world traveler
    clown tom bolton

photos and stories of Tom's adventures in Indonesia -
Java, Bali and Lombok

...Java...

Jakarta, Pangadaran

I traveled to Indonesia in the beginning of 1989 arriving in Jakarta on a flight from Singapore. Jakarta had no atmosphere what so ever for me so I caught the first possible bus out of town and headed to the beach at Pangadaran in south central Java with a days stop to see the city of Bandung along the way. Pangadaran was not particularly beautiful but was interesting to see how many locals came in the late afternoon to fly kites or play soccer or just hangout. There were many large fruit bats here and the locals would catch them in a manner I've never seen elsewhere. They would fly a kit with large fishhooks attached with fruits used as bait. The bats would try to eat the fruit, which just happened to be flying by. A jerk on the string would help to fasten the hook and they would be reeled in, just like catching fish but in the air. I was told that bat hearts are good against asthma. Looked disgusting to me.

java indonesia beach travels

On the far end of this beach were some trees for shade that were full of large monkeys. I had been warned that they tend to grab peoples things, even the sunglasses off one's face. Despite my caution, one monkey managed to run up and grab my daypack, which had all of my valuables. Luckily, I managed to fight him off with a big stick and get my pack before he got up into the trees and without getting bitten by this aggressive beast. So don't under estimate monkeys, which are often temperamental and pound for pound a lot stronger than humans.

java indonesia beach monkeys

java indonesia beach monkeys

Around Yogyakarta, central Java

After some days at the beach I caught a bus to Yogyakarta, which is not so big and hectic as Jakarta but it's main use was as a base and transit hub to visit other attractions around. Not far to the northwest lays Borobudur, which is one of the largest Buddhist complexes in the world. When I see pictures now, I regret not going there and don't remember the actual reason. Instead, I opted to go to the closer and cheaper Hindu site of Prambanan to the east shown in the photos below. Java, like much of Indonesia was once mostly Hindu like in Bali, before the spread of Islam. Hence the Hindu temple ruins still remaining through out central and eastern Java. I had just seen plenty of Buddhist ruins in Thailand so maybe I was giving the nod to the Hindus who obviously struggled back then to compete in the temple building business.

java indonesia prambanen temple

java indonesia prambanen temple

This is from another ruin in the region but as I have yet to find my diary from this travel, I cannot confirm the name. I remember that it was some work to get there and was not so spectacular. Seems odd since the whole area is full of grand temple complexes, most of which were abandoned at one time or another due to eruptions from Mt Merapi.

java indonesia temple travels

This area has a lot of geothermal activity. I went on to climb mount Merapi (not to be confused with the volcano Marapi on Sumatra), which was smoking cinders at the top. I got a late start having had to take multiple buses and had no food along. The climb was not difficult but long and the rain ran down my legs and kept filling up my boots. Stop, remove boots, pour out water, wring out socks, redress, walk a bit and repeat... On the way down, I keep losing the trail but found my way to the village below directed by the sound of the prayers being called out from the mosque. By the time I got down to where the first farms were, I fell to my knees and ate about a kilo of carrots pulled fresh from the earth. A decade later Merapi exploded again as did the smouldering volcano I later visited outside of Rabaul in PNG. Beaches I visited in Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka were destroyed by the Tsunami. So I guess avoiding such natural disaster is just a matter of timing determined by destiny. But Merapi has a history of destruction having buried the ruin of Borobudur under ash for a couple of centuries. This view is heading towards the volcano from a small village.

java indonesia Mount Merbabu

From the smoking summit one saw a view of Mount Merbabu, the next in a chain of volcanoes that runs through the region.

java indonesia merapi volcano

Here is a typical pic of the landscape in central Java. Volcanic rich soil and plenty of rain makes it very green.

java indonesia landscape

...Bali...

