep, actually realised we were there – all those endless frustrating but fun and exciting get-togethers and phone calls of scheduling, meeting, simulating bookings, picking an itinerary… had produced an actual trip.
About a year ago I decided my itchy feet needed to experience something new. It is stunning how quickly after a trip my day to day life starts strangling all the memories of adventure and stirrs up a restlessness only the booking of a new trip can cure. So that’s what happened. I needed a trip, an adventure, something new, somewhere new. And as much as I enjoy travelling by myself, which keeps me from getting distracted by conversation and general socializing and really take in my sorroundings, this time I did something I had never done before: I booked a group holiday. And by group I mean there were 10 of us.
After researching quite obsessively (as I always do when the prospect of a new trip starts shaping itself on the horizon), and some schedule gymnastics that allowed us to set 2 weeks where everyone could take a vacation (August), we checked for the destinations where the climate would less likely betray our fun. Adding that to chosing the most far-away destination possible, to pump up the unfamiliar factor, as well as the budget factor, we quickly put our finger on those scattered islands on the east of our world map, right on the Equator: We were going to Indonesia.
It took a lot of researching, planning, reading, asking for advice from other travelers, arguing, but, in the end, we came up with an itinerary inside this wonderfully diverse huge country: Yogyakarta – Seminyak (Bali) – Ubud (Bali) – Gili Islands – Bukit pensinsula (Bali).
It was a tough decision to make in a country where there is so much to see, but we had to be realistic in terms of time and money. In the end, I think it was a good choice, even if it was a bit tiring to cram so much in so little time.
Since we came back, a lot of people have been asking me for tips on all kinds of topics. So I decided the best way to gather all of the information and make it available was through my blog. I plan on posting about each part of the trip in the following weeks, and hope to remember all of the most relevant practical information for those thinking of tracing our steps (or making their own route by learning from ours).
The places we visited definitely made me fall in love with Indonesia (although I do have to underline that we only saw a teeny tiny little bit of this magnificent country). The palpable spirituality, breathtaking natural scenery, delicious food, and welcoming people we crossed paths with have turned our trip into an amazing experience I would definitely recommend and really wouldn’t mind repeating.
I will try to post regularly, but I make no promises!
I had gotten used to the warm paleness of crystal mornings, their shades of blue and pink like the cozyness of a baby blanket unravelling a new day full of possibilities, the crisp air cutting through the skin not being enough to disuade from taking as much of the Winter sun as possible in its daily pithiness, running through dusty paths bordered by evergreens and stone pine or concrete paths by staggeringly harmonic wave sets reflecting an equally overwhelming sky…
Now the dusky tumult of the once deep blue Ocean sends its seagulls’ loud cries to wake me, while they whirl and dance through the curtain of cold raindrops, so thin the naked plants on the balcony drink them up eagerly as it falls into the dry ground.
Every fall of a yellowish brown leaf, every coat of early dawn frost, every breath of air made tangible by the somehow comforting humidity of the cold oceanic air, the cyclical nature of Nature seems to suprise me with the sort of amazement that should be reserved solely for every-once-in-a-while events rather than a yearly scheduled hibernation.
Opening the terrace door to be wrapped up in the frigidness of a timidly rising sun, the aroma of a freshly made coffee mug warming my drowsy fingers, the discomfort of the cold – or maybe it is simply the changing of seasons – always gives me a yearning for change.
It might even be that Nature’s periodic shaking-off of its old in preparation for the new coinciding with the yearly celebration of my own birth ignites this sort of craving, and the associated sensation of being embraced by love from those around me just gives the final push.
After roaming carelessly and barefoot through the season of sand and salt, of living under the sun and never wanting to be home, now feels like the time to calm down, to quiet the mind, to deeply inhale the early evening air tainted with the smell of fireplaces, of togetherness and home, to bake cinnamon and apple muffins and devour them under a blanket with a side of hot chocolate.
It feels like the time to appreciate, to slow down the exterior and pump up the interior, to start over with the freshness of the grey sky.
The whole house smells like fresh out of the oven peach muffins. It smells like summer, like bare feet and carefree lounging, even when the task for the day is typing my final thoughts about the topic I’ve been researching for months in the most academic way possible.
I am taken back to conversations had standing on red ground, sitting on wooden benches, eating corn straight from the fire, or fish just out of the river, sharing a cuia of refreshing tereré while listening to stories of fighting and resistance, bravery and optimism.
And now an insisting tiny vertical blinking line is urging me to draw analytic conclusions, establish some sort of verifiable knowledge, “contribute to the field”…when all my thoughts are drifting southwest under the immensity of blue that hovers over us all, as do the wise words of another man with the earth firmly under his feet:
Há Metafísica Bastante em não Pensar em Nada
Há metafísica bastante em não pensar em nada.
O que penso eu do mundo?
Sei lá o que penso do mundo!
Se eu adoecesse pensaria nisso.
Que idéia tenho eu das cousas?
Que opinião tenho sobre as causas e os efeitos?
Que tenho eu meditado sobre Deus e a alma
E sobre a criação do Mundo?
Não sei. Para mim pensar nisso é fechar os olhos
E não pensar. É correr as cortinas
Da minha janela (mas ela não tem cortinas).
O mistério das cousas? Sei lá o que é mistério!
O único mistério é haver quem pense no mistério.
Quem está ao sol e fecha os olhos,
Começa a não saber o que é o sol
E a pensar muitas cousas cheias de calor.
