Thursday, January 6, 2011

Indonesia, part one!

I've been back from Indonesia for almost a week, and I've got over 700 pictures to sort through and post, along with six days of Balinese adventures to recount in glorious detail. I spent the last two nights sitting in my apartment with the best of intentions to start getting things posted, but all I've managed to do is watch the new season of 30 Rock and read every article has ever published... I've just been really homesick lately. When I first got here, I was homesick in little bursts. I'd talk to someone on skype, or walk past a KFC, and suddenly wish I could just close my eyes and reappear in Ohio. Those bouts of homesickness wore off quickly, though, since I was still getting such a kick out of my new surroundings. When December came, I started to feel a gnawing sense of unease; I blamed it on PMS, cold weather, whatever I could think of, until I returned home from Indonesia on Sunday. I walked back into my apartment, and, for the first time since I got here, it was 100% absolutely not where I wanted to be. I was tired, hungry, and still nauseous from the cab ride from hell (more on that later), and I wanted to be at home. I haven't lived at my parents' house in more than six years, and my most recent apartment in Cinci now has strangers living in it, so I'm not exactly sure what I meant by "home;" I just knew I didn't want to be here anymore. It's been five days and I still can't shake the feeling. It's like when you realize you've gotten too fat for your underwear. It didn't bother you before, but then one day, it just occurs to you that your butt feels far too smushed. From that moment on, that's going to be all you can think about, every second of every day, until you buy new underwear. Korea feels a little like a smushed butt to me right now.

Fortunately for you, I have plenty of things to talk about that don't involve underpants; I went to Bali! Because writing kicks my OCD into the highest possible gear, I have to tell the story of Indonesia chronologically. Christmas night, I stayed up until 1 AM watching my family open their presents for their Christmas morning. Since I had sent home presents for some people on my dad's side of the family, I wanted to be able to make an appearance there too; however, that side of the family celebrates on Christmas afternoon, which is middle-of-the-night-after-Christmas for me in K-land. Thus, I clocked less than four hours of sleep before I popped back out of bed to skype again. With a small suitcase and a backpack in hand, I headed to the subway station to meet Jo Ann before 7, and we started our journey to paradise.

Despite being notoriously late for everything in life (someone's going to have to lie to get me to my own wedding on time, I bet), I'm anal about getting to the airport two hours before my flight. When I came home from Fukuoka, I got to the airport three hours early just to make sure I wouldn't miss the plane. After missing our express train by less than 90 seconds, we still made it to the airport pretty early... but then neither of us had written down the flight information, so we had no idea where to go to check in. We waited until it popped up on one of the signs then joined a super-long line at the check-in counter. At the front of the line, we were informed that we needed to print off our e-tickets and obtain tourist visas before we could leave. The lady behind the counter pointed us in a million different directions, and I started to get panicky. With less than an hour before our plane boarded, we had a laundry list of things to do, and a very big International Terminal to cross. We hopped in line for the visas but were informed at that counter that we could only buy them with US dollars. That was convenient considering we typically have our wallets stuffed with a currency we don't use (*sarcasm*). After dashing to the nearest money changer, we headed back to the Indonesian visa counter, bought our visas, rushed downstairs to print off our e-ticket (which we never did need), and ran to security. 

Immigration stamped us out of the country three minutes after our plane was set to board. I couldn't help feeling like I was caught in the first scene of Home Alone as we dashed around people to get to our gate. (Well, I was dashing. Jo Ann is obnoxiously calm when faced with almost missing a flight to paradise.) When we arrived at the gate, it was immediately clear that my running was unnecessary; after checking with a few people standing around, we discovered our plane had been delayed. I'll spare you the boring details, but we ended up waiting in that terminal for over six hours. Here is where I learned a valuable lesson about traveling: if you're going overseas, don't head out on only four hours of sleep. Should you disregard that rule, sleep in the airport if your plane is delayed. If again you choose not to listen, absolutely, positively do not stay awake the entire duration of the flight, no matter how badly you want to see Avatar. When we arrived in Jakarta, we had long since missed our connecting flight, so the airline put us up in a hotel for the night. Unfortunately, we only got to relish in how soft the beds were for about four hours; our new connecting flight was unnecessarily early in the morning.

We finally arrived in Denpasar around lunch time a day later than we had planned. We called the home stay Jo Ann had reserved for us, and they had given our room away when we didn't arrive on time. Luckily, she had a list of other options, and we just started calling until we found one that would let us stay there. We hopped in a cab and headed to the home stay, where Jo promptly fell asleep and I headed out to experience Indonesian culture.

I chatted with the barman at our home stay, and he gave me some ideas of nearby tourist spots. According to him, the temple Jo Ann had wanted to see was so crowded this time of year that it would just be a complete mess to try to go there. He suggested another temple and called his cousin to drive us; I sprinted upstairs to shake Jo Ann awake.

On the way to the temple, we were scheduled to stop at Turtle Island. When we arrived at the little port, however, we saw that it was more expensive than we'd bargained for, so we opted instead to hang out on the beach and drink out of coconuts.

After grabbing some food, we hopped back in the car and the driver took us to a temple. I honestly don't know what the temple was called or even where it was on the map... but regardless, it was hands-down one of the most gorgeous places I have ever seen.

**Yes, Mom, I know I'm dangerously close to that edge. In fact, when I sat down to take the picture, the locals all started yelling and trying to grab me; I'm pretty sure they thought the crazy white girl was suicidal. Aren't you proud?