It's a beautiful, fertile island and while not everyone is rich, people sure aren't starving. As I arrived in the main town of Denpasar on a boat from Java, a woman approached a group of us disembarking tourists, holding up her baby as proof that we should give her something, as if 2 billion other people on Earth don't also have kids. Someone gave her a loaf of freshly baked brown bread, which she threw in the dirt, screaming that she wanted money. Seemed everyone on Bali wanted to beg or cheat you or at least sell you something you had no interest in. To actually take a vacation, which westerners may take for granted, is a luxury many people on earth will never know. Yet in light of the extreme poverty I saw in places like India and Bangladesh, most people in Bali are living in paradise but seemed awfully jaded from tourism. First stop in Bali was the nearby beach of Kuta. Here I was hanging out on the porch of my bungalow there with a German girl I head recently met in Thailand.

bali kuta beach

The Indonesians didn't seem overly conservative back in 1989 so I think it was especially shocking later when the Bali bombing happened. But Denpasar and especially Kuta beach were more than just hangouts for westerners. It was an over the top, wild place where particularly Australians came to drink excessively and party. There were hoards of pestering vendors on Kuta beach. I pretended to be asleep when they came but they would aggressively shake me to wake me up anyway. And the local belief is that one should never be roughly awakened or it could scare their soul away. I guess as westerners we just represented money without human value. They would say, "sunglasses, sunglasses!" and I would say, hey, I'm wearing sunglasses, then it would be sarong, sarong! Well, I'm lying on a sarong. They would go through their list of what they wanted to sell and start all over again at the beginning. And even if I were thirsty for example, I wouldn't buy a drink. If you actually bought something then all of the other sellers would come running and you would have a crowd yelling at you to buy their wares. It was like flies on shit and I hated it.

Also, the women seemed to do all the work and the young guys would just hang out and try to offer you drugs and prostitutes or they would be in the discos hitting on the western women. And instead of sending them off many western girls went with these creeps. I saw a local approach girls on the beach with the suave pickup line "hey, how about we go fuck", he got turned down a few times but within 10 minutes he was walking with a blond haired girl with her arm wrapped around his waist. Seemed the most liberated western women really fell for the most obnoxious Balinese machos.

Ubud and around central Bali

A couple of days and I was ready to head to Ubud, the major city in the highlands, well known for some of the better of many still used Hindu temples on the island.. There are a lot of decorative Hindu temples in Bali, so I get some of the photos confused. I believe this is from Pura Tirta Empul complex naar Ubud. It is built around sacred springs and has a couple of swimming places popular with the local boys, most of whom liked to swim naked and swarmed around me and a couple of other western visitors.

bali indonesia temple adventure

This is the distinctive Goa Gajah or Elephant Cave complex. It was intricately carved and has a number of ceremonial pools in front of it.

bali indonesia temple photos

bali indonesia temple

bali indonesia temple aquaduct

This was another temple, which was particularly interesting because as one sees in the following shots, there was some kind of ceremony going on and people were bringing offerings.

 ubud bali indonesia temple

ubud bali temple

bali indonesia women in street

In the streets, boys were marching around playing music with drums and symbols. There were 2 boys dressed up as some kind of monster or deity which would feign an attack towards the bystanders. The music of Bali is very distinctive and always gives me a surreal feel of wonder.

ubud bali interior

bali boys ceremonial playing

bali boys playing music

bali indonesia ceremony

This was a view from the Besakih temple, which I went to on a day trip from Candidasa beach. It is situated 1000 meters up the Mount Agung and is the biggest, holiest, most visited site on the island. One would expect to find ample transportation to go see it - wrong. Rather than actual buses, local and regional transportation in Indonesia was a series of converted jeeps, pickup trucks or minivans running set routes as shared taxis. I heard them all referred to as Bemos but I've read that Bemos are actually just the small 3-wheeled covered motorcycle type vehicles. I spent most of the day taking one vehicle after the next trying to connect through. Part of the problem is that drivers would simply lie to you about where they were going, take your money and drop you where ever. By the time I got there it was close to closing and not worth the hefty entrance fee so I didn't actually see more than the outside of it. I had difficulty to return to my beach bungalow and was in a terrible mood. Then some girls tried to make me sound like an uptight jerk for being so upset. Take it easy; it's no problem if you just keep cool. Next day they tried the same journey with the same result as me and came back pissed as hell. My most lasting impression of the Balinese were that they always smiled, said "hello mister" and then proceeded to lie through their teeth with the most elaborate tales which always ended with them trying to sell you something you didn't want.

