|A Diary of my overland journey from England to Australia
By Steven Abrams
Note. This page is text only for the time being. Photographs and graphics will be added at a later date. If you email me, I will contact you as soon as the page is updated.
There were no signs to say we had entered Indonesia and if the traders hadn't told us we would never have known. Once we had all crossed the river we had a short rest while everybody put their shoes and socks back on and then we all walked off into the jungle.
The man in the survey office in Kuching was right when he said that we would never manage to find our own way. It is not because the path is badly defined, but that there were paths leading everywhere and thankfully the traders seemed to know where they were going.
The going was very slippery and although I nearly fell over many times, I mostly managed to stay on my feet only actually falling over on one occasion when I slid down an embankment and the traders had to pull me up again. It rained on and off all day which didn't help things very much but we plodded along, however the lacquered umbrella came in useful to keep me a dry. Louis had packed his umbrella and as we didn't have time to stop and unpack it, he just got wetter and wetter as the day went on.
If we thought the log bridges over the rivers in Sarawak were bad, by comparison to the Indonesian ones they had been positively luxurious. The bridges here were just single felled trees with not even a handrail. The traders, who were carrying much larger loads than us were used to them and just took them in their stride, walking across them as though they were strolling along a pavement. To us it was a bit more difficult and the traders would help by cutting large branches for us to us to steady ourselves with as we inched our way over river after river.
On one occasion as I was carefully inching myself over one river, a dog came across from the opposite direction and when we met in the middle of the log the dog just started growling and barking at me as if to say "get out of my way". There was no way I could turn around as I was only just able to keep my balance on the slippery tree trunk, nor did there seem any way that the dog was going to turn back either. It just kept barking and growling. The others thought it was hilarious and were having a good laugh. Louis even enquired if I wanted to make a donation to the RSPCA. Eventually one of the traders came back across the 'bridge' from behind the dog and dispatched it into the river with a swift kick that it obviously wasn't expecting. The dog swam to the bank and just stood there barking at us as we all walked on.
At about mid day we came across a wooden house at the side of the path. The traders obviously knew the owner and we all went inside where he gave us a drink of coffee. We opened a tin of corned beef and shared it out with the others. That would have been sufficient for lunch, but no sooner had we finished it than the house owner brought us a full meal that we had not been expecting and which we all had to eat so as not to offend. By the time we had finished we felt too full to move on, but move on we must. We gave him a couple of packets of cigarettes that we had bought in Kuching for just such a purpose before thanking him and saying goodbye.
By late afternoon we arrived in a village called Kampong Babong where we were going to stay for the night. The whole village consisted of one long wooden house built on stilts where everybody lived together. These longhouses were quite common in Borneo but up until now we had only seen pictures of them, and this was the first one we had been to. Louis unpacked his case and everything inside was soaking wet. One of the women took it all away and hung it out near a fire and within a few hours it had all dried out nicely. Before I had fastened my case to the frame I had wrapped it in a groundsheet and that had kept everything dry. I had considered abandoning the groundsheet in Singapore, but now I was glad that I hadn't.
One of the villagers spoke a bit of English and as we sat around that evening the young children came in and just stared at us. He explained that the children had never left their village yet and for most of them we were the first Europeans they had seen. To celebrate our arrival he got down a box of cream crackers that he had been saving for a special occasion and we were surprised to see that it was an English box made by Jacobs Biscuits in Liverpool. It was a sealed tin box and I don't know how long he had had it for, but judging by the old fashioned design of the label it must have been a long time. Nonetheless once he broke the seal the crackers inside were as fresh as if they had been made yesterday and we all enjoyed them. We got out one of the jars of peanut butter to put on them and the villagers liked it so much we decided to let them keep the jar.
The next day at first light we were up early with the rest of the longhouse occupants. They gave us breakfast that consisted of coffee and fried eggs. The eggs had been cooked over an open fire and were all burned at the edges, but they were absolutely delicious. The traders came along to collect us shortly after 8 o'clock and we set off for what was going to be the harder day of the two.
We used to walk for 50 minutes and rest for 10 minutes, and this worked well for the morning, but by lunchtime we were all feeling exhausted. We had run out of the boiled drinking water we had brought from Serekin and had to fill our bottles with river water, to which we added some purification tablets to make it safe to drink. It may have been safe to drink, but it tasted awful. Lou started to object to the pace and he took more frequent breaks, however the traders didn't stop to wait for him. Fortunately the path was much better defined in this part because there was a reasonable amount of foot traffic between Kampong Babong and Siluas. We would meet people going the other way on average once an hour, and for a jungle path that is busy. So we weren't so worried about him losing his way. Although we hadn't seen anything more dangerous than the occasional monkey, I suppose that there was always a possibility of him becoming a snack for some larger animal, we never thought about it at the time.
About an hour before we reached Siluas we had a long rest and Louis caught us up. Soon after we started again, Yvonne slid down an embankment and let out a really blood curdling scream as she went. Thankfully she wasn't hurt and the traders pulled her out again. We had to wade across a few shallow rivers and after coming out of one of them I could feel something crawling down my leg inside my trousers. I had no idea what it was, but at least it was going in the correct direction - down. I later found out that they were leeches, who having fed themselves on my blood were crawling back down my leg again. They must have floated in while I was wading across one of the rivers. I didn't feel them at all while they were feeding but they left red marks that itched for days.
Eventually we came to a house beside a wide fast flowing river. The owner had a rowing boat and he rowed each one of us across the river one at a time. I don't think he had ever had so many people come through before all at the same time and business must have been really good that day. On the other side there was a sort of shop and the owner had a pot of coffee on the brew so while we waited for the others to come over we sat and drank coffee. One thing we had already discovered was that Indonesian coffee was delicious, especially after such a long walk. When the last one of us was over the river we walked the last few hundred yards up the bank to Siluas. Thus ended what must have been the hardest two days of the journey so far.
Siluas is an army camp. The traders were carrying on to another village another day inland, so we said goodbye to them and gave them the letter to take back to the immigration officer at Serekin. We were taken to the commanding officer of the camp and fortunately he spoke English. His first words were "I think maybe you are lost?" We told him that the traders had brought us and that they had now gone again, and asked for permission to stay there until we could catch a boat down river to the coast. He showed us to a room where we could sleep and lent us some camp beds. Doug and Yvonne had a room to themselves while Louis and I had to bunk in with some other soldiers.
There were crocodiles in the river so we couldn't go for a swim, but there some platforms set out over the river with huts built on them. One was a shower, so we could wash safely high enough for the crocs not to reach us. The other hut was a toilet. There was nothing in the toilet hut except a hole in the floor to squat over. When somebody was in the toilet you could see everything falling into the river about 15 feet below.
That afternoon we each had a most welcome shower and I managed to wash the clothes that had got covered in mud during the walk through the jungle. Lights out at the army camp was 8 o'clock, and that applied to everybody, including us.
I didn't wake up until 9.30 am the next morning The soldiers had been up since dawn and had hung all my wet clothes out to dry for my, but they had decided to let us sleep and had not disturbed us at all. After all the effort of the last few days we all naturally slept like logs despite the uncomfortable camp beds. The soldiers generally looked after us well and the food in the camp was good, but there was very little for us to do that day. I taught Louis to play battleships and he beat me in two out of three games. He was a fast learner.
The following day we were up early, but the soldiers had been up even earlier. There was a boat due today that could take us down the river to a town called Sambas. We walked down to the shop by the river crossing and bought a stack of bananas for the journey then we sat and waited for the boat. It didn't arrive until after lunch and after it had been unloaded we all put our luggage on board. It was not a large boat and apart from us there were only three others on board. The boat was an army boat that had brought supplies up to the camp and it would normally have gone back empty but for us. The commanding officer sent one of his officers called Herman with us. We had not yet been to Indonesian immigration because there just was not one around, so we were technically illegal immigrants for the time being. Herman was delegated to make sure that we all got delivered to an immigration office so could become legal.
When we got on board I couldn't find the bananas. I couldn't understand why Herman was laughing so much until I realised that there was a monkey on a leash wandering around the boat and it must have eaten all the bananas while we were waiting to get on board.
We eventually left at 3.30 in the afternoon and chugged down the river until it started to get dark at about 6.30 when we pulled into the bank and tied up for the night. The soldiers cooked a meal and then we settled down for the night. It was a most uncomfortable night's sleep. I had to sleep across 3 different height planks with a 6 inch gap between each of them. To make matters worse, the monkey drove me mad during the night. The soldiers helped Lou and I erect our mosquito nets, which was just as well, because the air was thick with the things and we would have been bitten to hell without them. I think it was the net that annoyed the monkey so much.
