Indonesia Trip - Day 1 & 2

Tuesday, 14 January 2014 -- 0830 It took hitting the snooze button four times before we were able to drag ourselves out of bed this morning. Staying up late seemed like a great idea at the time, but not so much this morning. At least we should sleep well on the flight down. Once we were out of the shower and had downed some coffee, however, the thrill of the trip soon outweighed the lack of sleep.

Just a bit of last minute packing and a hasty breakfast were the last things needed before heading out the door. Our house is an 8 minute walk from the train station, all downhill, so it was easy going with our two bags and carry-ons. Showed up at the station just in time for the limited express to Yokohama. This is the first time I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing morning rush hour on the train, and I can't say it's endeared itself to me. I instantly regretted each of the three bags I was carrying, and spent the next 45 minutes uncomfortably close to way too many complete strangers. I counted 34 people I could have touched without moving from my spot. Naomi was wedged into a corner by the door, about 3 feet and 10 people away from me.

Arriving at Yokohama was a relief, and the fresh air on the station platform especially refreshing. To get to the airport from here we had two options: another two hours on similarly-crowded regular trains, or paying for reserved seats on the Narita Express and arriving in just under 90 minutes. No real choice there. Our first attempt at buying tickets for the Narita Express failed (cash or ATM card only at the ticket machines, neither of which I had in a usable fashion) and the second attempt was just as unsuccessful ("I know my booth says tickets and information, but really it's just information"). Third try got us to the actual ticket counter, and two shiny paper tickets to Narita. The N'EX, as it's branded on the train cars, is probably the quickest, and definitely the most comfortable way to get to the airport. And so here we are, sitting in our luxuriously spacious seats, with fold-down tables, drink and food service, perfect temperature, and lack of massive crowds. The plane is going to feel cramped in comparison.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014 -- 1900

Somewhere over either Malaysia, or Kalimantan, Indonesia, about an hour from our first layover in Jakarta. The flight has been uneventful and relatively comfortable, as these things go. We arrived at Narita about two hours before our flight left, so check-in, security, and immigration were all comfortably unhurried. The Japanese counterpart to the TSA is so polite, calm, friendly, and non-obnoxious that it's almost pleasant. Paid for our Indonesian visas at the check-in counter for Garuda, so once we were in the air, we just had to fill out a few forms and got our all our paperwork in order.

It's been a while since I've been on a plane with this level of service. Airlines in the U.S. have definitely scaled back on customer service since I first started flying, at least for domestic flights. The only international flight I've had recently was on a military charter on the way to Japan; customer service was definitely at the bottom of their priority list. On this flight (Garuda Indonesia), we got a lunch that was actually quite tasty and two or three different opportunities for snacks, coffee, beer or wine. The headphones are free, there are screens in every seatback with a wide variety of movies, TV shows, games, or music. The seating isn't what you'd call spacious, but it definitely isn't as cramped as I'm used to. And the flight attendants actually smile and pretend like they like you.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014 -- 2030

Sitting at the departure gate in Jakarta, waiting for our next connection to Denpasar (Bali) which is supposed to be boarding in an hour or so. We lost two hours between Tokyo and here, so it's only 8:30PM. I think we're scheduled to depart here at 10PM and arrive in Bali around midnight. The flight after that, to Jayapura, leaves at 1:30AM.

My first impressions of Indonesia are that it's a lot like PNG was, only nicer. The climate and tropical smells are exactly the same, but there's definitely not the same level of poverty and lack of government here. At least not in the areas immediately surrounding the airport, which is all I've seen so far. Comparing it to Port Moresby, though, is a night and day difference. We walked outside the terminal, briefly, for dinner at an A&W and didn't worry about being mugged in the 15 minutes we were out there. There was one stray cat out, but no packs of mangy dogs. No con men, no beggars, no bright red patches of betelnut spit on the ground. All in all, quite the civilized country in comparison, but it made me just the slightest bit nostalgic for PNG.

We're the only people sitting in the departure terminal, and they have nice stuffed chairs here, and an ottoman to put my feet up on. I'm quite comfortable, and pretty sure I could sleep the night here if I needed to. I'm already more relaxed than I've been on any trip we've taken in a while. Maybe it's the humidity, maybe the smell of rain and sweat and smoke and the ocean. Maybe the easy-going nature of the people around, or the lack of the rigid formality of Japan. Maybe I just feel the slightest bit at home here, even though I don't speak the language and have never visited before. I never really called PNG home, but I guess growing up in a country or region tends to rub off on you more than you realize. I love it here already.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014 -- 0640

Sitting in Timika airport now. One more flight left to go. Actually, just the second leg of the same flight. Our plane is still sitting out on the tarmac, refueling or being cleaned or some such. We arrived in Bali early this morning around 0100 local time, with our next flight (to here) leaving at 0130. We disembarked at the domestic departure gates only to find that the entire airport was undergoing construction, and that we were not only nowhere near the (new) domestic departure gates, but that there was virtually nobody else at the airport at this time of night. After trying to get information from quite a few disinterested persons wearing a variety of official looking uniforms, we headed for the exit (the only direction we hadn't tried yet) and hoped for the best.

Outside was a mess of construction work: half-finished walkways, small handwritten signs with arrows indicating vague directions to various points, bulldozers and jackhammers, boarded up windows. Following the signs as best we could, walking through what felt like a deserted slum, we finally got to the "new terminal." It was completely different from what we had just walked through, and was quite amazing, actually. I love the design, and will definitely spend a bit more time on our journey back through in a week or so taking some pictures. It's a half-inside half-outside terminal with a single roof 3 stories up in a big flowing wing shape. Pretty cool, and a bit difficult to describe. We were both impressed.