Random story: While we were wandering up and down the side of this cliff, someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around, and a middle-aged man pointed at his camera. I reached out, assuming he wanted me to take a picture of him, but no... He wrapped his arm around me and laid his head on my shoulder; his friend snapped a picture that I'm positive has the most distinctive "WTF" face I have ever made.

Our driver/tour guide led us through the temple and along the ridge of the cliff, where I took far more pictures than is strictly necessary. I do have to say: I sincerely can't understand how someone could visit a place like this and ever question this world was creatively and intelligently designed.

On the way out of the temple, our tour guide picked us each a flower for our hair, and we walked through a tiny patch of monkeys. Yep, you read that right, monkeys. When we entered the temple at the other end, the guide had told us to put away our sunglasses and any food we might be carrying because the monkeys would snatch it, but we weren't expecting there to be any others past the main part of the temple. Oh boy were we wrong.

Jo Ann had pulled her sunglasses back out of her back and put them back on the top of her head somewhere in the temple, and on our way through the gate, she felt a hand grab them. She told me she originally thought it was me (which is, in all fairness, a really good guess), but then she looked down beside her and saw this:

Basically, Abu stole her sunglasses.

Our guide and the temple guards huddled around the fence, waving bananas and money in the air to coerce the monkey to give back the sunglasses. I stood off to the side, taking pictures and comfortingly laughing my butt off while Jo fretted about, hoping to get her sunglasses back. Eventually, the monkey decided that we simply weren't offering bills in sufficient denominations, and she darted off into the trees. One of the guards explained that she was trying to mate with one of the males and that she likely stole the sunglasses to impress him. Honey, if you want to impress a guy, you have to present him with either a sports car or a ham sandwich. Everyone knows that.

I headed back to our home stay with a visibly distraught Jo Ann. When the driver dropped us off, we decided that we should head down to the ATM to get some more cash before leaving for the Gili Islands in the morning, so we wandered down the street (toward the Dunkin Donuts, if you're keeping a map). We stopped in the first ATM and tried our cards... and they both got declined. We shrugged and headed to the next ATM. Declined. FIVE ATMs later, we started to freak out. Jo Ann had only brought her Korean bank card, but I had brought both my Korean card and my American card, and all three of them were getting turned down at every machine. We buzzed around the street, asking money changers and security guards if they knew of anywhere we could talk to someone about the ATMs not wanting to give us our money. Finally, we crumpled onto the stoop outside Dunkin Donuts, completely at a loss. I pulled out my iPod touch and called my friend Kristen on skype to see if she had any ideas. She said to cry a little (after all, we were stranded in a foreign country with no money and no access to money) then to pray. 

We stared at each other for a while, and I texted my dad on my iPod. I'm sure that was a text that no father wants to get from a daughter he knows is in a foreign country: "Hey dad! Can you get on skype? I kind of need some help..." Although it was kind of early in the morning in Ohio, my dad signed on a few minutes later, and I explained our predicament. "Well, that pretty much sucks, kiddo. What should we do?" I gave him my checking account number, and he tried to call the bank to find out what was wrong with my card. Unfortunately for us, his story sounded completely outlandish ("My daughter is stuck in Indonesia without any money and her debit card seems to be frozen. Is there anything you can do?") The customer service rep wouldn't help him since he's not a cosigner on my account, so my dad had to put her on speaker phone so I could talk to her through skype, and we eventually managed to get some money transferred over from my savings account. I said goodbye to my daddy, and Jo and I said a quick prayer before heading back to the ATM. We put in the card and chanted "please, please, please" while I entered all the information. This time, it worked! You can thank 5/3's customer service department, but Jo Ann and I thanked God - thanked God for skype on the iPod touch, thanked God that my parents' dogs had already woken my dad up so he saw our text, thanked God for the kind woman who helped us even though the internet kept cutting out, and thanked God for the card finally working. We withdrew some money and went back to the home stay, grateful and exhausted.

This is a really long post, and I applaud you if you made it all the way to the end. :) Until next time...


  1. Wow! That sounds like so much fun (minus the money drama because that's NEVER fun). I'm glad you made it back to Korea safely. Be sure to keep up on The Bachelor. There is a girl with fangs...

    I have no words.

  2. Hey, this is Aunt MJ. As I'm typing it occurs to me that I've only ever responded to a blog once before. For Sara. So I don't know if this will actually work. I realize I haven't spoken by blog, email or in any form, to you since you left. Call it my insecurities of talking to anyone in your family, at all, since the Nov 2009 horribleness (for lack of a better thing to call it) but I just wanted to say, you impress me! Your stories are FUNNY! What an amazing experience you are having. You are growing and maturing by leaps and bounds. I can only imagine how much it sucks to be away for so long! Sometimes it takes a huge life change, experience to figure out who we really are and what direction we should take in this life. You're finding it! Good for you! When you get back you can add "don't want to live in Korea" to your life list of Do Not's. I will NEVER get the image of the underwear reference to living there out of my head. But OMG was that hysterical! It takes an amazing amount of courage to stay there everyday, do your job and keep your sense of humor! Pat yourself on the back for me. Good job Nikki! Stay positive and be encouraged! You get to come back to the USA THIS year! Much love sent across land and sea, Mary Jo

  3. monkeys! I've always wanted to go to Indonesia to hold hands with a monkey. I mean, you see all these pictures of people doing it, so it seems totally normal, but do you actually KNOW someone who has? well, scratch that; hands, sunglasses; same thing. I wish I had lost my sunglasses to a monkey.