bali temple summit

Other than temples, Ubud is known for it's handicrafts like woodcarvings and batik but most of what I saw was terrible. Rather than done with any artistic inspiration, the same simple motifs are churned out over and over again like a production line concentrating on pure quantity over quality. The carvings, specialized on masks were finished with an ugly brown varnish to make them look antique. Cheap batiks were everywhere and really belittle an impressive tradition that reflects the beauty of Bali's landscapes and the colorful tropical fish one sees in its seas. A more interesting but gruesome tradition are cockfights, which I saw at a weekly market shown below.

bali indonesia cockfight

bali indonesia cockfight

The men were all sitting around smoking their distinctive Indonesian clove cigarettes and chatting. I suspect that the opportunity to socialize is actually more important than the fights themselves.

bali men at cockfight

On the other hand, gambling seems to be pervasive here. Not only were the cockfights bet on but such board games as well. Surprisingly, chess was more popular throughout Indonesia than any country I have seen. I don't know if any gambling is involved but one often saw people playing on the street. Occasionally, I stopped to have a game with somebody, which would quickly turn into a battle against him and all of his friends - not only giving advice but jeering as well. Not that I am any good at the game but I think the table got overturned in anger more than once before a local would admit defeat to a foreigner.

bali indonesia board game

Candidasa

After much contemplation I decided to go to the eastern beach of Candidasa. It is very narrow, much of its sand having been lost due to the depletion of the coral reef. At high tide the beach was often under water. There were supposed to be better beaches in the north but the connections here were better and it was a fairly peaceful yet affordable place to hang out, plenty of backpackers but not too wild. I was especially fond of the service, having my breakfast, typically tropical fruits, coffee and black rice pudding brought each morning to the porch of my bungalow.

northern bali beach

northern bali juggling on beach

...Lombok...

From Bali I continued to Lombok. This was a group of food stands there. As in Malaysia, I continued to practically live on fish ball noodle soup when traveling across Indonesia. It was good and cheap and found all over at such street stalls and one of the few foods where one was pretty sure it was meatless.

lombok indonesia food stands

Lombok had much more Muslims than in Bali but Hindu temples still abounded from the era when Bali governed it. Pura Lingsar is the most important temple on Lombok and I've read that it was reconstructed with help of the local Muslim community as a sign of solidarity. I'm not so sure how the local Muslims felt about the tourists though. I was once accosted by a young guy at the beach for wearing quite normal shorts, which he seemed to think were improper. One needs to wrap a sarong over shorts, he said. I responded that in the west such a thing would be deemed women's clothing and strange for a man to wear. The Pura Lingsar Temple was crowded when I went with people offering flowers and food.

lombok temple deity

lombok temple

lombok temple offering

This temple pool contained eels, which were considered holy, and devotees threw in hard-boiled eggs for them to eat. While I was at this temple I ran into a German woman I had met earlier on my travel. She worked as a tourist guide and had been rushing through Java and Bali to check out the places she was supposed to take her tour group since she had never been there before. They were going on a 3-day climbing expedition to the top of the tallest mountain on the island, complete with porters to carry much of their equipment. The guide spontaneously invited me to come along and share her tent since she found these kinds of tourists boring. I had just met a nice group of other backpacker and declined. I looked her up the following summer in Hamburg and she said that it had rained constantly the whole climb and I was smart to have passed on the offer.

lombok indonesia temple holy eel

Gili Trawangen

From Lombok I took this boat for a quick hop over to the small island of Gili Trawangen. The only attraction was especially good snorkeling and diving. One could rent a mask and snorkel at any guesthouse and see multitudes of large colorful fish right off of the beach. I remember the guy in the light blue t-shirt was an American who was planning to jump islands all the way across the archipelago. Like many I heard of, his big wish was to pull the tail of a Komodo dragon. Since then, I learned about how large these fast moving lizards are and although lacking the teeth of a crocodile, their saliva is a fermentation of deadly bacteria and any bite usually leads to a fatal infection. I guess trying stupid stunts didn't start with the show Jackass. For me, this was the end of my trip in Indonesia as I was headed back to Bangkok to get a continuing flight to Nepal. All in all I felt mixed about Indonesia. There were many good moment and things but a lot of disappointments but then I only got to 4 out of an estimated 7000 or so islands.

boat trip to Gili Trawangen

So, those were just a few tales from my many travels over the last twenty and something years. I hope you've enjoyed another side of a traveling clown! If you want, write me an email or better yet, book my show or set a link to this website or just state me as the beneficiary of your will!

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copyright © 2007 Tom Bolton


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