Indonesian Adventure

Put your backpack on, come on, come on

Put your backpack on, come on, come on

Planning ahead for our next country, Indonesia, has been on my mind for a while now. It’s a country I’ve been very much looking forward to from the moment I found out that we could walk up volcanoes there. It makes me feel like a little kid when I think how excited I will be to walk up a volcano. And what makes it even more fun is walking up one with 3 little kids!

As well as the volcano treks, there is an abundance of adventurous activities available to the backpacker who ventures into Indonesia. Of course, there’s Bali, but I think we’ll give it a miss seeing as we have seen so many wonderful beaches already. What really gets me excited is the chance to see some wildlife. There’s Komodo Dragons in their natural habitat.  Plus there’s a remote but fairly famous Orang Utan Sanctuary in a National Park on the Indonesian southern side of Borneo where you can live on a boat for a few days and spot them in the wild.

Plus, of course, Fergus wants to do some more diving.

However, joining the dots between the best volcanoes, the komodo dragons, the orang utans and the legendary dive sites leaves us with a daunting set of journeys on our hands. The initial flight to Indonesia is already a complex set of 3 airplanes with fairly long waits between them spanning a 26 hour period, thanks to schedule changes by Air Asia. And we’re 2 days travel from the airport. There’s no information online for the local companies who sometimes operate flights between our chosen destinations, and the Lonely Planet bus and boat estimates are wearisomely pessimistic e.g. 36-48 hour boat journeys – and, I quote, “Don’t expect a cruise ship.” Hmmmm.

However, I am refreshed enough by our time in the Philippines to face the challenge head on and see it as all part of the fun. The ‘travelling’ part of travelling is sometimes the best bit. I’ve seen some amazing things out of the windows of our bus/boat/taxi/train/airplane/helicopter journeys. So it is with an optimistic outlook that we set off tomorrow on what promises to be an epic, but awe inspiring, trip to Indonesia.

On the Road Again

Is it really three weeks? Tomorrow we get on a bus to travel 7 hours over potholed roads edged with precipitous drops and soaring cliff faces to Kathmandu, then after 24 hours rest and a last chance to eat cheese before hitting SE Asia, we fly first to Delhi then Bangkok, where,  after another brief 24 hour rest, we jump on a sleeper train,then a ferry, then a songtiaw to Maenam on the island of Ko Samui. That’s five days of travelling.

But I am really looking forward to it. We’ve been very sedentary here in Sauraha but Scarlett had a checkup with her orthopaedic surgeon this week and he’s happy for her to start moving around more now. So we’re hitting the beach!

Admin, Nepali Style

I can’t tell you how long it takes to get anything done here.  Things that you take for granted at home turn into the most convoluted, complex, painful and agonising experiences when you try to do them in Nepal.

Take, for example, the task of sending a signed medical ‘fit to fly’ form to an airline for a girl with a broken leg.  In England, this would be a bit of a hassle, maybe needing to find a scanner and scan in the signed form would take a while, but then the sending of the email would be simple, right?

Not exactly, no!

First, you have to print the blank form.  This means downloading it with super-slow network connections from the airline’s website (1 hour).  Then, you have to save it to a pen drive (10 mins).  Next, find an internet café where you can print (easy – 5 mins).  Then print.  Ah, of course, the computers in the internet café are not connected to the printer.  The man who knows how to connect them is out.  Not sure when he’s back.  Try another internet café?  OK, we now have printers that connect to the PC’s, but the Windows version is so old it doesn’t recognise the files on the pen drive.  Take pen drive back to our guest house and reformat the files on our laptop.  You get the picture.  Day 1 is all about printing the blank form.

Day 2 is about scanning in the completed form.  This is relatively simple, only 2 internet cafes and 2 hours were involved.

I then have to send it to the airline.  Check airline website to find the right email address.  Ah.  The medical department doesn’t have an email address, just a fax number.  OK, can the cybercafé fax?  Yes!  Hooray!  Try to fax, but sadly the fax number doesn’t work.  So I try to call.  No answer.  Hmmmmm.  OK, I email the customer services of the airline to ask if they can provide an email address or a fax number that I can use to send the medical form.  End of day 2.

Day 3, any replies?  Joy!  A reply!  The high is quickly replaced by disappointment as I read (and I literally quote this):-

“We regret to inform you it is not possible for us to confirm the travel trough mail.  We request you kindly contact with any of your Airport Air India counter with your form copy and photo ID proof.  They do the needful in this regards.”

I assume this means I have to go the airport Air India Counter with the medical form.  Surely not?  And I can’t risk buying $2000 tickets and then just turning up at the counter, the website clearly says we need clearance to fly 14 days before we fly.  And we are a day’s journey from the nearest Air India Desk.  I exchange a few emails with this person, asking if they can check the fax number, or check if the medical office has a working phone number or an email address.  They helpfully reply quickly, but with the same message.

