Category Archives: Indonesia

The Rich-Mike HitchHike Insight: Hitchhiking in Indonesia

Because of the abundance of minibus taxis here, hitchhiking is rare. This is not to say it’s impossible because we’d been picked up by four people before we were given our ‘golden ticket’ in Situbondo.

The natural generosity and kindness of the Indonesian people will eventually get you a ride if you wait long enough. We were very lucky here. If Michael hadn’t had the inspired idea to go to the police I think it would have been very unlikely that we would’ve made it to Jakarta on time.

Indonesia Hitchhiking Rating: af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15(5/10)

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Day 7: The Demon Masseuse – Jakarta

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On our second night in Jakarta, we were sat in a bar, sinking suds, watching the football.

I returned to our table with a fresh couple of beers.

“Hey Mike, do I look especially wretched, desperate and lonely tonight?”

“No more so than usual. Why?”

“Well, a fifth different prostitute has just offered me her services”

“Oh right. Maybe Jalan Jaksa is a seedy part of Jakarta? What did you say to her?”

“I politely told her that I am not yet wretched, desperate and lonely enough, and that she should either ask me in ten beers time or just come and ask you now”

Just as Michael was about to reply, a couple of pretty looking girls came over to our table. Except for the fact that one of them looked Indonesian and one looked Chinese, they both shared similar features: a bright smile, dimpled at the cheeks; long shiny black hair and a potent pair of dark chocolate eyes.

I lifted my eyebrow in Michael’s direction, as if to say:

“Careful, Michael, they could be ladies of the night”.

Michael furrowed his brow slightly and twitched his cheek, as if to say:

“I know, play it cool Rich. Let’s see what happens”. (We later discovered that the bar we were in was next door to a brothel)

“Hello, my name is Isabelle,” said the Indonesian looking one, the more confident of the two. “Is it ok if we sit down with you?”

“Yeah sure”

“My name is Christine”, said the one with Chinese features, as she sat down. Conversation started flowing and the girls told us they both worked in marketing. Oh yeah, I thought, here we go, what are they going to try and sell us. But they didn’t. They were just genuinely interested in coming over to talk to us. I kicked myself under the table for being so presumptuous. I kicked Michael, as well, just in case he had been too.

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For the next couple of days Christine took us under her wing and did a great job showing us Jakarta. Highlights included a trip to the zoo, trudging knee deep through putrid fish guts at the fish market and an excursion to the Cibodas Mountains, a welcome respite from the congested, urban sprawl of the city. We also experienced the uglier side of the Indonesian law enforcement’s character.

One night we were in a taxi with Christine when a police car, attracted by the silhouette of Michael’s western hairstyle, pulled us over. He demanded our passports and then, through Christine, commanded we go with him to the station.

For some reason, the officer’s attention was on me. I had apparently committed a misdemeanour and Christine pleaded with him for perhaps 15 minutes.

Eventually she paid him a sum of money, the value of which she never divulged. It was a constant struggle with Christine in regards to money. If she had had her way, we wouldn’t have ever paid for anything. At times, we literally had force money into her hands to maintain some kind of balance.

Without the bribe, she told us, I would have spent a night in the cells. This altercation was minor, however, and it paled into insignificance when compared to the next ordeal.

We decided we deserved a massage to relax are battered, travel weary limbs. We walking into a plush hotel-like reception, lit with red low level lighting around the side of the black room.

I was guided into the small massage room and I sat on the table eagerly awaiting my masseuse, when a little smiling woman, about 60 years old, tottered in.

I didn’t notice it at the time, but now I think about it I’m pretty sure she had sharp teeth, a fork tongue and the red fires of Satan in her eyes.

She started things off with some light pinching of my legs. This is weird, I thought. Little did I know she was about to unleash the full extent of her repertoire of playground bullying techniques.

After she’d tenderised me slightly with her girly, kiss-chase style, pinching, she started pummelling me with a series of brutal dead legs, right on the sweet spot. I bit my lip and braced myself as she pottered around to work on my arms where, with an iron grip, she literally started administering Chinese burns, the savagery of which would have made Genghis Khan wince, had he been there to witness them.

“You sleepy mister?” she mocked, before nearly lifting me off the table with a couple of nipple cripples. When she went to do my shoulders I half expected her to get me in a head lock and give me a noogie.