At 6 am the soldiers started to prepare breakfast. It was still dark, but by the time we had finished breakfast it was light enough to get moving again. At 11.30 we stopped at a village. There were no roads to the village and the river was the main form of transport for the people who lived there. We seemed to be the main attraction that morning as people gathered around to look at us and one person gave us all a drink of cocoa and some biscuits by. We wandered around and it soon became obvious that the main product of this village was rubber. Everywhere there were slabs of latex rubber being rolled out ready for sale and transport down the river. Doug got too near to one young girl and she jumped away in fright. I don't suppose they saw too many foreigners like us passing through.
Further down river we stopped at a small riverside shop and bought a large pineapple for just 10 rupiah. The soldiers cut it up for us and we all enjoyed some. It was the Indonesian equivalent of Sarawak pineapple and I ate too much of it, so I had a sore mouth for a short while. As we got nearer to Sambas the river became much busier and boats were buzzing up and down the river all the time. After all, there were very few roads and the river was the main artery for transport. Just after 2 o'clock we docked at the military barracks in Sambas. Herman enquired as to where the immigration office was and was told that the nearest one was in Pontianak. He took his orders into the barracks office and they allocated him a Russian made jeep to take us there.
We were delighted because our transport was laid on and it would save us having to get there ourselves. I think Herman was also happy for the break. Before leaving Sambas he drove us to the house of a friend where we were all made welcome. The friend seemed happy to see Herman and we were all invited to stay for our evening meal, which turned out to be a fantastic banquet The friend and his family spoke good English and we had a great evening. We were all invited to stay the night, but Herman said he would probably get into trouble if he didn't get moving that night and so it was quite late before we left for the drive to Pontianak.
The road to Pontianak was one of the worst I have ever been on. It was full of potholes and bumps and we were being thrown all over the place in the back of the jeep. Yvonne had the front seat next to the driver and even she was finding it uncomfortable. We found that the best place to be was standing up on the tailboard of the jeep, but there was only room on the tailboard for two of us at a time. So we agreed to swap around every 15 minutes, that way we each had 30 minutes outside and 15 minutes inside. There was no other traffic on the road except for the occasional bus going the other way.
We got to a town called Sinkwang at 11 o'clock and the place was deserted. Herman drove to the local barracks where he filled up the fuel tank for the rest of the journey. Although we hadn't travelled too far, most of the driving was in second gear, so the fuel consumption would not be too good. He tried to get permission to spend the night in the barracks, but was told that he had to go on to Pontianak that night. Before setting off again we rearranged the luggage to make it more comfortable for the person riding inside.
At 1.30 we stopped at a roadside stall for a cup of coffee. The road from here was in reasonably good condition, but a fog had rolled in and we still couldn't go too fast. At least it wasn't bumpy now and we could sit inside in comfort, which was just as well because it was freezing outside, which was amazing because we were only a few miles from the equator. Just before 3, Herman pulled up at a monument at the side of the road. This was the equator. It was freezing cold and the fog was thick and we were beginning to wonder if he had taken us to the South Pole by mistake. We walked backwards and forwards over the equator at least 6 times, the we took some flash photographs of the monument before carrying on for the last 3 kilometres into Pontianak.
Just outside the town there was a ferry over the river, but at this time of morning it wasn't running. There was a guy with a small boat who rowed us over the river for 20 rupiah each. We left our luggage in the jeep with Herman and went on into Pontianak on foot, arranging to meet him at the immigration office in the morning when he could get across. We found an all night coffee stand and sat there and wrote some letters home until the sun came up. We then tried to find the immigration office (immigrasi) and after a bit of difficulty we found it. It was closed, but because we had nothing better to do we sat on the step and waited for them to open.
Eventually they arrived and opened up, but it still took over 2 hours to sort things out. They didn't usually open the doors to find a group of foreigners sitting on the step and they wanted to know where we had come from. They just refused to believe us when we told them that we had walked across the border from Sarawak and then taken a boat trip down the river. They were starting to get a bit stroppy with us when Herman turned up and verified our story by showing them his orders. With that problem sorted out we got our passports stamped and were permitted to stay until 1st April. We were now legal. The immigration officers were so taken aback by our unusual manner of arriving that they wrote beside the stamp "Djalankaki - Overland". One good thing was that although we had already been in the country for 5 days, our 28 days allowed in the country was counted from today. That would later prove to be invaluable as we struggled to leave the country in time before our visas expired.
We said our goodbyes to Herman and went off to look for a hotel. We found a hotel but they only had a double room, which Doug and Yvonne took, and another room with a single bed for 190 rupiah. Louis was quite happy to sleep on the floor, so I agreed to pay 120 rupiah and have the bed while he slept on the floor for just 70 rupiah. The bathroom looked out onto the river and the water for washing was pumped up with a hand pump. The water that came up was filthy, but at least we'd had a wash of sorts.
We then went out to visit the shipping offices to find a ship to Djakarta. The first place we went was the office of PN Pelni, but they had nothing for a while. The referred us to another shipping company who had a ship leaving the next day. We went straight around and found that the ticket was going to cost 2275 rupiah. Before we could buy the tickets we had to get immigration clearance because the ship would pass through international waters, so Lou and I took all the passports around to the immigrasi to get our stamp to travel to Java. There was no problem with the passports, but when we returned to buy the tickets we were told to come back again in the morning.
We had been up all night and by now we were feeling quite tired so we went back to the room to have a sleep. At about 6.30 there was a knock at the door. We expected it to be Doug, but instead it was two American businessmen who had heard that we were staying here and had popped in for a chat. They were working all over Indonesia and were travelling around in their own private plane. We asked if they had any room for us, but it was only a light aircraft and they had no space at all. We chatted for a while then we met up with Doug and Yvonne and went out to find something to eat. There were a number of stalls around just like in Singapore, but there were not so many of them and the food wasn't as good.
Wednesday 5th March 1969.
One thing the town did have in its favour was that the people there were extremely friendly. While sitting in a cafe and waiting for Louis to come back from the post office, two boys came over to talk to me and bought me a coffee. When Louis got back they took us in their car around all the shipping offices, many of which we didn't even know existed. Eventually we managed to find a ship going to Semarang at 2 pm today. Semarang is half way along the north coast of Java. Even though it was a fair distance from Djakarta, we were only too glad to get out of Pontianak. The fare was 2250 rupiah and we bought the tickets straight away. We enquired and found that there was room for Doug and Yvonne too.
The boys took us back to the hotel where we managed to find Doug and Yvonne to tell them the news, but they decided to stay behind and wait for the ship on Friday. They had met a missionary who had invited them to come and stay for a few days and they had decided to take him up on their offer.
We packed our bags and checked out of the hotel. I went to the bank to try to change some money, but the bank charges were very high. They wanted to charge me 8% and all the banks in the area seemed to have the same charges, so I just changed the $5 Canadian that I had. It would give us enough to get by until we found a friendlier bank in Java.
We said goodbye to Doug and Yvonne. We had travelled with them since Bangkok and it was a sad goodbye. Yvonne gave us both a hug and came downstairs to wave goodbye to us as we walked to the port. When we arrived at the port the ship was not in yet, but it arrived at 2.15 and everybody got on board. The two boys who had helped us to find the ship came to the port to see us off and brought us pineapples and biscuits for the journey.
We sailed at 3 pm, but much to our surprise we started to head away from the open sea. Instead of going straight out to sea we headed down the river further inland. We asked the captain why we were heading in this direction and he took us up onto the bridge to show us the navigation chart. He pointed out that there was a sand bar at the river mouth and it was not possible for anything much bigger than a small boat to get through. We would first of all have to go inland for quite a distance to the junction with another river that leads back out to sea. It would be late the next day before we would reach the open sea. Meanwhile the ship had to drop anchor at sunset because it was not safe to navigate along the winding river after dark.
Being foreigners, we were treated like royalty. We were invited on to the bridge to join the captain for meals and the crew fed us. All the other deck class passengers got to eat was a bowl of rice. They had to provide the rest of their food themselves. There was a cage of chickens on the deck as well as a few pigs wandering around. That was the crew's larder. The best way to keep the meat fresh was to leave it alive until you were ready to eat it. The chickens were no problem to catch and kill and they didn't make too much of a fuss over it. But when it was pork on the menu there was a hell of a fuss and palaver as they chased the unfortunate victim all around the deck until they eventually caught it and cooked it. Fortunately they didn't have pork all that often when they found that we didn't eat it, they picked on the chickens more often. At least the pigs were happy that we were Jewish. In fact most of the meals were fish and they only seemed to fall back onto the meat when they hadn't caught anything tasty.
