And we’re off! After 24 days, we are now on our final epic journey through Indonesia, this time with the final destination being Jakarta for a flight to Ho Chi Minh City. Of course, this being Indonesia, it’s 5 days from setting off to arriving. First there’s the 7 hour ferry (plus the 2 hours you have to wait on it until it sets off); then the 2 hours crammed onto a tin can (i.e. bus); a layover in a transit town called Bima (possibly our least favorite place in SE Asia so far); an airport hotel called ‘Aerotel’ (sound inviting?); another early morning flight to Jakarta; then a stopover in a very nice looking hotel, described on Trip Advisor as ‘the best layover hotel ever’ (swimming pool, gym, sauna…on the edge of our budget, but we’ll deserve a treat by then); then another early morning flight to Singapore, where we have a 4 hour wait (yay – we love Singapore airport, it has shops from home in it! Last time we were there we had a cheese scone, it was sublime); then our final flight to HCMC. Where our only plan is to meet an old friend (Hi Scott) and stay still for a while. Very still.
We are currently sitting in Bima airport, which is just outside Bima town centre, both of which I feel deserve a special mention. Described by the Lonely Planet as ‘the hard sell olympics’ and ‘no one’s favorite getaway’, it’s an experience here. The moment we disembarked the tin can bus, we were surrounded by throngs of men trying to sell bus tickets and women grabbing at the children and saying, “tumbar tiga!” (triplets). No different to many other places except in the intensity and ferocity of the intrusiveness of these people. They step in between us as we try to speak to each other, pull our kids in different directions and follow us as we try to make a getaway. This culminated in my first shouting match with a bus ticket tout. Screaming, “Go away!” repeatedly in his face kept him off us for at least 3 minutes. Bima is the destination of choice if you fancy dodgy food, being overcharged or a grotty hotel. I’m glad to be leaving, and even more glad that we are now at the airport waiting for a flight and not at the bus terminal waiting for the 14 hour bus (travelling with children 1 way on the 14 hour bus was enough).
Which brings me to Bima airport; we decided to get here early as we’d not had chance to reconfirm our flights, and really can’t afford to be ‘bumped’ (common practice is to oversell the tickets here) as we have so many connections. Now, I would once have described Stanstead airport in London as having ‘nothing there’. However, Bima I think is the most devoid-of-anything-to-do airport I’ve ever seen in my life. When we arrived one small shop was open selling crisps, biscuits and soft drinks. There were 2 security grilles for neighbouring shops. A second shop opened for business. This one sells crisps, biscuits and soft drinks. A few minutes later, the third and final shop opened. This one sells crisps, biscuits and soft drinks. And, brilliantly, “I Love Bima” T-Shirts. But it’s all good because we’re not on the bus.
Indonesia has been a country of highs and lows for me. I’ve peered into the smoking cone of a volcano; seen the world’s most sulphurs lake; braved the world’s most active volcano; spent time deep in the jungle with orangutans; walked through isolated forests with Komodo dragons; seen coral reefs that could put a BBC documentary to shame; ticked off manta ray, octopus and megapod on my list of wild animals seen; and marvelled at some astonishingly beautiful scenery along the way. But I’ve also inhaled the sickening passive smoke of too many clove cigarettes; sat on too many long bumpy buses and been harassed and bothered too many times to make me really want to come back here. If I ever do, it will be with a targeted itinerary with flights factored into the budget. Flashpacker next time, not backpacker!