The she-demon did not offer me a famous “happy ending,” but if she did, I can only assume that it would have involved her standing over me, on all fours, before kneeing me square in each testicle with all her might. She then would have stood by the door with her hand out, expecting a tip; or, more likely, she would have demanded my lunch money and then given me a wedgie as I limped out of the door.

Somehow, despite this cruel and, yes, sometimes unusual torture inflicted upon me, I did not give her the satisfaction of seeing me cry. I did, however, have some residue sun-cream in my eye, so if that devil-woman starts gallivanting around town boasting about how she made one of the bulés cry, she’s a dam liar.

Of course, Michael loved his massage. In fact, his was such a bonding experience that I’m pretty sure I heard him offer his (male) masseuse a “happy ending” (this may not be true).

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Day 4-5: Suwarno – To Jakarta

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We waited at the lights until they turned red and then stepped out into the traffic asking each car in turn if we could join them.

“Turpan,” we’d mouth, pointing at our sign.

It wasn’t long before our actions roused the curiosity of some local children, who, once they understood our intentions, geared up to try to help. We had no idea what was about to happen as we waited for the lights to turn. The kids looked like relay sprinters about to receive the baton.

The light turned red and, well, it must have looked like some kind of riot. We looked on, jaws open, as the 8 or 9 kids ran through the traffic, knocking on car windows pointing at us, squawking, “TUBAN! TUBAN! TUBAN!” like hysterical banshees.

Considering the attention Michael and I get when we’re just being normal, the scene we were now apparently instigating, like a pair of moronic Fagins, predictably led to police intervention.

We heard a whistle from across the road and a policeman waved us over into a small police office, which happened to be nearby, and our passports were politely demanded. Not this time, I thought, as I contemplated the tedious game of charades that was about to ensue, and I handed them the letter from the Situbondo police.

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Not more than five minutes later, after they’d bought us some bottles of water, they set up a road block and practically forced any passing trucks, on their way to Tuban, to let us join them. We jumped in the back of a truck collared by the police.

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It was exactly the same kind of vehicle as the one we were in the day before, an empty wagon, except this one was dirtier and more exposed to the sun. The drivers, however, were less amenable and they stopped about half an hour later at a bus station and demanded we give them some money. After an argument regarding the extortionate amount they’d asked for, we eventually paid them a sum we felt was fair, and the driver marched into a police station, presumably to report us, and we were ushered inside by an officer.

We knew our routine by now though, and when the police asked us if we needed a bus, we just handed them our ‘golden ticket’ and, after a few obligatory refreshments, the third police force in two days set up a road block for us.

The fact that we were at a bus station, with most of the buses heading to Tuban, didn’t deter them in the slightest. Our eventual ride was with a small man in a round pair of glasses.

He initially seemed reluctant to have us in his cab but, as we later discovered, the Indonesian’s are rather fearful of the police and so he must have felt obliged to cooperate. We sat in the cab next to him and introduced ourselves.

“Suwarnooo” he boomed with a voice that contradicted his unimposing appearance. He was one of those people who look thin but have actually got a bit of a belly. Despite the fact that he spoke very little English, we still managed to have a non-stop conversation with him for the first three hours of the journey.

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He didn’t shout, but his voice always seemed to be raised. He spoke in a slow, methodical manner, always rolling his ‘Rs’ to an exaggerated extent. He like to repeat words and sentences a lot, despite the fact that we rarely understood them.

“Baaaliii!” he rumbled, when we asked him where he had driven from and we both cracked up with laughter as he performed a little dance whist fluttering his eyelashes, as he was driving, in imitation of Balinese Hinduism. He had driven his huge lorry full of motorbikes from Jakarta to Bali. As this was his return journey, his trailer was empty.

Suwarno was always pulling over his lorry to buy us things to ease our journey: water, tofu, fresh fruit juice and several meals. He refused to let us pay for anything and forcibly made sure everything was on him. At one point he pulled over to buy us some fruit juice neither of us had ever seen before.

I sniffed it tentatively. It was pale yellow in colour and had a curious, unenticing smell. Michael insisted it tasted a bit like sweet mouthwash whereas I thought it had a slightly nutty flavour. Whatever it was, we decided to finish it, not just in gratitude, but for the vitamins as well. (We later found out the juice was made from durian).