Note: In 2014, I decided to look on Google Earth to see where we had been. I was surprised to find that there is now a road from the Malaysian border to Siluas, which has now become a small town. From the Siluas bus station there are regular bus services to Pontianak.
Over the next few days I managed to read 3 books. There was very little to do. We eventually arrived in Semarang during the early hours of Sunday morning, 9th February, but we had to wait until after 11 before the immigration came on board to check everybody's papers before we were finally allowed to leave the ship. At the dock gated we had to go through customs and they searched our bags quite thoroughly. When we asked the policeman at the gate for some directions to the way out of town, he arranged for a police car to take us to the bus station.
At the bus station we found an old man who spoke really good English. He gave us directions to find our way out of town. While we were walking along a car stopped for us. The driver was Dutch and the passenger was Swedish who introduced himself as Danny. We would come across Danny again, but for now they gave us a lift out of town to where we could start to hitch hike to Djakarta. Our first lift took us a short distance to a small village, then we got a lift to the next village from some military policemen, who took us back to their barracks and gave us a cold drink before stopping a Land Rover to arrange a lift for us. The Land Rover belonged to Ciba, a Swiss company and the driver spoke good English. He took us about 120 km to Tegel, where he dropped us outside what he called a cheap hotel. When we enquired how much it was, it turned out to be well out of our budget, but we found another hotel just around the corner for 250 rupiah for the room.
We went out for a meal and each of us had of mi soup, which is a giant bowl of chicken noodle soup, similar to the soup Chinoise we had enjoyed so much in Cambodia. After our meal we looked around the local market and got talking to a boy called Mahmoud. He invited us back to his house where he was having a party that night. When we got back to his home with him and there were about 20 of his friend there. Drinks and food flowed freely all evening and we stayed until about 11, then went back to our hotel. When we had checked in the hotel owner had noticed that we were looking for points to tie our mosquito nets and had obligingly left us a hammer and some nails so we could put them up when we got back.
Mahmoud knocked on our door early the next morning. He had brought us some breakfast, which was a very pleasant surprise. When we had packed he walked with us to the edge of town and stayed with us until we got our first lift in a jeep that took us about 50 km. The driver dropped us at a police station and the police flagged down a car and arranged a lift for us to Tjirebon. The car was a make called Holden and we had never heard of it before. We later found that Holden was one of the largest car manufacturers in Australia and this would be the first of many future lifts we would get in Holdens.
After we had been dropped off in Tjirebon a policeman asked us to follow him and we walked with him to the local army barracks where our passports were checked and details noted before we were allowed to continue again. We don't know why this was, but shortly afterwards an army jeep gave us a lift out of Tjirebon and dropped us at a small village. Every time we stopped we became surrounded by what seemed like hundreds of children who would just stand around and watch us and this village was no exception. The locals gave us drinks and food and were very friendly, which was just as well because we just could not get a lift for the rest of the afternoon. One of the locals owned a bus that did a local service into Tjirebon. As the sun was setting he flagged down another bus that was being driven by one of his friends. He spoke to his friend and we got on the bus and were taken back to the bus station in Tjirebon. At Tjirebon the driver arranged for us to have a free ride to Djakarta, but the bus wasn't leaving until midnight, so we had to hang around for a while.
We went to a café and had a bowl of mi soup. The owner was very friendly and he allowed us to use his shower. He even offered to let us stay overnight if we had wanted, but we just sat in the café for a few hours and wrote letters. The owner kept bringing us cold drinks and when we came to leaving he refused to accept any payment from us. We decided to walk around and have a look at Tjirebon, but no sooner had we started to walk than the rain came down really heavy. We took refuge in another café, where once again the owner gave us food and drinks and once again he refused to accept any payment. This was starting to become embarrassing. People in Tjirebon didn't seem to want to take any money from foreigners at all, what a great place.
At 11 o'clock we went back to the bus station so that we would get decent seats on the bus. We were the first ones on the bus and had our choice of places. I managed to get some sleep until midnight when the bus started off. The driver drove just once around the bus station and stopped again until. We stayed there until 12.30 when he started off again. This time he drove all around Tjirebon before returning to the bus station again and waiting for a further half an hour before finally setting off in the direction of Djakarta. We stopped again at the place where we had been hitching and the driver disappeared for almost an hour before we eventually set off again.
The bus continued through the night. The road was bad, the ride was very uncomfortable and progress was slow. Add to that the fact that the bus had to stop every 20 minutes or so to top up the leaking radiator with water. The bus eventually arrived in Djakarta at 1 pm. The driver asked one of his friends to show us to the head post office so we could collect our mail from post restante. We then started looking for somewhere to stay and we met some students who offered to let us sleep on their floor. Both of us were feeling very tired and felt that we would like to spend tonight in a bed, so we declined their kind offer of accommodation, but they did allow us to leave our bags there while we looked around for somewhere else to stay.
We found a stall selling ice cream and decided to have some. We both bought large cones and tucked in enthusiastically only to find that it tasted vile. It looked like vanilla ice cream, but it tasted like soap. We then found out that it was durian flavour. We had come across durians in Penang and they were vile and Indonesia was also durian country. When we were out of sight of the stall, we threw the ice creams away again.
We walked past a police station and next door was what seemed to be a hotel. Outside the reception was a familiar style of triangular sign that read 'Indonesian Youth Hostel Association'. Thinking it was the Indonesian YHA headquarters we went inside, but it was a hotel that was especially for police officers that were visiting Djakarta on official business. They brought out a policeman who spoke English and when we asked about the sign he asked us to sit down and wait while he went and made a phone call. After a short while a civilian came into the office and introduced himself as Nathaniel Lawalatta, but we could call him Nan. He asked us to follow him and we walked to his home which was not too far away. He lived at Wisma Delima, number 5 Jalan Djaksa, a large well-furnished house in what seemed to be a prosperous neighbourhood. He introduced us to his wife and sons and showed us to the spare bedroom.
There wasn't really any such thing as the Indonesian Youth Hostel Association at the time, but Nan had wanted to start one. I am not sure quite what Nan's connection was with the police, but he seemed to be well connected and they allowed him to put his newly designed YHA sign in the window of the police station in the hope that some backpackers would come in to enquire about it. The sign had only just gone up that day and we were his first 'hostellers'. From us he hoped to get as much information as possible about youth hostels. He didn't have a hostel yet, so he was going to use his house and we agreed a rate of 250 rupiah each for bed and breakfast.
We desperately needed to change some money and Nan flagged down a cycle rickshaw (they call them betchaks in Indonesia) and instructed the driver to take us to the American Express office. When we got to Amex it was closed, so we went into the Hotel Indonesia, Djakarta's one and only 5 star hotel where we were able to change money commission free and a good rate. We also went to the toilet and replenished the everlasting toilet roll again. We then went back to the students' place to collect our luggage before getting another betchak back to Jalan Djaksa. On the way back the betchak driver cut a corner on the wrong side of the road and we collided with a Land Rover. The Land Rover driver tried to get us to pay for the damage to his vehicle, but we just put our packs on and walked off quickly. We didn't even pay for the betchak ride, after all, he had almost killed us. Later on, Nan explained that the passenger is always held responsible for any damaged caused if there is an accident and that we did well by getting the hell out of it when we did.
Nan's wife brought us breakfast in bed the next morning, which was quite a treat, and a really nice breakfast. The first place we visited that morning was the Portuguese Embassy to see if the visas we had applied for in Bangkok had come through. The official at the consular desk had no record of our application, but the good news was that we could get a transit visa there and then. The bad news was that it would cost 2120 rupiah, the most expensive visa of the trip and also the last one we needed. We paid for the visa and were told to return to collect our passports in two days time.
We went to the Hotel Indonesia. There was a post office in the lobby and we wanted to buy some postage stamps. When we left the sky was getting dark and it looked as though it was about to pour with rain. We crossed the road and were just passing the British Embassy when the first drops started to fall. We decided to dash into the Embassy for cover and while waiting for the rain to stop we were able to read some English newspapers. Also in the Embassy at the time was Jeff Gough, who we had met in Tehran. He had almost run out of money and was in the Embassy to try to get them to arrange for some money to be sent from his family in Argentina.
We all went out for lunch together and we introduced him to our favourite - mi soup. He told us that his father was the chairman of the Buenos Aires branch of the British American Tobacco Company and it didn't sound as though he was short of money. Geoff had been travelling for years and we got the feeling that whenever he ran out of money, his father would always send him some more. We chatted with him all afternoon and into the evening, we even had supper together before seeing him onto the bus back to where he was staying.