Mas abre os olhos e vê o sol,
E já não pode pensar em nada,
Porque a luz do sol vale mais que os pensamentos
De todos os filósofos e de todos os poetas.
A luz do sol não sabe o que faz
E por isso não erra e é comum e boa.
Metafísica? Que metafísica têm aquelas árvores?
A de serem verdes e copadas e de terem ramos
E a de dar fruto na sua hora, o que não nos faz pensar,
A nós, que não sabemos dar por elas.
Mas que melhor metafísica que a delas,
Que é a de não saber para que vivem
Nem saber que o não sabem?
“Constituição íntima das cousas”…
“Sentido íntimo do Universo”…
Tudo isto é falso, tudo isto não quer dizer nada.
É incrível que se possa pensar em cousas dessas.
É como pensar em razões e fins
Quando o começo da manhã está raiando, e pelos lados
Um vago ouro lustroso vai perdendo a escuridão.
Pensar no sentido íntimo das cousas
É acrescentado, como pensar na saúde
Ou levar um copo à água das fontes.
O único sentido íntimo das cousas
É elas não terem sentido íntimo nenhum.
Não acredito em Deus porque nunca o vi.
Se ele quisesse que eu acreditasse nele,
Sem dúvida que viria falar comigo
E entraria pela minha porta dentro
Dizendo-me, Aqui estou!
(Isto é talvez ridículo aos ouvidos
De quem, por não saber o que é olhar para as cousas,
Não compreende quem fala delas
Com o modo de falar que reparar para elas ensina.)
Mas se Deus é as flores e as árvores
E os montes e sol e o luar,
Então acredito nele,
Então acredito nele a toda a hora,
E a minha vida é toda uma oração e uma missa,
E uma comunhão com os olhos e pelos ouvidos.
Mas se Deus é as árvores e as flores
E os montes e o luar e o sol,
Para que lhe chamo eu Deus?
Chamo-lhe flores e árvores e montes e sol e luar;
Porque, se ele se fez, para eu o ver,
Sol e luar e flores e árvores e montes,
Se ele me aparece como sendo árvores e montes
E luar e sol e flores,
É que ele quer que eu o conheça
Como árvores e montes e flores e luar e sol.
E por isso eu obedeço-lhe,
(Que mais sei eu de Deus que Deus de si próprio?).
Obedeço-lhe a viver, espontaneamente,
Como quem abre os olhos e vê,
E chamo-lhe luar e sol e flores e árvores e montes,
E amo-o sem pensar nele,
E penso-o vendo e ouvindo,
E ando com ele a toda a hora.
After two years without a proper summer, and the harshest winter yet, it looks like I’m going to have several months of bare feet and sunshine, even though officially Autumn just started here in the Southern Hemisphere of this beautiful globe we inhabit.
It’s been almost two weeks since I first stepped out into the sugarcane ethanol-filled, wonderfully humid and warm air of São Paulo and have been living surrounded by lush green mountains and valleys as well as tall and colorful concrete walls, fueled by coconut water and goiaba juice.
I spend most of my days thinking, talking and writing about those who called this land home long before “we” unshipped with an unshakable (and unjustified, false, arrogant, destructive) assuredness about what the future, read “evolution”/”civilization”/”development”, looks like that has permeated society until today. And the others who (try to) work to deconstruct this very idea.
I can’t help but being constantly torn between feeling useless in my privileged presumption that there’s anything I can do, say or write and the almost hopeless dutiful certainty that not doing anything is not an option.
Then I take a deep breath and take it one day, or hour, or minute at a time. One decision at a time.
It is only when I start rejoicing at the average daily temperature rising above the freezing point of water that I realize I have been literarily hibernating (no, I don’t mean “literally”), at least on the production side of the whole verbal internal mirroring process.
I have been consuming words. Tens of thousands of them. Most of them put together under the presumption that they somehow can produce what has come to be known as “scientific knowledge”, whatever that is. Most of them concerned with food and (human) rights, or, better said, the existing world structure that allows for and even promotes lack thereof.
It has been extremely thought-consuming, I must say, and rendered every other thought I might have that is not in some way capable of producing socially or politically relevant action irrelevant, superficial in my head… but even those who are are irrelevant and superficial in the grand scheme of things. So I return to my little scheme of things of deeming relevant all that feels worth grabbing a pen for and is verbally expressible.
It is puzzling and, frankly, often impairing to try to find a rational way of establishing such a normative thing as the “right” thing to do, choice to make, way to live.
I am tempted to accept it is not possible. Which doesn’t mean it isn’t worth striving for. (And being the hipocritically judgemental person that I am, I don’t plan on giving up on it, just maybe ballancing it out.)
So… First and foremost, happy new year.
Until now, 2013 has brought me a lot: a new home to come home to unending conversations at the kitchen table, discussing postcolonialism while chopping up vegetables, or while baking blueberry muffins after shopping at the farmers’ market, to sharing relaxing glasses of wine over conversations about nothings or tasting (and re-tasting) polish vodka; tons of pictures of snow, frozen lakes and bunnies; a new part-time occupation that allows me to put in practice all that I have been thinking about in theory (even if most of the time this means sitting at a computer sending out e-mails and making phone calls); a heart-warming visit to the almond-tree filled south, to my temple of literary knowledge, my well of calm, peace and love; and the beginning of the end of this part of my academic journey, with the start of my research project and the issue of deciding what “big scientific question” my thesis is going to answer.
Looking forward to whatever else is coming my way and making travel plans for my already itchy feet.