The traffic on the road between Surabaya and Jakarta was always busy. At times it felt like we cruising down a river teaming with life: the foliage that bordered the road had a tropical, almost aquatic feel. Suwarno’s lorry was constantly flanked by a gang of scooters, like pilot fish around a shark. Though the scooters seemed to be darting around the huge lorries and each other with a natural ease, the numerous accidents we saw on our journey suggested the dangers the road users were exposing themselves to.

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In Suwarno’s lorry though, the biggest beast on the road, we felt invincible; we felt safe. We drove past many flooded rice farms, as is the method of irrigation in this part of the world, and we contemplated how much rice must have to be produced to feed Java, the world’s most populated island.

Whenever we passed another lorry from the same company, Suwarno would inevitably stick his head out the window and yell “Touristas!!” in reference to Michael and me, much to the delight of the passing driver.

“Brrrro-ther!” he said, as he pointed at a lorry passing us on the other side of the road. “Indonesia brrrro-ther! No Warrrrr.”

Suwarno always seemed keen to make us understand that, in Indonesia, Muslims are a peaceful people. He pointed to himself and with wide, intense eyes said, “Su-warrrrr-no”. He then pointed outside, “Warrrr-no! Indonesia: no warrrr! Su-warrrr-no! No Warrrr. Su -Warrrr-noooooo!”

He loved the irony that his name contained the words “no” and “war”, and that this mirrors Indonesia’s peaceful culture.

I tentatively tried to bring up the subject of the 1965 uprising and the massacres that followed, but Suwarno didn’t seem willing to acknowledge the event. The mere mention of the topic made him nervous and so I didn’t persist.

After a lot of gesturing and misunderstanding we made it known to him that our preferred destination was in fact Jakarta, 800 km away, not Tuban, which was only 100 km. To our delight, Suwarno agreed to take us all the way and our course was set. We’d get to Jakata a few days early and, even better, we’d get to sleep on the back of his lorry as it drove through the night. It felt slightly strange to feel so ecstatic about the prospect of spending 20 hours straight in a lorry.

On the route we passed The Sangiran Early Man Site, on the World Heritage List, in central Java. It is estimated to have been inhabited one and a half million years ago and half of the world´s hominid fossils have been unearthed at this very spot. If Africa is known as “The Cradle of Civilization”, then surely this place could make a fair claim to be its nursery. We longed to take a few days out of our journey to check out such a historical site but, of course, we could not. We merely added another place to our bucket list of things to see the next time we would be passing through.

When it got to about 11pm, we left the comfort of Suwarno’s cab and got into the trailer with a couple of mango dealers who’d paid Suwarno to deliver them and their cargo.

Suwarno tapped the pocket of my shorts containing my wallet, then the pocket containing my phone, before pointing at his eyes. I nodded.

The noise and motion of our sleeping quarters was incredible. The clunking and screeching of the metal frame, the constant beeping of horns, the roar of the mighty engine as the lorry lurched forwards or backwards, if it slammed on the brakes, which it often did, to avoid the swarms of scooters darting in and out of the traffic.

This combined with the glare of the passing street lamps, flashing past us like paparazzi cameras, and the loose mangos flying about, like ping-pong balls on a bouncy castle, made the prospect of sleep unlikely.

What kind of demented maniac could sleep in these conditions, I thought to myself, just as Michael started snoring next to me.

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Day 3: The Golden Ticket – Situbondo Police Station

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We walked to the police station, took a deep breath and walked inside. We had no idea what we were hoping to achieve. I guess we were just bored of being cooked in the sun.

“Do you speak English?” I asked one of the officers.

“No,” was the expressionless response. He guided us into another office using the peculiar South-East Asia hand gesture that means ‘go away’ in the western world: a kind of, dismissive flap of the hand that, conversely, means ‘come here’ in parts of Asia.

Once we worked out he was beckoning us to go with him and not telling us to bog off, we followed him into another room and sat down in front of another officer.

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We tried to explain to the man what we were trying to do but, inevitably, he didn’t understand. Why would he? He asked for our passports and seemed to think, like we presumed he might, we’d come to the station because we’d run out of money.

“No, no, no,” I said, “We have money”. And then, for the first time, and certainly not the last, we performed what became ‘The Routine’.

“We travel,” I said, pointing at Michael and myself, “from Bali” “Bali!” he repeated in excitement at recognising a word.