The next day Nan had organised a bus tour for the IYHA and he invited us to join them. At 7am we walked around to the police hotel where a very influential crowd had gathered. We were introduced to the commissioner of police and many other officials before we set off at 8.30 to Serang. At Serang we stopped at the police headquarters where they had laid on refreshments for us all. We then set off to Banten, the coastal area where the Dutch first landed to trade. We were taken to have a look around the ruins of an old Dutch fortress and we visited a Chinese Temple.
The bus then stopped beside a small lake and the ladies then laid out a wonderful picnic. I think everybody must have brought something along because the variety and amount of food was really superb. Even though it was all cold food we still enjoyed ourselves.
After lunch we visited the grand mosque of Mesjid Agung before going back to a small village just outside Serang where we were going to see some dancers who stuck spears in themselves as part of the dance. Unfortunately the dancers claimed that the spears were not sharp enough and they were unable to perform their dance that day.
On the way back to Djakarta somebody got out a guitar and started singing and everybody on the bus joined in. They sang all sorts of songs including pop songs that were familiar to us. When we were in Siluas I recorded the soldiers singing a song that sounded like 'allo Bandung' (please excuse the spelling) and while they were singing it they all stood to attention. I don't think it is the national anthem, but it must be some sort of patriotic song because when they played it on the bus, everybody joined in with gusto.
When we got back to the police hotel, everybody went inside and we were all given drinks, then somebody made a speech. Afterwards they all drifted away and we walked back to Jalan Djaksa with Nan where his wife made us a nice supper.
First thing the next morning we went back to the Portuguese Embassy to collect our passports, then Louis and I split up to look around Djakarta on our own. There wasn't much to see and I got the impression that it was of a very dirty city. I met an American girl who was flying home that day. She was looking for a bank to change some surplus Indonesian money back into dollars. Everywhere she went the referred her to somewhere else. It was beginning to look as though nobody wanted to change the money back again. She had 2500 rupiah to change and I gave her US$6 for it, which she was happy to get. It was a good deal for both of us. We had a cup of coffee and chatted for about an hour before she had to leave for the airport.
I was still not happy with the light meter on my camera and decided to run off a roll of black and white film to test it. Nan was a keen photographer and he had a darkroom at home that he said I could use to process the film. I bought a film and started taking lots of pictures of subjects in varying light conditions, then I went back to the house to develop the film. I put the film in the developing tank that Nan had lent me and while I was developing the film, Jeff arrived followed soon after by Louis.
Jeff was very happy with himself because when the British Embassy in Argentina had contacted his father, his father had telexed through to the BAT office in Djakarta and one of the directors there had come around to his hotel to give him US$150. So Jeff's money worries were over for the time being.
When the film was finished developing I could see that the camera's built in light meter was certainly not reliable. From now on I would have to ask others for a light reading before I could take a photo. That was going to be a real pain.
We then went to the railway station to enquire if we could get a student discount, but the answer to that was 'no'. We then booked tickets to travel to Bandung the following day. Even without a discount, the prices were not too bad, though not as cheap as the Indian trains, but then I doubt that anywhere else could be that cheap.
We had our evening meal out with Jeff and then said goodbye to him and wished him luck with the rest of his travels. We then went back to the house where we had a good long chat with Nan about youth hostelling and what we thought he needed to do to get his dream of IYHA off the ground. Both Louis and I were quite experienced in hostelling, having stayed at youth hostels in many different countries over a number of years and we wrote down the points we felt he needed to address to attract the backpackers in sufficient quantity to keep a hostel going.
The next morning we said our goodbyes to Nan and his family. What we didn't realise at the time was that we had just had the honour of being the first backpackers to stay at the Wisma Delima hostel, 5 Jalan Djaksa, Djakarta.
I visited Wisma Delima again on my way back home in 1971. By this time the place had developed into a full-blown hostel and had become the place that the 'grapevine' referred to. All the beautiful furniture had gone and so had Mrs. Lawalatta. The bedrooms now had bunk beds in them, the place was full of backpackers of all nationalities and Nan was having the time of his life. Nan was a Christian and we exchanged Christmas cards for many years afterwards, but I have now lost contact with him. (If anybody knows what has happened to him, please email me). I recently did an Internet search on Wisma Delima and was pleased to see that it is still going strong, not only that, but a number of other houses in Jalan Djaksa have also become hostels. I would like to think that a lot of that was thanks to us, but I suppose that if we hadn't come along when we did, it wouldn't have been long before somebody else had. The real father of backpacker hostels in Djakarta has got to be Nan Lawalatta.
Nan had arranged for a police car to take us to the station and the driver helped us to find the correct train and also helped us put our luggage on to the train. We had reserved seats and the man sitting with us was a railway employee who was going to Bandung on railway business. We chatted all the way and at lunchtime he took us into the dining car and we all had a meal. Because he was on railway business, none of us had to pay for the meal.
Indonesian trains are just the opposite of Indian ones. For a start, the seats are comfortable and the carriages are clean. They also had hostesses that would bring you drinks if you wanted, though the drinks had to be paid for.
The train arrived in Bandung right on schedule at 3.30pm and we immediately started looking for a hotel. Some boys said they would help us and we followed them for over a mile until we reached what looked like a luxury hotel called the Savoy. Just looking at it we knew it was outside our budget and we felt quite disappointed. Us being foreigners the boys had probably assumed that like all other foreigners we wanted to stay in expensive hotels. We sat down to rest for a while on the steps up to a building and a man came out and in good English asked us what we were doing. When we told him we were just resting and he introduced himself as Dr. Mamasung and he invited us inside to sit down.
The place we had stopped at was a college where they taught traditional Indonesian dancing, music and other entertainment. That night they were having a cultural show and we were invited. Not only that he invited us home to stay with him and his family. When we got back to his home he introduced us to his wife who was also a doctor. She was 9 months pregnant with their 7th child, but nonetheless she happily welcomed us. He had a beautiful home and we met the rest of his children who were gorgeous.
We had to wear a suit for the show that evening, which neither Louis or I had. Fortunately Dr.Mamasung was about the same size as each of us and he lent us each one of his spare suits. The suits fitted reasonably well, though it felt strange being dressed up again after so long wearing just casual clothes. At 7 o'clock we went back to the hall where we were introduced to many people. A lot of them spoke English very well and a large proportion of them were professional people or well off businessmen.
When the show began I kicked myself for not having brought my tape recorder because the music was really good. Not only that, but the costumes and acting were brilliant, but also we were not allowed to take flash photographs. The show lasted an hour, but it seemed to be over in a flash, it was so good. This was the real thing not just some pseudo native dancing put on for the tourists. As well as dancing we also saw the traditional "Wayang Golek", wooden puppet show. At the end of the show we were called up onto the stage to say a few words in English and we thanked everybody for a wonderful show. We received a round of applause. Afterwards we were shown the musical instruments of the "Angklung" bamboo orchestra and like it says, everything was made from bamboo.
There was a nun there called Sister Virgini. She had a cassette recorder and had recorded the whole thing. She told us that if we give a tape to Dr Mamasung, she would copy it over and post it to us in Australia. We did leave a tape with Dr.Mamasung and true to her word, she posted it back to us in Darwin.
We had to walk home from the show, but it was quite straightforward. We got half way home when a donkey cart stopped and offered us a lift the rest of the way to the house. When we got back Mrs. Mamasung made us a wonderful supper and we all sat and chatted until about 1am.
The next morning we got up early and had breakfast with the family. Before we left we took a photograph of them all, then we took a betchak to the station where we caught a train to Jogjakarta. We both had window seats but because neither of us wanted to travel backwards we agreed to change places ever hour. A student sat down beside us, but when the ticket collector came around he couldn't produce a ticket, so at the next stop he was put off the train. Apart from that the day was really uneventful and all we did was watch the beautiful Javanese countryside pass by.
Once we arrived in Jogjakarta (Jogja) we found a hotel right opposite the station and got a room for 200 rupiah. There was a restaurant just down the road where we got a bowl of mi soup for 20 rupiah each, then we went back to our hotel. We must have both been exhausted because we each sat on the bed for a few minutes to read and we both flaked out and slept fully clothed on top of the bed, not waking up until the following morning.
It was pouring with rain the next day and neither of us felt like going out. By 11 o'clock when the rain still hadn't eased we decided to make a dive for the local tourist office to see what there was in Jogja. The tourist office was not too helpful, and with the rain still not showing any sign of abating we decided to go back to the hotel and just sit around.
