Family of Five Detained in Indonesia

Trip Start Jun 17, 2008
Trip End Aug 31, 2009

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Where I stayed

Flag of Indonesia  , Bali,
Thursday, April 2, 2009

WOW!  Travelling in New Zealand and Australia can sure make you soft!!  And I'm not just talking about my Pillsbury Dough Boy-esque midsection [for clarity, it's Kevin writing, not Tracy].  After 4 minutes in Indonesia we realized just how spoiled we have been the previous 4 months.  English speaking residents, the ability to self-cater, pleasant climate, and rental cars to move us from one friendly motel/holiday park to the next...sadly, no more.

Time warp forward (or maybe I should say time warp back 100 years) and we found ourselves finishing a "bus" ride from the airport to the backpacker area of Jakarta.  This less than scenic 75 minute trip only gave us a brief (but altogether sufficient) glimpse of Jakarta.  It is a huge, flat, dirty, noisy, crumbling [etc., etc., etc.] city.  Adding to the chaos were its 9 million inhabitants, all of whom seem to have chosen that precise time to be on the road in a car, or more likely on a motorbike.

So there we were, sucking up exhaust fumes at the bus station, while sweating profusely and trying to avoid the "helpful" local vultures.  These guys, no doubt, had tagged us as fresh meat from a kilometer away (no, make that 500 metres, given the impenetrable smog).  While the walk to the hostel area was only 40 minutes, it seemed much longer.  Maybe because we were encumbered with all our backpacks, maybe because of the extreme heat, or maybe because the children were jet lagged and sleep-deprived.   More likely a combination of the three.  However grim the walk was, there was a silver lining.  It might not be Nobel Prize winning stuff, but I have now irrefutably confirmed the hypothesis that it is easier to carry a backpack from a doorway to the trunk of a rental car than it is to carry it across 10 lanes of non-stop truck and motorcycle traffic.  And in the first scenario, the backpack fit nicely into the trunk so that it cushioned the bottles of Australia's finest (okay, cheapest) wine that we invariably were transporting.

On to the Jakarta accommodations.  The various "hotels" we looked at had rooms that were small, dingy and without washrooms.  The only redeeming qualities of the rooms were their price (at $7 a night) and their small fans (to get the temperature in the rooms down to a balmy 30 degrees).  Given their size we had to take two rooms.  Pretty crummy, but it did fit in our (soon to be increased) $15 a night Indonesia accommodation budget.
So much for the scene setting.  The simple fact is that we hated Jakarta, and we had another one of those, "What the bleep are we doing?" moments.  To be fair, we never expected to like Jakarta, and it was just meant to be our starting point for a few days while we fine tuned (or should I say "prepared" our Indonesia plan).  But our level of dislike for this city and our depression about leaving Australia spurred us on to great accomplishments.  In a matter of 16 hours we had abandoned our tentative plan to work our away overland from Jakarta across the main island of Java, and then onto the island of Bali.  Instead we found ourselves on a plane waving goodbye to JaKrappa and looking forward to saying "Salaam" to the island paradise of Bali.  And the best thing was that at $50 a ticket (plus an apology from the agent for the tickets "being more expensive than usual") it was cheaper than going over land...the downside was that we were skipping a few places in Java "but maybe we'll see those on the way back to Jakarta".

