You know us as independent travelers, not the pre-booked tour-type. So the only thing we have arranged so far is our flight into, and out of, Jakarta – the start and the end of our trip. In between, we’ll see how we get from place to place. We have always operated based on the concept that the way to get somewhere is often just as much fun as the final destination itself (although there have been exceptions…), and, within limits, slow travel is to be preferred over fast travel. Seeing the country side change, eating lunch at a small roadside café, meeting the people along the way, it is all part of the ultimate travel experience.
However, the sheer size of Indonesia, and the fact that it is a multi-island nation, means that we almost certainly will have to fly, at times. There are plenty of local, often low-cost, airlines operating, although I recall from an earlier spell in Indonesia that their collective safety record is not to write home about. But inter-island transport can also be done by ferry; the most extensive network in Indonesia is operated by Pelni, the state-owned, and by far the biggest, shipping line. Pelni operates some 30 different ships, each for between 500-1500 passengers, each ship traveling an individual fortnightly or monthly schedule calling at a variety of ports across a variety of islands. The schedules and routes for the ships change every year. Time tables are a close-kept secret. Planning your trip is thus somewhat difficult. I have been reading up on Pelni, to find out what the experiences of other travelers have been, and let’s put it this way: customer orientation does not appear to be Pelni’s forte. However, they do seem to have reasonably comfortable 1st to 4th class cabins, no doubt far superior to Economy class, which apparently boils down to renting a mattress and finding your own space to put it down somewhere. Plan is to do at least one Pelni crossing, for the experience!
Of course there are lots of other boats, too, as inter-island option – although here the safety record is perhaps even more doubtful – or on the islands itself. Think of hopping from tropical paradise snorkel island to tropical paradise beach island around Sulawesi, or of going up and down crocodile-infested jungle rivers in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo. There are speedboats, longbots – a kind of river ferry carrying everything you can imagine, since rivers are the highways in Kalimantan -, and there are even klotoks – a houseboat type for visiting coastal National Parks.
However, the vast majority of travel will be overland. Java apparently has a somewhat comfortable and well-connected railway network, which we will almost certainly test. There are buses, too, everywhere, from the luxury touring car-type with freezing airco and blasting music in between major towns to the battered old contraptions that service smaller towns, the local people and their livestock, and everything else. Minibuses go by the name of bemo, also sometimes called opelet or mikrolet or pete-pete, and then there is also a choice of becak (bicycle rickshaws), bajaj (motorized rickshaws) and ojek (single-passenger motorbike taxis). The dokar is a horse-drawn cart, and so is the andung, the dilman and the bendi, all in some form or another part of the public transport network.
The temptation will present itself to occasionally rent a car, just to do away with the overwhelming array of types of transport and their confusing names, and the no doubt testing task of negotiating individual fares. Trading in a bit of the slow travel for speed, a bit of the local colour for efficiency. Come to think of it, 90 days isn’t all that much….
next: the pre-departure blues