7 Lessons I Learnt from My Travels Through Indonesia

1) To become a sassy independent woman when it comes to dealing with monetary exchanges.

The moment my travelling companion – American exchange student Paige – and I hopped off the plane in Bali with a spring in our step, all hopes of being the world’s most culturally engaged travelling duo were promptly shattered. Being bombarded by at least 20 different cab drivers all offering us lifts for prices in a currency we had absolutely no grasp of left us completely frazzled. Looking over at Paige I had never seen a human produce as much facial sweat in my life.

We soon discovered that this level of stress extended to every realm of life in Indonesia and, I’m pleased to say, we gradually adjusted to this and eventually had vendors chasing us down the street agreeing to our demands.

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2) To remain undeterred by whatever appears in one’s food.

Inevitably when you’re paying under a dollar for your meal you can’t expect Michelin star quality. However, a certain level of health and safety I found to be a comfort during consumption. This is no longer the case. One cold, cold evening up Mount Bromo in Java, in the most remote little village I have ever stumbled upon, Paige and I wandered across the road to the only restaurant for miles. Now, I hasten to say, ‘restaurant’ is a generous term. It was, in reality, someone’s living room that had been decked out to resemble a sort of quasi-café. With Jurassic Park playing in the background and a waitress with not one but two lazy eyes moving in opposite directions, our expectations were low. But what we were not expecting was for Paige to almost sever her internal organs due to a large rogue staple that had made its way into her noodles.

A similarly perplexing moment occurred outside Borobudur Temple in Jogyakarta where we sat down to enjoy a leisurely breakfast at a seemingly legitimate, albeit roadside, establishment. One may think – how far wrong can you go with toast and jam? Apparently quite a long way I soon discovered. What I received was indeed two slices of toast, wedged into a sandwich formation with jam. Upon inspection I noticed a hair poking out the side of the toast. Remaining undeterred I pulled it out of the toast. But it just kept coming. And coming. And coming. To say this piece of hair was 30cm long would be an understatement. Compliments to the chef for achieving such a feat. But by this point, after having been up since 4am and time was approaching mid morning, we all took a moment to re-evaluate our lives and munched on through what really was the bleakest breakfast I’ve had to date.

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3) That an integral life goal is to marry an Indonesian man in order to reproduce with him and birth a heavenly Indonesian baby.

I don’t know whether it is that Indonesia has a plethora of children, or whether it was simply that I noticed the youth around me more because they are far superior to the distinctly average Caucasian babies that I am used to but, either way, there were children EVERYWHERE.

On arrival in Padang in Sumatra we went to the house of a local family for a few hours before heading off to the island we were staying on. Not one of them spoke a word of English so we naturally gravitated to the kids, who don’t seem to mind what language you speak as long as you can throw them around a bit and play nonsensical games with them. With smiles on our faces but dark plots of kidnapping in our heads, we tried to work out whether it would be logistically possible to pop a few of them in our backpacks and drag them back to Australia.

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4) That as a foreigner you get celebrity status in Indonesia.

This is something that took me a while to grasp. At first I found it incredibly bizarre that families on the street wanted photos with me. As Paige put it fairly eloquently, “I don’t get it, are they laughing at us? I know we look hideous right now, but we don’t really look bad enough that it’s worth photographing do we?”

After a day of sightseeing at the local temples in Java and being stopped by every school kid in the place for photos and chats, we finally understood. As white girls we are a novelty. So we decided to embrace this strange reality and, every time anyone wanted a photo, we too documented this surreal aspect of our travels. It was worth it just to see them try and work an iPhone. Suffice to say, we ended up with several highly confused selfies of Indonesian kids in our photo libraries.

Being befriended by members of the infamous biker gang Indonesian Arak, all of whom were highly intoxicated at 11am after drinking local liquor which actually came in bags – the sort of bags more usually found when you win a fish at the fun fair – was definitely a memorable moment. As was the moment we believed an exclusively Indonesian-speaking family were trying to kick us off their land on a tiny Western Sumatran island. After some confused interaction, they instead took us to their house and knocked some coconuts off a tree and chopped them up for us to eat and drink while they looked on and laughed at our baffled expressions.

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5) Leading on from the last point. Coconuts are not brown and hairy. Real coconuts are green.

This was my biggest revelation of my entire month-long travels. England – we’ve been had. Growing up and attending local fetes and parties, the coconuts on the coconut shy stall were always brown and hairy. No wonder I never liked them! This is such a game-changer. This is a prime example of international disdain towards England. The blokes who sell coconuts must look at the rotten ones thinking, “Oh rats, what can we do with these? Why not send it to those plebs in England? They’ll definitely fall for it.” And boy, have we. If an international incident does not occur from this I don’t know what will.

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6) Tourists should be banned from the use of cameras.

The last thing I want to do is make sweeping statements but tourists with cameras are universally-known as a difficult breed. 4am watching the sunrise on Mount Penanjakan overlooking Mount Bromo in Java was no exception. Armed with dentist masks (integral of course as the top of a mountain with clear skies is a hotbed of pollution) and comically elongated selfie sticks getting in the way, we were fit to kill. An angry, overtired Paige had had enough and she squeezed her way through to get a glimpse of the incredible outlook. Little compassion was shown and, instead, Paige’s head was crushed as the surrounding tourists violently pushed their legs together. Thank goodness for a lovely German couple who took pity on us in our desperate moment of madness.

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7) That Indonesia really is an incredible place.

After having described my struggles to cope with an entirely different culture and their ways of life, I feel obliged to round off and describe the true magic of this place. Never have I ever been put so intensely out of my comfort zone and somehow managed to love every minute of it. Being an English Literature student I’ve had the notion of the sublime shoved down my throat from the minute I entered university. I can now say that I truly understand the idea, having had numerous experiences here where I’ve caught my breath and been entirely overwhelmed by both the beauty of my physical surroundings and the loving nature of the locals. It’s been quite an experience and I will remember it forever. Applications for a travelling companion to explore more of South-East Asia with me are now open

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Freya Parr

Images courtesy of Freya Parr

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