Yes, the Indonesian island paradise of Bali... "Sorry, no room here...big festival, we closed!"   Hmmm, that didn't sound good.  "What, you not know tomorrow Nyepi Day??...Everything closed!!"  Oddly enough, the nice lady who sold us our airline tickets hadn't, in fact, mentioned this.  Maybe Jakarta wasn't so bad after least we had some sort of a mattress thing to sleep on. 
Fortunately, before our depression returned in full force we were visited by an angel.  A shaved head, body pierced, tattooed, surfer dude angel named Dean.  As a Coppertone-like glow peacefully surrounded him, he explained that Nyepi Day is the first day of the new Balinese year (coming every 220 days(?)).  It is also known as the Day of Silence.  Everything (and I mean everything, including the airport) closes, and you are fined if you are found out in the streets.  Furthermore, you can have no lights on at night, and a true Balinese will silently meditate all day.  After this dissertation, Dean explained that the hotels must be able to feed their guests (who will be locked into their establishment), and if they don't have a kitchen, they can't have guests on Nyepi day.
"I'd suggest you try Fat Yogi's Cottages", said Dean, "Just down this alley past the massage parlour".  "Fat Yogi's??? C'mon Angel Dude, you've got to be kidding!" was my unspoken response.  So, as Dean drifted off into a cloud (of smoke), we traipsed down the alleyway dodging motorbikes, and trinket salesmen.  But our angel had not steered us wrong.  Fat Yogi's was an amazing place.  Very large, air conditioned rooms, opening up to a nice pool, set in a lush tropical setting.  And did I mention the free Wi-Fi, and the free breakfast delivered to either our room or poolside?  I think one of the kids summed it up nicely, "Fat Yogi's rocks!!"  "Well, at $30 a night, it had better be pretty nice...that's double our budget!!"

We had read that the Balinese take their culture very seriously, and this was reinforced with their actions on this holiday.  As we checked into Fat Yogi's it was made clear to us that on the next day we would be locked in for the duration of Nyepi Day.  They assured us they would bring food and candles to our cell, I mean room.  As we walked past the lotus flower pond to our room I couldn't help but think about the Eagles song Hotel California..."You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave".  I could never really understand what this song was about...maybe they were singing about Nyepi Day. 

As with any good Nyepi Day holiday, there was a big festival the night before (Nyepi Eve?).  The locals paraded through the streets carrying huge (5 to 8 metres) paper maché creations of what they imagined evil beings would look like.  The intent was to chase the evil spirits out so that the New Year would start off well.  It was very colourful and festive, but unfortunately we missed the highlight of all these "evil" creations being burned at the beach in a big bonfire at the end of the procession...oh well, maybe we'll see that next Nyepi Day.  The best part of this festival was that it was was done by the Balinese for the Balinese, and would have happened regardless of the presence of tourists.  It was a refreshing change from some of the "cultural shows" we have experienced elsewhere.

Nyepi Day itself was less restrictive (at least for us Fat Yogi inmates) than we had anticipated.  Yes, the doors into the compound were locked, but we had free reign inside the grounds including the pool.  I read the Nyepi Day information circular that said one should "stop all pleasure and work".  I think we were able to accomplish this, although I suppose sitting around the pool watching the young, perky topless German sunbathers, while having our meals delivered to us, might border on "pleasurable".  [Note:  it was Tracy who nostalgically and wistfully suggested they were "perky"...right after she mumbled something about the beauty of breastfeeding].  At night we were allowed to keep one bedside light on as long as we had the curtains drawn.  The following day we noticed that the Mini-mart had completely covered up their windows with paper, presumably to block the refrigerator lights from reaching the street...yes, they took it very seriously.  And for the record, I apologized to the children for suggesting that if they didn't play a little quieter on Nyepi Day, they would be hauled off to an Indonesian jail.  Tracy always maintains that I have a tendency to exaggerate...

As for Bali itself, it has been fantastic.  We've been here for a week and we have not made it more than 10 kilometres from the airport.  We have been staying in the beachfront, touristy town of Kuta and it is wonderfully anti-Jakarta.  I would guess a lot of visitors would find it touristy and tacky but with the beautiful beaches, combined with our Fat Yogi's oasis, it is a perfect place to relax after all of the driving we did in Australia.  Tidbits from Kuta include:

·    Looking at the "offerings to the gods" placed by shop owners in front of their stores every day.  An offering usually consists of several small baskets containing flowers, ribbons, food and some burning incense...I don't know why, but the gods must be partial to Ritz crackers.  More often than not, there are one or two Ritz crackers set on the very top;