Having only 15 minutes to boarding time now, we hurried along trying to find domestic departures. After a bit of searching we thought we were on the home stretch and headed through what turned out to be only one of three security checkpoints required for boarding. The hallways were completely deserted, the guards napping at the x-ray machines, cleaning staff sleeping on the floor in the corners. We were the only ones up, it seemed. Finally finding Gate 19 after about a mile and a half of walking since disembarking, we checked in and were loaded onto a bus out on the tarmac, the jetways not having been completed yet.

As soon as the bus started to move, I looked around the taxiways and tarmac and noticed the decided lack of other jets parked out there. There was only one that I could see with any activity around it, and it looked suspiciously like the one we had just walked a mile and a half away from to get from domestic arrivals to domestic departures. Sure enough, a minute later we were walking back onto the very plane we had just walked off of 30 minutes earlier, and were finally on our way again. Total time spent in Bali so far: 30 minutes. At least the weather was nice.

The next leg of the trip brought us to Timika, a tiny mining town a bit south and west of Sentani. As we found out upon landing, 3 hours out from Bali, there's really not much here. Even the airport is tiny. We had 40 minutes while our plane refueled, and in that time I saw one jet land (Singapore Air) one single-engine Cessna take off, and two helicopters leave. I guess there's a pretty large copper or gold mine somewhere near here, and that accounts for there even being an airport at all. Most of the traffic seemed to be going out in the helicopters.

I think we should have about an hour of flight time left before landing in Jayapura-Sentani, our final destination for this half of the trip. We've both been able to sleep a decent amount on the trip, but it's nothing at all like restful sleep, so I'm thinking today might be a bit of a slow one as far as sight-seeing and such goes.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014 -- 1000

Arrived at the airport around 9AM and were met almost right away by Clive, who graciously offered to drive us to the guest house. On the way, he brought us to a small cell-phone shop on the corner and helped us get set up with a SIM card for Naomi's old iPhone. We hadn't been sure if Verizon had ever unlocked it like they had promised when we left the U.S., so we weren't sure if it was going to work out, but 15 minutes and about $15 later, we had a new SIM card, a working phone, and more than enough voice and data for the two weeks we'll be here. The internet on the phone won't break any speed records, but having it available, even if slow, was more than we had hoped for. It will be more than enough for the occasional email or blog post. Turns out that the guesthouse has relatively good WiFi available, too. Granted, my standards for good internet might be somewhat low after 6 months on the ship, but I'm happy for it nonetheless.

Well, it's my turn in the shower now, so time to go get freshened up and make plans for the day.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014 -- 2030

Ended up with a much-needed nap for about two hours after my last post. Felt somewhat refreshed after, and ready to go exploring. Even though it was getting a bit late, we wanted to make it up to Hillcrest International School (H.I.S.), where Naomi attended middle- and high-school, hoping to see some of her old teachers.

The typical way to get around here is public transportation that are locally referred to as taxis (in PNG they'd call the PMV's), but are really more like buses. Sort of. You flag them down with a hand-wave, hop in, and then holler when you're ready to get off. There's only one main street in Sentani, so there's only two possible directions you could be going; you just get the taxi on the correct side of the road and off you go. Everything off the main road is for walking, unless you have your own vehicle. When you're ready to exit, the driver determines how much your fare is (for us, about 3000 rupiah or 30 cents) and you pay up and hop off. The actual vehicles are more like very small vans than buses or taxis. Probably designed for a driver and maybe 5 passengers, but in practice hold anywhere up to 10.

So we took a taxi down towards where the side road for H.I.S. is at, Naomi trying to identify landmarks to help her remember where to get off. The main road in Sentani has changed significantly over the last several years, however, and we ended up at the other end of town without seeing a familiar sight. After paying, we hopped out and tried to cross the road to head back the other way. Easier said than done. Given the thousands of vehicles in Sentani (mostly motorbikes, but quite a few trucks and vans too), and the single main road, it's pretty heavily trafficked. I think I've had more luck at Frogger than we did crossing the road. Luckily, the drivers are also trying to avoid pedestrians, so with only a minimum of horn-honking and yelling, we eventually made it across after several minutes. The road technically has two lanes in each direction, but in reality it's as many lanes as motorbikes can fit abreast. The bigger vehicles tend to stay in whichever part has the least bumps and potholes, and the bikes fit in around them. As far as I could determine, there's no rules about right-of-way other than who is quickest. Also there's no such thing here as the shoulder or median... Those are both traffic lanes too. And driving on the left side of the road is encouraged, but not enforced.

It was quite an experience and I think we've got some video of it to share later. We decided walking wouldn't be too hazardous to our immediate health, and made our way back into town looking for the correct turn-off. Naomi eventually spotted it, and we headed up to school. It sits up on a hill half a mile or so out of town, and is quite pleasant. It's quieter up there, and not quite so hot. There's a few teacher houses, a hostel or two, and then the elementary and high school buildings. I got the grand tour from Naomi, and we were able to spot a few familiar faces and spend some time chatting.

Around 5:30PM, we headed down into town again and to a local restaurant called Mickeys. It's a little mom & pop place that serves delicious Indonesian food. Naomi had nasi goreng spesial, I had mie goreng, and we both had satay ayam. So delicious! And cheap! I can't get over how inexpensive things are here still. Especially coming from Japan where everything seems to be overpriced. After dinner we did a bit of shopping for groceries and snacks for the next few days, then headed back to the guesthouse. It's only 8:00PM now, but Naomi's already asleep and I'll join her in a minute.

Indonesia Trip Days