1. Day 10: Kawah Ijen

At night, Kawah Ijen spits out electric blue fire. By day, it looks like this.

We live in a really cool world.

    Day 10: Kawah Ijen

    At night, Kawah Ijen spits out electric blue fire. By day, it looks like this.

    We live in a really cool world.

  2. Day 9: Mount Bromo

The 14 hours spent on the bus yesterday were worth it - because it brought me to this.

    Day 9: Mount Bromo

    The 14 hours spent on the bus yesterday were worth it - because it brought me to this.

  3. Day 8: 14 Hours in a Hot Tin Bus

We planned our rebellion in the back row of the bus - me, the Russian and the Canadian. The Spaniards in the row in front of us perked their ears with interest, but took no part.

"It’s not right! They cannot treat us like this," the Russian girl croaked.

We were on our fourth hour on a mini-bus headed to East Java from Yogyakarta. The air conditioning on the bus was broken, and there were no windows that could open. It was 91 degrees outside and the day was just beginning. We were all drenched in sweat and finding it difficult to breathe the hot stuffy air. And we still had 10 hours left to go.

We elected the Canadian our delegate because he was level-headed and the only one who could speak Indonesian. From the back of the bus, he asked the driver to pull over to a gas station. The Canadian got out and went to the driver’s window as we waited in the back with breath abated. After a hurried conversation, he rejoined us.

Well? “I asked him if he could get the air conditioning fixed and he suddenly does not speak English. Or Indonesian.”

We groaned. The Russian went inside the station to buy us cokes. We camped ourselves in the shade - a small respite from the tropical heat - and were soon joined by the Spaniards. One Spaniard said he ought to call the tour company and complain. The Canadian lit up and asked him for his phone. He walked away from the group near a patch of palm trees and made the call.

Four minutes later he returned, a wide smile on his face. The air conditioning would be fixed! We clanked together our bottles of coke in celebration. 

The next town over, we pulled into a small mechanic shop. For an hour we waited on the dusty side of the road, playing cards and exchanging traveler’s stories. When the work was finished, we got back onto the bus and broke into a cheer upon feeling the cold sweet blast of conditioned air.

The rest of the drive was still insufferable - long, bumpy and cramped - but we sat quietly in the back, feeling very satisfied and cooled with our win.

    Day 8: 14 Hours in a Hot Tin Bus

    We planned our rebellion in the back row of the bus - me, the Russian and the Canadian. The Spaniards in the row in front of us perked their ears with interest, but took no part.

    "It’s not right! They cannot treat us like this," the Russian girl croaked.

    We were on our fourth hour on a mini-bus headed to East Java from Yogyakarta. The air conditioning on the bus was broken, and there were no windows that could open. It was 91 degrees outside and the day was just beginning. We were all drenched in sweat and finding it difficult to breathe the hot stuffy air. And we still had 10 hours left to go.

    We elected the Canadian our delegate because he was level-headed and the only one who could speak Indonesian. From the back of the bus, he asked the driver to pull over to a gas station. The Canadian got out and went to the driver’s window as we waited in the back with breath abated. After a hurried conversation, he rejoined us.

    Well? “I asked him if he could get the air conditioning fixed and he suddenly does not speak English. Or Indonesian.”

    We groaned. The Russian went inside the station to buy us cokes. We camped ourselves in the shade - a small respite from the tropical heat - and were soon joined by the Spaniards. One Spaniard said he ought to call the tour company and complain. The Canadian lit up and asked him for his phone. He walked away from the group near a patch of palm trees and made the call.

    Four minutes later he returned, a wide smile on his face. The air conditioning would be fixed! We clanked together our bottles of coke in celebration.

    The next town over, we pulled into a small mechanic shop. For an hour we waited on the dusty side of the road, playing cards and exchanging traveler’s stories. When the work was finished, we got back onto the bus and broke into a cheer upon feeling the cold sweet blast of conditioned air.

    The rest of the drive was still insufferable - long, bumpy and cramped - but we sat quietly in the back, feeling very satisfied and cooled with our win.