·    It has been a little unsettling to be staying in a town that has been rocked by terrorist bombings (aimed at foreigners).  In both 2002 and 2005 there were bombs that killed more than 200 people including 2 Canadians.  In both instances, the bombs went off in restaurants frequented by tourists, just like the ones we have been eating in.  It was also sobering to stand at the memorial dedicated to all the people who died, just across the street from where the first bombs went off.  And, trying to explain what had happened to the kids wasn't easy, especially the "why" part;

·    Equally troubling is some of the "not quite right couples" we have seen at Fat Yogi's, like the Russian guy in his 30's with his new teenage Indonesian bride, and the older German guy (replete with his Speedo) and his young local "escort".  There seems to be some exploitation going need to include this seedy aspect of Indonesia in the children's home schooling curriculum;

·    Yet another disaster was close at our heels...the day after we left Jakarta, heavy rain caused an aging dam to break, and the resultant torrent sadly killed 60 people.  This appeared to be heavily reported in the Western newspapers at home, and still we get no "Are you okay?" e-mails.  But thanks to the one reader who notified me that the Maple Leafs had signed a contract with the son of one of the Hanson Brothers from the classic movie "Slap Shot";

·    Entrepreneurship is alive and well in Bali including one store called "Bedcovers and Guitars".  And, yes, those were the only two items being sold.  One of my other personal favourites was the small store that had on display hundreds of miniature (10 cm's) guitars and drum sets.  By the way, we have discovered that no matter what tourist shop we enter, be it clothes, artwork or even the aforementioned miniature guitars, the first price offered by the shopkeepers in Kuta is always Rp 150,000 (about $17).  And it is always less than Rp 50,000 by the time we leave the store (even when we aren't trying to negotiate)  "C'mon Mister, name your price.  You stayin' at Fat Yogi's?  You rich!";

·    We got to experience some Balinese health care facilities.  Nothing serious, but it involved trips to two different hospitals.  Granted these were private hospitals, but it is the first time we have ever seen a doorman at a hospital.  Or seen a "referral" effected by one doctor picking up a phone and calling another doctor directly, and then arranging for us to see him "in 2 hours if we like, or maybe tomorrow...good thing Nyepi Day is over, yes?".  Despite the refreshing lack of medical bureaucracy, everything was very professional.  The only troubling time came before one of the exams when the doctor smiled at my ACDC shirt. He commented that he "preferred rocking with Metallica".  Great!  I'm no expert on doctor/patient bedside manner but I think a doctor should at least change the subject from heavy metal bands before he starts examining my wife;

·    And speaking of the hospital visits, we told the children that we had to stay an extra day because another test was required...they all cheered.  Apparently they really like Fat Yogi's, and it hadn't dawned on them that getting extra tests at a hospital may not be a good thing.  When questioned on it, Michael just gave us the "glass is half full" optimistic lecture;

·    Some things are the same the world over.  Tracy, being the kind hearted person she is, helped a young girl by answering her holiday questionnaire.  The following morning, we received a phone call (and we didn't even know we had a phone in the room) advising us that we had been "the lucky winners of the grand prize draw".  I guess I shouldn't complain, as it is the first telemarketer call we've received in 9 months.

·    It's nice to see some good sunsets over the water.  Staying on the East Coast of Australia for 2 months isn't that conducive to good sunsets.

As mentioned, we are thoroughly enjoying the little part of Bali we have seen.  Our plans are to head north to Ubud, the supposed "cultural center" of the island for the next week.  As for the original plan of seeing the sights of Java on our way back to Jakarta?  It is becoming apparent to us that we might just spend our full three weeks in Bali, and fly right through JaFarta on our way to Vietnam.  In talking over our plans, I mentioned how soft, unadventurous and "pathetic" we had become.  A tanned Michael just looked over his bowl of bak mie goreng, smiled, and said, "If this is being pathetic, then sign me up!"
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fran on

i'm interested in staying at fat yogi's next trip. when we went to the hotel it looked great but we couldn't view a room. did you stay downstairs in the older rooms or upstairs? i'd love some more info if you don't mind sharing. my addy is:

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