I have always found the sound of falling rain very soothing, especially when I am indoors watching it and I have always tended to feel sleepy on rainy days. So I decided to have a snooze that afternoon while Louis went out to try to find the best way to get to Bali. He came back at about 4.30 to tell me he had found out that there was a bus leaving at 8 that would take us straight to Denpasar for just 1350 rupiah including all meals en route. We decided to catch that bus and while I packed my bag, Louis went to buy the tickets. We left the hotel at 6.30 and went to the restaurant to have something to eat before going off to the bus station.
When we arrived at the bus station they weighed our bags before we could put them on the bus. My bag was 22 kg and Louis' was 24 kg. We sat on the bus and waited for it to leave. Just before it was due to leave the owner of the hotel arrived and came on board to speak to us. He wanted us to pay for the extra day because we had left the hotel after 1pm. We argued that as we hadn't spent the night there we shouldn't have to pay the full amount. There were still trains arriving until late at night and he would probably be able to let the room out to somebody else. We offered to pay him half for the afternoon use, but he refused, insisting on the full amount. We kept on arguing until the bus was about to leave and he had to get off. In the end we didn't have to pay anything.
There were two Americans on the bus who were also travelling to Bali. They introduced themselves as Bob and Ron. They were travelling around the world by plane from East to West and they had already visited Australia. Bob then started to give us more travel tips about Australia than we really wanted to know, while Ron just sat there quietly. It turns out that Bob, who was quite a bit older than us, had recently been very ill and this trip was his convalescence and was being paid for by his medical insurance. Ron was his nephew who he had asked to come along to keep him company. Judging by some of the comments that Ron made when Bob was out of earshot, I think he was hoping that Bob would disappear and not come back at some point.
The bus travelled through the night, stopping at various times for food and drink. We arrived in Surabaya at 3am where we had to change to another bus to take us the rest of the way to Denpasar. The next bus wasn't due to leave until 5am, so we had two hours to kill in the bus station. The Bus Company gave us a box of biscuits and kept us plied with plenty of drinks during that period.
The bus to Denpasar came in and it was extremely crowded and very much overweight. There were more people standing than there were sitting down. Luckily we had reserved seats, but the seats were right at the back of the bus and boy, were they hard. The road from Surabaya was really bad and being at the back of the bus, every bump was amplified. Quite frequently we were thrown up in the air by some really nasty bumps, then the bus would go down into a pothole and as it came out of the pothole the seat would come up below us and thwack us on the bottom. It was a really bone shaking journey and we were glad when we stopped for a meal at a restaurant beside the sea where we all sat outside at tables on the beach to have our meal. There were a number of outrigger boats on the beach that were typical of the type used by the Javanese fishermen and they helped to make the place look really picturesque.
Before getting back onto the bus, Bob bought a large bunch of bananas to eat on the journey. Little did he realise the mayhem they would cause. The four of us were sitting in the middle on the back row of the bus and there was an Indonesian man sitting by each side window. On one particularly nasty series of bumps when we had been launched into the air for the umpteenth time, Bob let go of the bunch of bananas. While we were all still airborne the bananas slid along the bench seat ending up below the man on his left, just as the seat came up to pulverise his backside. He landed right on top of the bunch and the bananas burst all over the place. Before he could regain control the bus went over a few more bumps and he went up and down on them just to ensure that they were thoroughly mashed up. None of us could speak Indonesian, but the tone of his voice conveyed the fact that he was not very pleased. Matters were not helped by the fact that the four of us were howling with laughter almost to the point of crying. The unfortunate man had liquid banana all over his backside and right down his legs and it was all over the bus seat. A lady came over and started to wipe him down, I presume it was his wife. Ron tried to apologise, but it sort of lacked sincerity because he just couldn't stop laughing. That made matters worse and she took a swing at him.
Soon after that we reached the ferry to Bali. While we were on the ferry the driver managed to clean all the banana pulp from the seat and remove all the skins and when we got on again on the other side, somebody else was sitting there. Bob wanted to buy some more bananas, but we managed to talk him out of it. Thankfully the road from the ferry to Denpasar was a lot smoother.
The ferry arrives in Bali at Gilimanuk which is still 125 km from Denpasar, so we still had a few hours more to go. At every village we went through there were temples with the most exquisite and intricate carvings. Outside each one there was what seemed to be a carving of a lion standing up on two legs and wrapped around each one was a chequered cloth. We later found out that the following day was the Balinese New Year. The festival of Njepi was due to start the next day and the chequered cloth was only put out for holidays and celebrations. We also saw a number of bare breasted ladies. We had heard that village women in Bali went around bare breasted, but we thought it was a myth and we didn't expect to see it for ourselves. In fact it only seemed to be older women who went bare breasted. Much to our dismay the younger ones kept themselves covered up.
Eventually we arrived in Denpasar at 6pm. Nan had recommended a number of hotels to us and we decided to try the Hotel Kesuma first of all because it was the nearest one to the bus station. Bob and Ron hired a donkey cart to carry his luggage, but not ones to waste an opportunity the four of us piled our luggage into the cart and walked along behind it to the hotel. The hotel had a room for three people available for 100 rupiah each. The fourth person was welcome to sleep in the lounge on the couch for free, which suited Louis nicely. I shared the room with Bob and Ron, and we even allowed Louis to leave his luggage in our room. We all went out to have something to eat. Lou and I were quite happy to have mi soup in the market, but Bob and Ron wanted something else, so we split up and let them go find somewhere a bit more up market. When we got back to the hotel I found that I was locked out of the room because Bob had the key in his pocket, so I went to sleep on the other couch until the others came back about half an hour later.
Wednesday 19th March 1969
The next day the owner warned us that the Balinese Hindu New Year festival of Njepi was due to start at mid day. That afternoon there would be celebrations and cock fights all over the place but he following day was to be a day of complete silence all over Bali. He advised us that tomorrow everything in Bali was going to be closed. There wouldn't be any transport running and in the evening we wouldn't be allowed to put any lights on in the hotel. He offered to provide meals for us because we wouldn't be able to buy food anywhere else.
Louis went to the tourist office to get some information, while I went to the post office to collect our mail, but the post office was now closed until Saturday. Opposite the post office is a large park where there were a number of gamalan bands playing. I decided it would be good to record it so I dashed back to the hotel to get my cassette recorder only to find that Bob had gone off again with the key in his pocket. I was able to climb through the window and get the recorder, but by the time I returned, the music had stopped.
We met an English guy who was from Wallasey. He had been working in Malaysia and spoke fluent Malaysian, which is very similar to Indonesian. He said the difference between the two languages is was like comparing English with Scottish, basically the same language with a different accent and a few different phrases.
We then bought some iced fruits for just 10 rupiah, before going to look around a temple that appeared to have been carved out of coral. Afterwards Bob bought us all an ice cream.
We the all went to eat. Bob bought us a meal called gado gado. It is one of the national dishes of Indonesia and consists of cooked mixed vegetables in a peanut sauce. Because each chef has his own way of making it there are many different flavours of gado gado and this one was not one of the best I had tasted. Another national dish is nasi goreng. Literally translated this means fried rice, but the rice is cooked with chopped meat, onions, egg and spices and it tastes delicious.
After dinner Lou and I went to watch a cockfight. Unlike the one we had watched in Kutching, on this occasion the barbs they tied to the cock's feet were only small and so didn't inflict the fatal wound quite so quickly. The birds were able to fight for a bit longer before one obviously got the better of the other one. At that point the owners would grab them and remove them from the fighting ring, then the loser would have his feet cut off. Which I thought was rather drastic.
We went back to the hotel and were sitting there when Ron returned and told us that they had met a friend who had offered to take them up to the mountains for a few days. They took their bags, paid their bill and went straight away. They left some luggage that they wouldn't need while they were away and we agreed to look after it for them.
That evening we went out to watch the celebrations in the park. We could hear the firecrackers going off before we got there, but by the time we arrived they had finished and the crowd was dispersing, so we went back to the hotel and listened to the BBC news before going to bed.
The next morning was very strange. Denpasar has a sort of inner ring road and there is a one way system that runs around the town which is normally teeming with traffic. The hotel was on that road and the distant rumble of traffic could always be heard in the background. This morning it was so quiet that you could hear the insects buzzing. After breakfast we decided that because everywhere was closed we would walk to the Bali Beach Hotel, 6 km away. The owner made us a packed lunch and we set off walking. There were a few people about, but there was no traffic at all, not even a bicycle and everywhere was so quiet. It certainly was a day of silence.
It was very hot and it took us about 90 minutes to get to the Bali Beach Hotel, which was one of the luxury hotels that President Sukarno had build in the early 60s. Now that he was no longer 'president for life' (he was still alive, but they took the 'for life' title away from him when he was removed from office in 1967) the hotel was being run by the Intercontinental Group of hotels, but there weren't many people staying there.
