When people learn that I’ve traveled to some third-world countries, particularly in Asia, now that the “terrorist advisories” are high, they always ask the same thing, “What was it like?” The trouble is, there’s just so much to talk about, from the little things to the big things, that there’s no simple way to respond. In an attempt to put you into my shoes for a week in this kind of situation, I’ve gone back to some notes I made in my travel journal and I’ve decided to narrate you through one of my business trips to Bandung, Indonesia. I will link to pictures where possible and I’ll try my best to re-live the experience for you. If you’re thinking about going to such a faraway place, I’m hoping you can benefit from my experience:
First stop from Amsterdam toward Jakarta, Indonesia was Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). It’s an interesting place, especially from the air! You look out and see miles and miles and miles of coconut groves. Once in a while, you spot an elephant in a field working (I presume) to move the old wood out of the groves. There’s something poetic about sitting in a 747 and looking out the window at elephants moving trees. I felt like I was in a time machine or something. A flight attendant told me that they train monkeys to scamper up the trees and to spin the coconuts loose so they fall to the ground to be harvested. I think I saw that on the Discovery Channel once, but it would have been a “hoot” to see it live.
Malaysia is also home to the world’s largest spiders, scorpions, and beetles. They were actually selling them in the airport, live as well as “mounted.” Some of the scorpions were 12” long and that’s no exaggeration! One rhinoceros beetle I saw was every bit as hefty as a tennis ball. My wife would freak out if I described the various spiders, let’s just say you’d think twice before you rode your bike over one.
Next (and final) stop, Jakarta (Indonesia). Wow, that’s a long flight but I made it and I’m 13 time zones ahead of Minnesota, and south of the equator too! The first thing you can’t help but notice from the air is the tsunami damage. “Extensive” is not a powerful enough adjective. I noticed how far offshore the waves break, now that so much silt has been shifted back into the ocean from that gigantic wave. Also, the flooding appears to be a permanent new addition to the landscape. It’s awesome and its sad at the same time. There’s still a ridiculous amount of cleanup to do. Our plane had 80 palettes, 10 feet high, loaded into the cargo hold; and most of it was food from Europe to aid in the tsunami rebuild. The navigator and I were talking about the 747 and its hidden compartments, bunk beds for the crew, and its unbelievable capacity to haul cargo. We had 420 people, their baggage, a full crew, 80 tons of cargo on board, fuel to push us 7,000 miles and we averaged 600mph!
When I arrived in Jakarta, I think I walked 50 feet from the jet-way before the humidity in the air (100%, during the monsoon season) and the sweat from my body met somewhere in the fibers of my shirt. Good grief and golly is it hot here. To complicate things, my driver was nowhere to be seen. This presented an unusual problem. I was told NOT to accept taxi rides from the locals and yet, there must have been 20-30 of them following me around for the 45 minutes I looked for my iForce driver (who was supposed to be at the gate with a “Mr. K Walker” sign). I think the only English word they knew was “Taxi?” The biggest one probably weighed a scant 100lbs (less than ? my size) and when the entourage got to be unbearable I finally stopped, turned, and “had a meeting.” Picture this, I’m hot, tired, a little irritated, and I’m dripping with perspiration since I’ve sweated through all of my clothes. Honestly, I have compassion for these people and I understand that a substantial cab fare would probably feed their family for a few days. Still… Bearing in mind that a lot of Christians are kidnapped by taxi in this Muslim country, I held my hands up and said, “I DO NOT NEED A TAXI.” They stood their ground. Looks were exchanged, battle lines drawn. “I HAVE A DRIVER.” Well, they’re certainly not stupid, they looked at me with a universal facial expression that simply asked, “Then why are you walking in circles around the airport?” Finally, I pulled 50,000 Rupiahs out of my pocket (about 5 dollars) and quietly asked the closest driver to me, “Can you take me to the information desk for hotels, please?” He grabbed my arm and away we went! Everyone else assumed they’d lost the fair.
I called my hotel, the J.W. Marriott in downtown Jakarta. They sent a car for me and only charged me 117,000 Rupiah ($18). When the hotel car arrived at the Marriott, we went through a security gauntlet the likes of which I’ve never seen. We drove through some construction that I later learned was a rebuilding effort left over from the LAST time the terrorists blew up this hotel (2003). We arrived at a gate. The driver and I had to exit the vehicle while the guards (and their bomb sniffing dogs) went over it, inside and out. They even had mirrors to use to check the under-carriage. They waved us through and we drove up to a fence with razor wire and guards with machine guns. We endured another check of our passports and visas. Finally, and at last, I made it to the room.
- Total travel miles so far: 14,734
- Average speed overall: 580mph
- Hours in the air: 22
- Best sign of the day: “Welcome to Indonesia, where drug traffickers get the death penalty.” I’m not making it up!
EXTRA: If you have questions for Ken regarding business travel, hotels, airplanes, etc, please call 1-877-49-EXPERT. Your questions will be recorded and sent to him. You can also follow Ken on Twitter @foodbreeze!