  4. Day 7: Jogya

    I finally got out of Medan and flew to Yogyakarta (or “Jogya”) in central Java. I had hoped for two days here, but had to settle for one. I spent it walking around the labyrinth small streets, enjoying the calm, the colorful graffiti, and most of all, the packs of kids running around playing in the streets.

    The kids in Indonesia are so much fun! They are everywhere, running, playing and giggling. In contrast to the United States, they rarely are supervised; the kids are trusted to play in the neighborhood, and neighbors are trusted to keep an eye on them when they do. As a result, kids in Indonesia seem less restricted and far more confident and brave - they are anything but shy around strangers and often invite you to play with them. I played hopscotch with this funny bunch for awhile before they started hamming it up for the camera. Later, I helped a boy untangle his kite and when I finished, he wrapped his arms my legs tightly in gratitude and took off running down the alley, his plastic kite flying behind him.

    In my too-short time in Jogya, I may not have made it to the famous Sultan’s Palace or Borobodur, but I think I still got to experience one of the best things about the city.

  5. Day 5: The Elephants of Tangkahan

For three hours, we rode north on a rocky, muddy path that resembled a rock pile more than it did a road. The motorcycle bounced through palm oil plantations, over rickety bridges, and past tiny villages where kids ran alongside us to give me a high-five. In the distance (far distance, Mom) a volcano puffed out a tall column of smoke. We got stuck only once, in a sunken puddle. We skidded only twice,  the fishtail movement almost throwing me off the bike. But it was a beautiful ride; the chaos of it just made it all the better. 

The ojek dropped me off at the ferry crossing and pointed up the hill across from it. Tangkahan, home of the Sumatran elephants. 

I came to Tangkahan on the other side of the Gunung Leuser jungle to see the elephants at the CRU conservatory. Seven Sumatran elephants, made homeless from palm oil plantation logging, now live at the conservatory in Tangkahan and patrol the jungle with their mahouts to curb illegal logging and poaching. 

To help fund this endeavor, tourists can pay money to trek with the elephants and then bathe them in the river. That’s what I came here to do.

But I wish I hadn’t.

I thought that because the elephants were rescued, and that they are ridden almost daily for patrolling, that it was more okay to ride them here than say, the terrible elephant tours in Thailand, where elephants are captured and abused solely for tourism. And in many ways, it was - the elephants in Tangkahan seemed well cared for and the mahouts very passionate about protecting what remains of the jungle and its inhabitants. Plus, my money will be used to help the cause, I told myself (newspapers would read “White Girl Saves Elephants!”, surely).

So, my guilt absolved, I climbed onto the elephant. 

I instantly regretted it.

It felt unnatural, and cruel. The mahouts shouted commands to the elephants, and made them do stupid tricks for the supposed delight of me and the six German tourists on the other elephants. The Germans took selfie after selfie from atop their elephant, and pretended to kick their sides to make them move faster. I just sat there internally apologizing to mine, a gentle 15 year old elephant named Olive, as she trudged through the muddy path.

This isn’t to say that this organization, sponsored by the WWF and other conservation groups, isn’t good, or that these elephants are being mistreated. I just think riding what is meant to be a wild animal doesn’t feel right to me, under any circumstance. I wish I knew that sooner.

When the hour’s-ride was over, we jumped off the elephants and went to the riverbank to give them a wash. This part was better for me, as the elephants got to freely splash around in the river and spray each other off. When they came ashore, we took little brushes and scrubbed them. The mahouts, either out of appreciation that I wasn’t being a jackass like the Germans or out of pity because I was alone, let me wash and feed the baby elephant, two year old Amelia. After I fed her the first mango, she ran her trunk over my body, searching for more. My heart just about burst.

If you come to Tangkahan, a peaceful small riverside village under a canopy of meranti trees, you can pay to just wash the elephants, which was a far more fun way to observe these animals up close, and donate more money to CRU if you want to support the cause.