We walked through the hotel lobby and through the gardens onto the beach without being challenged and sat on the sun loungers that were provided for the guests. And that is where we spent the day. As for the guests, well tourism in Indonesia was still in its infancy and there just weren't many of them around. We met a Frenchman who had left Paris just 5 days before. He was stopping over in Bali on his way to Australia. The only other guests there were a small group from Peru. Late in the afternoon we started to walk back to Denpasar. When we were half way home the hotel mini bus came along. It was the only vehicle we had seen all day and it stopped when we stuck our thumbs out. I am not sure why the hotel bus was allowed to be out that day, but they took us the rest of the way into town and saved us a few kilometres of walking.
That evening we couldn't put the lights on in the hotel, and the owner asked us not to play music on our cassette recorder either. We chatted to a Canadian guy who had just arrived, but there was nothing else to do at all so we went to bed early at 8 o'clock
The next morning things were back to normal again and everywhere except for government offices was open again. Louis got up early and had gone to have breakfast at a restaurant called the Three Sisters. He left directions and said he would wait there for me. I was just about to leave when Bob and Ron arrived back. I waited for them to get settled in then we all went together to join Louis.
The Three Sisters is a small restaurant situated near to the Adi Yasa hotel and it was a fair distance to walk. There was no sign outside saying the name of the place, nor was it written anywhere else. It got its name from the fact that it was run by three ladies. Whether or not they really were sisters, I don't know but it was the place that most of the backpackers would hang out and we came across quite a few people we had met earlier on our travels. We asked the other travellers how they had managed to get from Singapore to Indonesia and that was when we found out about the hydrofoil from Singapore to Tandjung Pinang. It seemed to be common knowledge on the grapevine and we still don't know why we not found out about it until now.
When we had eaten and we came to pay for our meals, Bob's meal came to 65 rupiah. He paid with a 100 rupiah note and told the girl to keep the change. When we pointed out that his tip was more than 50%, his attitude was that it was only worth 30 cents, it was hardly anything at all. All the backpackers were annoyed and pointed out that he was spoiling it for others. If everybody started doing that, the price would soon become 100 rupiah to everybody, including the locals. He was fuelling inflation, but he couldn't see the point. Unfortunately as more and more tourists (as opposed to backpackers) arrived in Bali, this is exactly what did happen. By 1971 prices had increased by about 300%, but even at those higher prices, things were still cheap.
We then went over to have a look at the Adi Yasa hotel where most of the backpackers were staying. It was double the price we were paying and was set in some nice gardens, but the rooms in our hotel were nicer.
Bob had gone to see if the post office was open and as I was walking back into town we met. The post office had been closed, but he had seen somebody going into the building and so he followed him through the same door. There were people inside sorting the mail and when he asked somebody about post restante, they allowed him to look through the mail. Apart from his own mail he had managed to pull out Louis' and mine too. I had three letters from home, which must have been a record. I found somewhere to sit and started reading them.
While I was reading an English boy came up to me to ask if I knew anywhere cheap to stay. He introduced himself as Roger and together we walked back to the hotel where he opted to sleep on the couch for free. There were also some new arrivals, an Australian couple who were just starting out and were heading to England. They gave us some valuable information about the trip through Timor from the Indonesian side to the Portuguese side.
The next day I was able to go to the post office myself and check the post restante to see if there was any more mail. Post restante in Denpasar post office was very casual and also very much a do-it-yourself affair. There were a number of boxes of mail and at first it seemed that they were in no particular order, however it soon became obvious that they were all in date order according to when they had arrived. The letters were stacked standing up so it was easy to just flick through the boxes. The first time I checked it was necessary to search through the whole lot to see if there was anything for me, in case Bob had missed one. On subsequent visits I could just check the newly arrived post. People who had passed through would leave notes in the mail asking anybody who found a letter for them to either return or forward it and occasionally we would find something and re-address it before dropping it back in the post box. When I left Bali, I too left such a note and some kind person forwarded a letter to Darwin for me. Even when the post office was closed they didn't seem to mind people popping in through the side door to check their mail.
After the post office, Roger and I went to the PN Pelni office to see what ships were available to Timor. The office was way out of town and it took ages to walk there. We found that there was a ship leaving for Kupang that afternoon, the fare was a staggering 11,000 rupiah, which was a little more than £12. There was only one ship doing that run and we would have to wait almost a month before it came back again.
Because we were so far out of town we decided not to walk back. In Bali they have small pick up trucks with seats in the back called a bemo. We were told that bemo means betchak motorised. It cost us just 30 rupiah to catch a bemo to the Garuda office, which was not very far from our hotel. It was quite a surprise to find that the plane fare to Kupang was actually slightly cheaper than the ship at 10,700 rupiah.
The alternative was to hop from island to island along the Lesser Sundas chain, or Nusa Tengara as the island chain is called in Indonesian. That would involve having to renew our visas because we only had 10 days left and to hop the island chain would take a lot longer than that. Nobody could tell us what if any boats ferried between the islands and what transport there was across them. We hadn't met anybody who had come that way so there was a big uncertainty over that route. We visited immigration and found that it would cost 6200 rupiah each to extend our visas for any period even for just one day.
I went back and discussed it with Louis and we agreed to catch the plane. We went back to the Garuda office and booked for the next available flight. There were two flights a week and the mid week flight was full, so we made reservations for next Saturday's flight. That would only give us 2 days to get across Timor to the Portuguese border. From what we had heard, that would be very tight, but the good news was that we could get ourselves stamped out in Kupang before going to the border, so we would gain a few days. We didn't have to pay for the flight until three days before, so if something else came up before then we could take it.
We now had a week to enjoy in Bali. It was a beautiful place and we would have liked to go out to Mount Gunung Agung and some of the outlying villages, but at that time public transport was almost non existent and private taxis were outside our budget, so we decided to hang around in Denpasar.
We ate most of our meals at the Three Sisters. One day the one of the sisters told us about a funeral that was due to take place. The man who's funeral it was had died a year ago and his body had been preserved all this time. It was very considered to be very virtuous in Bali to have a funeral a year after death, but only very rich people could afford it. Not only that, it was regarded as a very happy day and she said the family would no doubt be honoured if we all went along. So off we all trooped to a funeral.
The funeral turned out to be a cremation and half of the town was there. We even met Doug and Yvonne, who had arrived in Denpasar the previous night. There were gamalan bands and food and drink was being given out to everybody. When the funeral pyre was lit, everybody went up to the open coffin to pay their final respects. We all went up to take photographs and by the time I had got there he was cooking nicely and his eyes were just starting to bubble. One German guy actually climbed up and took close up photographs of the body's face and nobody seemed to mind in the least. It sure was a colourful event.
Another day a whole crowd of us decided to go to the beach. We had heard that there was a beautiful unspoilt beach to the south of Denpasar called Kuta Beach and we had all arranged to meet there. About 6 or 8 of us piled into the back of a bemo for the trip down there and after driving a few miles the driver pulled over at the side of the road and pointed us down a path that could have easily been missed. We all got off and walked along the path he had indicated to and after a few hundred yards we came to a beautiful long sandy beach. Soon afterwards the rest of the crowd joined us. They had also come down from Denpasar in a bemo.
Kuta Beach was completely deserted. There were no buildings and as far as we could see we were the only people there. The surf was too strong for fishermen to use that beach and so we had the whole place to ourselves and it was really beautiful. A couple of times during the day a young boy would come by selling fresh coconuts. For just 25 rupiah he would cut the coconuts open for us first to drink the milk, then he cut a piece of the husk into a spoon shape so we could use it to eat the flesh. It was just as well that he came by frequently because there was nowhere else around for us to buy any food or drink. The surf was good too, but I found the sea water to be extremely salty than usual and it stung my eyes. Somebody suggested playing rugby with one of the coconut shells, but Doug managed to talk them out of it. I reckon he was thinking of a similar game in Penang.
We stayed at Kuta to watch a really beautiful sunset before starting to walk back to Denpasar. I found that I had got sunburned for the first time in my life. I have dark skin and had never been troubled by sunburn before. An passing empty taxi stopped for us and we managed to bargain him down to 100 rupiah between the 5 of us going back to the Kesuma, and he dropped us right outside the door of the hotel.
That evening Louis was suffering from stomach pains and didn't want to leave the hotel, so I went out to eat by myself. The others had gone to watch a Chinese film at the local cinema but I didn't fancy it. From the reports I got when they all returned, I had done well by not going.
