by John Delach
The New York Times recently published an extensive account of a trip to Indonesia that I sent to my buddy, Geoff Jones. In their salad days, Geoff, and his wife, Judy, traveled to remote and exotic places seeking unconventional adventures and Geoff recalled several of his experiences on their trip back in the mid 90’s:
The only way that we could travel from island to island was by air. They operated like a local bus service and we mostly flew on one of two airlines, Merpati and Simpate, both owned by the Suharto family. They were simply awful. They had a terrible safety record and were infested with roaches. On one flight my seatback collapsed into the next row making it impossible to fasten my seatbelt. That wasn’t all, comically; the airplane featured two ordinary chairs situated near the door. They were moved out of the way for boarding, etc. and were used by the cabin crew for takeoffs and landings.
At one airport, my friend, Randy and I, decided to exchange $100 bills for Rupiah, the local currency. I don’t recall the rate of exchange but the stack they gave us was so large that they also gave us large size super market paper bags to cart the money away. When Randy and I returned to the luggage carousel where Judy and his wife, Toni, were waiting, they looked at the bags with surprise and asked what we had purchased? We replied, “Nothing, but look in here.”
We all nearly collapsed with laughter. The Rupiahs were so worthless that our stash consisted of one inch bundles of filthy colored paper with a rubber banded sample of the denomination around it. To purchase something, we counted out bundles, not the bills,
That airport was also a zoo. The luggage carousel didn’t actually move and the luggage arrived on old pickups. The handlers slid the bags down a ramp going in various directions depending which of the raised slots on the carousel slide they happened to hit. On the ceiling, a mounted fan rotated around in a vain attempt to moderate the intense heat inside the terminal. The fan didn’t have any blades. Between the money exchange, the luggage and the fan, we nearly pissed in our pants.
Indonesia is so big that it spans seven time zones. Ethnically diverse, it is heavily Chinese in the West but gradually turns aborigine as we traveled east. On a two-hour plane flight you feel you have crossed into a new world and not that you are still in the same country. A flight from Java to Irian Jaya made about a half dozen stops. On another from Jakarta, we reached our destination, Jojakarta after dark, tired and sweaty. The airport was deserted and we had to change terminals. Finally we found a terminal that listed our flight. I felt so dirty that I bought a shirt to replace my filthy one and changed in a bathroom. It was a neat looking Garuda Airline shirt but later in the trip after washing, it shrunk to the size of doll clothing. It might have fit “Ken.”
We visited with tribes slightly beyond their stone-age head-hunting days. The women were bare-breasted and wore a net cloth around their waists that served as a soft cover up and was also used as a shopping bag. The men split penis gourds and western garb depending on whether they were farmer/hunters or shop keepers. We did see a family mummy. We were treated to tribal meal rituals where pigs were shot with primitive bows and arrows and cooked on hot stones though we declined to dine. On one occasion, they brought out the seated mummy for us to see. It began to rain so one of the tribe produced an umbrella and held it over the old fellow.
We discovered Durians. For the uninitiated, these fruits native to Southeast Asia, are supposedly delicious and can be made into ice cream. However, they are infamous for their fecal odor. Toni tried a cone on a taxi ride smelling up the cab until the driver forced her to toss it out.
Of course much has changed in the last twenty years but this narrative gives you an idea of what a unique adventure this could be. But if you are interested in a beach vacation, limit your adventure to Bali.