    Day 5: The Elephants of Tangkahan

    For three hours, we rode north on a rocky, muddy path that resembled a rock pile more than it did a road. The motorcycle bounced through palm oil plantations, over rickety bridges, and past tiny villages where kids ran alongside us to give me a high-five. In the distance (far distance, Mom) a volcano puffed out a tall column of smoke. We got stuck only once, in a sunken puddle. We skidded only twice, the fishtail movement almost throwing me off the bike. But it was a beautiful ride; the chaos of it just made it all the better.

    The ojek dropped me off at the ferry crossing and pointed up the hill across from it. Tangkahan, home of the Sumatran elephants.

    I came to Tangkahan on the other side of the Gunung Leuser jungle to see the elephants at the CRU conservatory. Seven Sumatran elephants, made homeless from palm oil plantation logging, now live at the conservatory in Tangkahan and patrol the jungle with their mahouts to curb illegal logging and poaching.

    To help fund this endeavor, tourists can pay money to trek with the elephants and then bathe them in the river. That’s what I came here to do.

    But I wish I hadn’t.

    I thought that because the elephants were rescued, and that they are ridden almost daily for patrolling, that it was more okay to ride them here than say, the terrible elephant tours in Thailand, where elephants are captured and abused solely for tourism. And in many ways, it was - the elephants in Tangkahan seemed well cared for and the mahouts very passionate about protecting what remains of the jungle and its inhabitants. Plus, my money will be used to help the cause, I told myself (newspapers would read “White Girl Saves Elephants!”, surely).

    So, my guilt absolved, I climbed onto the elephant.

    I instantly regretted it.

    It felt unnatural, and cruel. The mahouts shouted commands to the elephants, and made them do stupid tricks for the supposed delight of me and the six German tourists on the other elephants. The Germans took selfie after selfie from atop their elephant, and pretended to kick their sides to make them move faster. I just sat there internally apologizing to mine, a gentle 15 year old elephant named Olive, as she trudged through the muddy path.

    This isn’t to say that this organization, sponsored by the WWF and other conservation groups, isn’t good, or that these elephants are being mistreated. I just think riding what is meant to be a wild animal doesn’t feel right to me, under any circumstance. I wish I knew that sooner.

    When the hour’s-ride was over, we jumped off the elephants and went to the riverbank to give them a wash. This part was better for me, as the elephants got to freely splash around in the river and spray each other off. When they came ashore, we took little brushes and scrubbed them. The mahouts, either out of appreciation that I wasn’t being a jackass like the Germans or out of pity because I was alone, let me wash and feed the baby elephant, two year old Amelia. After I fed her the first mango, she ran her trunk over my body, searching for more. My heart just about burst.

    If you come to Tangkahan, a peaceful small riverside village under a canopy of meranti trees, you can pay to just wash the elephants, which was a far more fun way to observe these animals up close, and donate more money to CRU if you want to support the cause.

  6. inevitablefragments said: What does it take to make you write-off a city; how quickly do you know?

    I hate that I hate it, because I know this city is home to some people - and who the hell am I to judge someone’s home? I usually try to find the good in every place, or at least try to appreciate it for what it is. Even if it takes me a few days, like Istanbul most recently, I always want to keep on trying.

    But some places, like Medan, just make it too easy for me to hate. I hate that it is loud, a cacophony of screeching trains, car horns, whistles, and becack drivers hustling me. I hate that no one returns a smile and that people push each other on the train. I hate that the building across from my hotel is a giant 6-story LCD screen, looping commercials for cereal and cell phones over and over, and the curtains in my hotel can’t block out all the light. I hate that shops are boarded up and buildings are falling down, but there are four luxury malls and they are building seven skyscrapers downtown.

    But mostly, probably, I hate Medan because it’s just not where I wanted to be today.

    A different day, a different circumstance, or a different attitude and maybe I’d find some reasons to like Medan. Then again, not every place is for everyone - and just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean someone else can’t love the hell out of it. Most of the world wasn’t built for my approval and doesn’t seem to depend on it, either. So, what do I know?

    Thanks for starving off my boredom a little longer, Luke.

  7. sundae-matinee said: What does one do when they are stranded in the world's shittiest city?!