Danny, the Swedish guy who had given us a lift out of Semerang arrived and booked in to the Kesuma. He had managed to learn to speak Indonesian and by all indications he was pretty fluent. Danny was a pretty arrogant sort of character but he had the gift of being able to get his own way every time. He had become pretty well connected in Indonesia and had travelled all around, but now like us he was heading to Australia. At one time he had arranged to go to West Irian (Irian Jaya) to try to cross the border into New Guinea, but for some reason had decided not to go in the end. He had letters from the office of President Suharto requesting that people help him out, and they really seemed to carry weight.
Bob and Ron stayed on in Bali and were still there when we left. Bob became known as Uncle Bob to everybody because of his fussing around all the time. Whenever Bob came into the room, everybody found a reason to go somewhere else because if he started talking to you it was impossible to get away again. Ron was an expert at bargaining people down and always seemed to get everything that bit cheaper than anybody else. He was a useful person to take shopping and we took him with us when we went out to buy batiks, which we later had tailored into shirts.
Roger's friend, Ted arrived from Surabaya. He became very friendly with Danny and in the end they went off to travel together for the rest of the way to Australia. Also staying at the Kesuma was a Dutch girl called Jose. She had worked for a British travel company as a holiday rep before travelling East. Even though she was Dutch, she spoke English with a delightful Irish accent. There was a Londoner called John and an Indonesian called Loleks and the whole group of became best of friends during the time we spent in Bali.
All too soon Saturday came around and we had to leave. The flight to Kupang was due to take off at 5.15am, which was a very awkward time to get to the airport for. When we went to pay for our tickets the clerk told us that there was transport for the airport staff leaving the airline office at 4am prompt. There was plenty room in the bus and we were welcome to travel with them if we arrived on time.
The night before we left we went through our luggage to cut down on the weight. We sold a number of items that we would no longer need to other travellers and put some small heavy items in our pockets. We packed our bags before going to bed and slept that night without mosquito nets, relying instead on mosquito coils to prevent us from getting bitten. Ted lent us an alarm clock which we set to go off at 2.30am and we went to bed early at about 9 o'clock.
Saturday 29th March 1969
We checked in and went into the lounge to wait for the flight. Lou had met the pilot and he had invited us both into the crew lounge where we had a bit more breakfast. Engineers were just changing one of the instruments on the plane and departure was delayed for an hour, but at 6.15 we all boarded the ancient DC3 aircraft. The seating was just deck chair like canvas seats and the seat belt went across both seats. There was no interior decoration and we could see all the luggage stowed at the back of the plane behind a cargo net. Everything was very basic and it was just as I imagined a troop carrier would appear to be.
Louis was invited into the cockpit and he stayed there until after we had landed in Ampenan on the island of Lombok. At Ampenan we were taken into the crew room and given coffee, bread and bananas. 45 minutes later we took off Louis was in the cockpit again. At 8 o'clock we were given a meal and after the meal I went into the cockpit for the landing at Tambora on the island of Sumbawa. There was nobody getting off at Tambora so before landing the pilot over flew the airfield to see if the flag was flying from the flagpole. It was and that was the signal to him that there were passengers waiting to get on, so he went around again and landed on the grass strip.
The passengers getting on at Tambora were two Swiss guys who had travelled this far by boat and road from Bali. When we left I went into the cockpit to watch the take off. There was no seat for me and I had to stand behind the two pilots. I had to hold on hard to the cockpit door frame to prevent myself being thrown backwards along the aisle as the plane accelerated down the runway and took off.
We were given another meal on this sector, then I went to sleep. The plane made an approach to an airfield on the island of Sumba, but the flag mustn't have been flying and we just climbed away again without landing, eventually we landed again at Maumere on Flores where we sat outside with the crew and were served with cold drinks. On the last sector to Kupang we were given another meal, but we had eaten so much that day that we just didn't feel like anything more, so we gave it to the Swiss guys.
The plane landed in Kupang at exactly 4pm and all went into the small building that served as a terminal to wait for them to bring the luggage through. Louis was starting to feel sick. On the notice board was a flight listed going to Darwin on Wednesday and we tried to find out about it. It wasn't a passenger flight, it was a charter bringing out equipment for a local survey company but we managed to find out the name of the company operating it and their address in Kupang.
By the time they had brought the trolley with the luggage Louis was beginning to feel really unwell and was in suffering with very bad shooting stomach pains. He wasn't able to carry his luggage so we got a porter to carry it for him. Outside the terminal we managed to bargain with the owner of a jeep to take the four of us into Kupang for 100 rupiah. On the way Louis became really ill, so we dropped the Swiss guys off at a hotel and asked the driver to take us straight to the hospital. Before we set off again the jeep owner insisted that I pay an extra 50 rupiah for taking us to the hospital. When we arrived at the hospital the doctor saw Louis straight away and then admitted him. They said he was suffering from Gastritis. It was only a small hospital and the ward was right next to the casualty room where the doctor had examined him. Once Louis was comfortably in bed I started to walk back into Kupang to find a hotel.
I checked into a hotel called Wisma Salem where I met some other guys from Australia and Canada who had just arrived from the Portuguese side. They said the journey was awful, and I suppose to them it must have been really bad, having from of Australia straight into the hardest part of the overland route. We all went to eat at a small café near to the harbour where we met a guy who managed the company that chartered the plane to Darwin. He couldn't say if we could fly back with it, but he told us to contact an American called Mr. Thompson who was living in Kupang and worked for the International Oil Company.
After I had eaten I walked back to the hospital to visit Louis. By this time he was running to the toilet almost continually, but at least he was being looked after.
The next day Louis was still not feeling any better. I had taken him some food but he was still not able to eat it. One of the Australians called Ron came to the hospital with me. His friends had just flown out to Bali early that morning, but there wasn't room for all of them on the plane and he had drawn the short straw and had to wait for the next one on Tuesday. While we were at the hospital a Catholic Priest came to see Louis. He had heard that there was a European in the hospital and being Sunday had come to visit to see if Louis wanted to take communion. He was quite amused when he found out that he was Jewish, but he stayed and talked for a while.
That evening we went to the harbour café again and this time I met Mr. Thompson. He said that he wasn't authorised to say if we could go on the plane or not. He had no objections but it was not up to him. The decision was up to the pilot and the only way we could find out was to go out to the airfield with our luggage on Wednesday and ask him ourselves, but he wasn't very optimistic about our chances.
On Monday Louis was feeling a bit better and I took him some food. He was still not 100% and they wanted him to stay in for a little longer. I pointed out that our visas expired the following day and the doctor gave me a letter to give to the immigration stating the circumstances. Before going to the immigration I had to go to the police and register that we had arrived in Kupang. I went to the immigration office and showed them the doctor's letter and the officer in charge agreed that in view of the circumstances we could stay for another week without having to pay the renewal fee.
When I got back to the hotel, Ron was ill and had spent the day running to the toilet. He asked me to go to the post office and send a telegram to his friends in Bali to inform them that he wouldn't be well enough to get the plane the next day and had cancelled his reservation. He went off to the hospital while I went to eat.
After I had eaten I started walking back and met Ron coming back from the hospital. They had given him some medicine and told him not to eat anything and he was feeling a lot better. So we went to the Garuda office to un-cancel his reservation. Fortunately his place was still available.
On the way back to the hotel I met Danny and Ted. They had just arrived on the plane from Denpasar and were staying at a different hotel. We all went along to the hospital to visit Louis and after visiting we all went to the harbour café to eat. Danny, who had been in Indonesia for quite a while had become a connoisseur on Indonesian cooking. Although we were all quite happy with the food, Danny declared that it was rubbish and ordered two different meals before feeding them both to the dog. Before going to bed we all said goodbye to Ron, because he would be leaving in the middle of the night to catch the plane to Bali.
Tuesday 1st April 1969
In the meantime Danny had been to see the Chief of Police and had showed him his letter from President Suharto. The chief had become friendly and said he would help in any way he could to find us transport to the border. He told Danny that there might be a boat going to Atapupu, which was on the North Coast very close to the Portuguese frontier.
They came around to Wisma Salem to give me the good news and when Mark woke up a few hours later he joined in with the conversation. He seemed to be high on something and reacted excitedly to everything. When somebody mentioned the possibility of the boat to Atapupu he nearly leapt into the air and before anybody could stop him he had dashed out of the hotel to try to find out about it. The others nicknamed him 'speed' because he was acting as though he was taking amphetamines.
Danny and Ted spent the day looking around for some sort of transport. So that I would be around if they found something, I ordered all my meals in the hotel and sat around reading all day. The hospital phoned the hotel to tell them Louis would be discharged and late that afternoon I organised the jeep to take me to the hospital and bring Louis back to the hotel. The bill for his stay in hospital was very little more than I had been paying to stay in the hotel.