“This is to acknowledge your mail, we regret to inform you no email ID for the same.”

OK, try a new airline.

I try sending the completed form to a couple of other airlines, again using their customer services offices as none of the medical offices seem to have email addresses.  I have to chop the form into 4 separate documents as the file size is too big to send all these emails with the super-slow connection.  This takes most of Day 4.

Day 5, I have a couple of replies that tell me the correct email addresses to send the medical forms to.  Others have alternative versions of the forms that I need to download, fill in, scan in and then send.  Others don’t reply at all.

I feel a bit like that fish in Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swim, swim, swim, swim, swimming!”

Finally, on day 6, I get a response from Jet Airways telling me they will authorize Scarlett to fly on our chosen route!  Victory!  I log on and find the tickets I’ve been checking every day.  They are sold out.  Seriously!  They are.  They have some Economy Plus seats for about £500 more.  I think, great, whatever, let’s just do it; and fill in all the online little boxes ready to buy.  I get to the checkout and have to use a credit card, they don’t take debit.  I rarely use my credit card so of course…it is declined.  Such a large transaction in rupees looks odd to the bank.

So off I go, back to the internet café where I make an international call to the bank.  I am put through to 3 different people, who all need the same data repeating (I have now shouted my credit card number including the security no’s on the back, by date of birth and mother’s maiden name, as loud as I can to a roomful of people 3 times over, all of whom are online, probably now purchasing their own flights with my card details, all so that my bank can protect me from credit card fraud).  They have blocked the transaction and can’t unblock it for another 7 mins, can I call back?  I agree as I am given a direct dial to the person I’m speaking to.

I call back.  The phone doesn’t work.  The man who owns the café can’t get it to work.  Pay up and move on to another place.

I call again.  It rings.  When someone answers, it’s a caravan sales place.  Thanks for that direct number Mr Helpful Call Centre Guy.  So it’s back to the automated menu and shouting my credit card details to another roomful of tourists.  I’m put on hold.  10 mins later a supervisor asks further security questions.  On hold again.  It’s OK, I’m only speding £1 a minuite on this, take your time.  I eventually get my card unblocked and hurry back to book the tickets.

Which are all sold out.

Even Economy plus.

I cry.

I check for the day before…sold out.  And for all the days before that…sold out or ridiculously priced.  The day after? It means overstaying our Nepali Visas?  Ah ha – there are tickets, the same route, a good price.  I don’t know if the medical clearance will be valid, but a quick google tells me the Visas can be extended by paying about $33 at the airport, so not a problem.

I book them.

It all goes through and I have etickets in my inbox.


We are going to Thailand for Christmas!

(As long as I can get our medical clearance moved to the following day, get our Thai Visas on time and get our Nepalese Visas extended.  Should be simple, right?)

The Cost of Visiting the Poorest Country in the World

So, we have just spent 4 whole days in Kathmandu to get our India Visas.  We have struggled through a complex bureaucratic process, all while negotiating the Nepali equivalent of Christmas.

Specifically: non-standard sized photographs that needed to be taken; photocopies of various documents that had to be made; an online form that had to be filled in by a man who could only use the ‘search and peck’ method of typing (x 5 forms – this was painful, how I wanted to snatch the keyboard from him… arghhh!); and all the associated queues that needed to be waited in to obtain this precious list of compulsory items.

We arrived at the Embassy an hour before opening time, joined the already long queue, received a chitty with our number on (handwritten – the machine was broken), waited our turn, got to the front of the queue (number called out by a security guard – the display was broken), had the forms checked (all correct – yes!) and were asked for payment.


When researching the trip in the UK, the price was £30 each.  And there was a discount for children.  However, things have changed, and the price is now almost £100 each with no discount for children.  So we needed almost £500, an amount that with local ATM daily limits being very low would take us 3 days to withdraw, and that we simply didn’t have on us.

So, still trying to smile and answer the kids questions (What’s going on Mummy?  Are we still going to India?), we retired to a café to weigh up our options.

Given that we were only planning to spend 3 weeks or so in India, and the main activity was travelling from North to South by train, it turns out it’s cheaper for us to cancel our flight from the South of India to Sri Lanka and buy a new one from Kathmandu to Sri Lanka than it is to pay for the Visas.

So, we think, this is the new plan.  The challenge now is cancelling the flights.  We have spoken to the call centre, cancelling them is no problem, but we have to pick up the cash refund at a desk in… you guessed it… India!  Still working on getting the refund back onto the card we paid on.   We may be some time…