    I took advantage of what the city - however much I dislike it - could offer me that the tiny jungle-side villages I have been in for the last week could not: I took a hot shower, went to a pharmacy to buy calamine lotion, watched a World Cup match on a projection screen at the mall attached to the train station, and cooled my jets in my air conditioned hotel room. It was good to clean up and get ready for the long haul to Central Java tomorrow.

    What would I recommend to other people who get stranded somewhere they don’t really want to be? Treat yourself to slightly nicer accommodations, or a nice meal. Try to keep a good attitude or sense of humor about it; this kind of thing happens to us all. Try to still make your day interesting.

  8. I’m stranded for the night in the world’s shittiest city. Ask me anything?

    I’m stranded for the night in the world’s shittiest city. Ask me anything?

  9. Day 4: Hanging Out by the Bahorok River 

That day, I sat by the river, dangling my feet in the clear cool water, and read a book. 

That night, one of the kitchen boys knocked on my door and asked if I wanted to go see fireflies. We walked a narrow path along the river, across plank-wood bridges, and up and over the cliffs. There, we sat on a log, opened two Fantas, and watched the fireflies dance and spark across the night.

    Day 4: Hanging Out by the Bahorok River

    That day, I sat by the river, dangling my feet in the clear cool water, and read a book.

    That night, one of the kitchen boys knocked on my door and asked if I wanted to go see fireflies. We walked a narrow path along the river, across plank-wood bridges, and up and over the cliffs. There, we sat on a log, opened two Fantas, and watched the fireflies dance and spark across the night.

  10. Day 2 & 3: Trekking in the Gunung Leuser Jungle

    "Wait, wait - I smell orangutan!"

    I pause behind my guide, frozen still except for my craning neck, searching the canopy of trees.

    Snap! A branch breaks just a few meters to the east of us. We quickly and quietly walk in the direction of the sound.

    "There, theretherethere!" Haas whispers loudly, pointing up to a tree. Just above us, a mother orangutan - hefty but graceful - carries her baby in her arm as she swings down from the tree toward us.

    She stops and looks at us curiously, and we, her.

    Her baby, no more than a year old by Haas’s estimate, wiggles free from her clutch and begins to climb clumsily up a dangling vine. He twists his body around and suddenly slips, sliding down the vine. His mother acts quickly, swinging down and scooping him up in her arm again before he can fall. They are now at eye-level with us, no more than a few feet away. We hold my breath, in awe of this moment.

    "Welcome to the jungle!" Haas says loudly, and begins to laugh.

    —-

    We - our guide Haas, porter Nanong, a Belgian couple and me - left Bukit Lawang that morning for a two-day trek through the Gunung Leuser jungle, one of only two places you can find orangutans in the wild. After breakfast, we crossed the rushing Bohorok river and entered the thick, tangled thicket of trees, officially starting our hike into the Sumatran jungle.

    The hike is steep, and most of it is a scramble - grasping onto roots, trunks or rocks along the narrow trail to pull yourself up or steady yourself down. It is challenging work made downright grueling by the heavy steamy heat. But I stayed right on Haas’s heels as he took us through the canopied hills, over rushing streams, and down into the cool, cool valleys.

    A native of Bukit, Haas knows the jungle well; he moves swiftly and adeptly through the trees, tracking animals by their sounds and smells. The jungle is teeming with gibbons, long-tailed macaques, and thomas monkeys. The gibbons are fast and hard to spot, though they are loud and chatty, calling out to each other from across the hills all day long. The Thomas monkeys and macaques are more bold and come down to us when we eat lunch, taking their chances for a few scraps of nasi pandang and fruit peels. By the end of the first day, we spotted monitor lizards, krait snakes, peacocks, turtles, a large whooping hornbill, and two adolescent male orangutans playfully roughhousing in the trees.

    We set up camp downriver from a modest waterfall just before dark. We eagerly jump into the clear crisp pool, washing off hours of mud, sun and tire. When we are finished, we join Haas and Nanong around a campfire for dinner (gulai and kari alaym), songs, and card games. As the skies darkens to night, the jungle decrescendos with it, until the only sounds are the steady piercing chime of the cicadas, the crackling fire, and our very happy laughter.