The next day we all split up and tried looking for ways to get to the border. Danny had been back to the police chief earlier on and he told him that the boat to Atapupu wouldn't be going for another few days. He told Danny that there was a truck belonging to Colombo Plan going to Kefamananu that afternoon and Danny and I went along to the Colombo Plan office to find out about a lift. We spoke to the boss and he said that the truck would probably leave at 4am the next morning and we could travel on it for 500 rupiah each. Loius and Ted had been chasing up on the rumour of a ship leaving for the Portuguese enclave of Oecusse, but like all other such leads it just didn't materialise. One of the most difficult things in this area seems to be the fact that nobody seems to know what transport there is. And what little transport that happens to exist seems to run to no semblance of a timetable whatsoever. A boat could leave today, tomorrow or next week and even the captain or the owner can't (or won't) tell us when.
We went down to the harbour to eat and met Mr. Thompson. He asked us why we hadn't been at the airport for the plane to Darwin and I explained that we had decided not to bother after he had been so pessimistic about our chances. He agreed with us and told us that he had asked the pilot if he would take any passengers just in case other travellers asked in the future. He went on to tell us that the pilot had said "that under no circumstances would he take anybody other than people from the oil company who had chartered the plane".
Before we could get the truck to Kefamananu (Kefa) we had to get ourselves stamped out of Indonesia in Kupang because there were no other immigration offices in Timor. We also had to check out with the police in Kupang and then visit the police station in Kefa to have our passports checked before we went to the border. If we hadn't done so we would have been turned back again by one of the many police checks on the way. We all went along to the immigration office together. The others had no trouble, but Louis and I were now a day overdue leaving and the officer wanted us to pay the visa extension fee. I explained that I had spoken to one of the other officers a few days earlier and explained the situation. We showed him the doctor's letter again but this guy wouldn't accept any explanation and demanded the fee. Danny argued for us and told him that we just didn't have the money to pay anyway and after a while we got our stamp without having to pay anything. We also had to visit the police to report that we were going to Kefa and after taking down all our details and checking we had our passports stamped, they issued us with a piece of paper that we had to present at the police station when we arrived in Kefa.
The hotel that Danny and Ted were staying in was very near to the Colombo Plan compound, so we paid our bill and moved hotels for the night so we wouldn't have too far to walk in the early hours of the morning when the truck was due to leave. When I got to the hotel I suddenly remembered that I had left my camera hanging on the bed head in Wisma Salem, so I dashed back to get it. Thankfully it was still where I had left it. By the time I got back everybody had gone to bed early and they were already asleep. So I put my mosquito net up and slept on the floor.
During the night Mark kept getting up to check the Colombo Plan compound for signs of a truck, but by 7 the next morning it still hadn't left. Louis and Ted then went back to Pelni to see if the mythical ship to Oecusse had turned up while I went to Colombo Plan with Danny and Mark. An employee who told us that there were no trucks leaving until next week greeted us at the gate. We then asked to see the boss and he told us that he had gone to Djakarta. When we asked him when he had left the answer came back "last week". As we had spoken to the boss only the previous afternoon we then knew he was lying (for whatever reason I don't know) and we pushed past him and went to see the boss in his home.
I don't think the boss was too happy at being disturbed in his home, but as usual Danny had a very persuasive personality and we found out that the truck was going to leave at 10 o'clock. It was already after 9, so I stayed behind while Danny and Mark went back to round up Louis and Ted and to bring the luggage over from the hotel. Everybody was back with all of the luggage within 20 minutes and we all went to eat at a small café just opposite the compound and to await the arrival of the truck.
None of us were really sure that the truck existed but quite surprisingly it arrived just before 10 and we all piled in. As was customary, the truck drove around town for about an hour before coming back to the compound and picking up some more passengers. We eventually set out along the bumpy dirt track to Kefa. Nobody could tell us just how long the truck would take and we had heard stories from other travellers about it taking anything from just a day up to five days. At least we didn't have the constraint of an expiring visa any longer.
As the truck went along the road it stopped regularly to pick up more and more passengers. Occasionally somebody would get off, but as the journey progressed the truck became more and more crowded and more and more overloaded. Not only that, but it broke down with alarming regularity. There was an extremely agile young boy on board who was an expert mechanic and he nursed that truck all the way. Often he would jump out onto the front bumper to lift the bonnet (hood) and start working on the stalled engine while the truck was still rolling downhill. The repair completed the driver could then jump-start the engine again, which was just as well because the starter motor didn't always work and the whole crowd of us would occasionally have to jump down to push start the thing. Throughout the day it was not possible to relax for a moment because we continually had to duck for low branches or wires strung across the road at neck height. A moment of inattention and you could be decapitated. By late afternoon we arrived in a village called So'e where we stopped for the night. We had covered just 115 km that day.
The only hotel in So'e was quite expensive and they were not prepared to bargain with us. After all they did have a monopoly. We decided to sleep in the open along with a lot of the others from the truck, but first we went to eat. Danny went to the police station with his Suharto letter and the policeman said we could all sleep in the prison cells that night as long as they didn't need them. We took one look at the cells and decided not to take him up on his offer.
We went back to the hotel and they still had an empty room. By this time they were more amenable to be bargained down and we got the room for 250 rupiah. The room slept 5, but one of the beds was a double and we drew straws for who was going to have to share. I drew the short straw along with Mark and we ended up on the double bed together. That night he was all arms and legs and he spread out over a lot more than half of the bed, but when he slept, nothing would move him and I had to put up with it.
The next morning the truck was due to leave at 6am, and we arrived in good time, but nobody else including the driver turned up until just after 7. We still had a little over 100 km to travel to Kefa and we hoped to make it that day. We covered about 45 km when the engine let out what I considered to be a death rattle. The driver said it would only take a short time to fix, but it was nearly 3 hours before we got moving again. We eventually arrived in Kefa at about 3pm.
The truck was going on to Atambua and Atapupu, but we figured it would take another few days and none of us fancied the idea. From Kefa it was only a few hours walking to the Portuguese enclave frontier and from what we had heard, we could get a ride from the frontier to Oecusse. The driver asked for his money and Danny tried to bargain with him. He asked for 500 rupiah each and Danny offered him just 10 rupiah, so he drove off in disgust and none of us had to pay anything.
Kefamananu is only a small village and the truck dropped us off outside the police station. We went inside to get our piece of paper stamped. The policeman said he couldn't do it today and told us to come back tomorrow. Even Danny's letter from Suharto wouldn't budge him. He was probably looking for a bribe, but he hadn't figured on Danny's determination. He argued with the police officer and eventually managed to find out where the local chief of police lived. So we all trooped out to the chief's home. It was a large house on the outskirts and when we arrived it seems that they were preparing for a large outdoor meal in their beautifully kept garden. Danny spoke to the chief and he phoned through to the police station and told the officer on duty to stamp our papers straight away.
By the time we arrived at the police station again, word must have got around the village about us and there was a small crowd waiting for us to offer their services as porters to carry our bags to the frontier. We all got our papers stamped and Danny tried to persuade the policeman to give us a lift to the border. He was getting along quite well and we were trying to agree a price when Louis rang a bell that was hanging outside. The policeman ran out and shouted at Louis to stop, but Louis didn't like being spoken to in that manner and rang the bell again. The policeman then belted Lou around the ear and as he turned away he kicked him in the backside. Somebody grabbed hold of Lou, otherwise I think he would have thumped the policeman back, but as a result of that our chances of a lift had gone. Danny even went back to see the chief, but he was conveniently out.
We recruited some porters from the crowd gathered outside the police station. They charged us 200 rupiah each and they carried all of our bags. We set off walking to the border just as the sun was setting and we walked on through the dark. It was a full moon that night and it was bright enough to light our way very well. It was so bright in fact that I noticed that we all had a shadow. I had never seen that before. It took us 5 hours to get to the border. The porters just took the bags and ran all the way, leaving a young boy behind to walk with us and show us the way. The road was very winding, but the footpath just went straight across cutting out all the corners. Had we not had the porters we would probably have had to walk more than twice the distance. After so many months of travelling and carrying our heavy packs everywhere we were all quite fit and we covered the 20 miles in a little over five hours. Not having bags to carry and the fact that it was much cooler travelling at night we didn't need to stop and rest.
We arrived at a police post just inside Indonesia at about 11 o'clock.
That was as far as the porters were allowed to go. They had been waiting
for us for a few hours so we paid them off and they started to run back
to Kefa. The policeman took our stamped pieces of paper and allowed us
to sleep there that night.