“To England”

“Ahhhh England,” he said, nodding, as if I’d said something wise. “England home. No bus, no plane, no train, no taxi” He seemed to understand and took us upstairs to another office where he asked if he could have his photograph taken with us. We then sat down and were brought a couple of room temperature colas, which, for the record, I despise with a passion, but I managed to gulp it down nonetheless because I’m a hero.

Another man came in and we had to perform our routine again. When the officers asked why we were doing this, we pointed to a word that Saroo had written in my diary, ‘PETUALANGAM,’ which means ‘adventure’.

“Aaahhhh…” they would say, smiling, “bus station?”

“No! No bus. No plane. No train. No taxi,” we would repeat, drawing pictures of each, with a line through them. Using a combination of bad drawing, bad acting and broken English, we described to each officer our mission, in turn. After much effort, an understanding would be reached; the officer would then have a photo taken with us and would leave the room, to be replaced by another, apparently more senior, officer, and we would repeat the process.

This must have happened six or seven times over a period of several hours before we met Ibnu, a young police officer. Ibnu was short and a bit chubby, with happy eyes and a friendly face, a bit like Kenan, from Kenan and Kel. Due to his superior English, we eventually made Ibnu understand our intentions and he translated for the others. The police chief thought for a few moments and said something in Indonesian to Ibnu.

Ibnu turned to us and asked, “So… why have you come to the police station?” It was a bit of a soul crushing question. We had hoped that once they understood what we wanted to achieve, they would magically be able to solve our problems.

I think we’d just hoped they’d be able to come up with a suggestion to help us. The realisation suddenly dawned on me that, instead of wasting all this energy entertaining the Situbondo police force all day, we could have used this time trying to hitchhike.

“We want you to help us,” I said to Ibnu. Ibnu translated to the chief and they both left the room. After five minutes, Ibnu returned.

“Ok, we will help you,” he said, “We will give you a police letter, in Indonesian, for people to know your adventure and we will get a truck for you. Follow me”

“Huh?” I said, retching down the last of my coke (because I’m a hero).

“They’re going to set up a road block for us!” said Michael, laughing, as we bounded down the stairs after the officers. We were led outside and they drove us to a tiny police shack on the same road as the petrol station.

They wrote a letter in Indonesian that had our names, addresses, occupations and a brief summary of our intentions. They then set up a road block and asked every passing truck or lorry, firstly, their destination, and, secondly, if we could join them.

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It wasn’t very long before two nervous looking lads, no older then teenagers, were brought into the station. The police took their details and instructed them to let us ride in the back of their empty cattle truck. We were ecstatic. It was a risky play, going to the police, and it seemed especially so when they requested to see our passports and started processing our details. Because of the language barrier we were never quite sure if they were arresting us, interrogating us, or just curious and eager to help.

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We soon realised that when it comes to Indonesians, it is, more often than not, the latter. As a couple of westerners in the back of an open top paddy wagon, usually reserved for cows on their way to be slaughtered, we got a lot of attention as we passed through the endless stream of villages.

If anyone saw us, and many did, it was pretty much guaranteed that they would either wave, shout “Hello mister!” or even, as a group of girls did, dance around in their headscarves blowing us kisses. With all this attention we were receiving, it was easy to forget our humble transport.

After a couple of hours I think it’s fair to say the “fame” had gone to our heads. We seemed to have taken on the demeanour of medieval kings cavorting around on a white stallion through the streets of Camelot, chests puffed out, eyebrows raised, bestowing royal waves and knightly nods to the locals.

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That moment, stood in the back of an open-top truck, admiring the Madura Straight, a body of water that separates Java from the Madura Island, with the wind cooling our hair and the afternoon sun on our shoulders, was definitely the high point of our journey thus far.

“I can’t believe we’re really doing it!” we kept saying to each other against the wind, all smiles. Sure, it’s possible that we were merely feeling an intense sugar rush because our blood had been turned to syrup by the equivalent of coke-a-cola water-boarding treatment at the police station. But I don’t think so.

I think we were jacked up on a pure unadulterated travel high. The moment was euphoric. The feeling was addictive. We wanted more.

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Day 2: The Defacement of Fatty’s House – Situbondo, Indonesia

As time whittled away, and the evening turned into night, Fatty arose from his chair. He went inside and brought out a thick black permanent marker pen. He placed it in Michael’s hand and solemnly gestured to the outside wall of his house next to his front door.

“He wants me to write on his wall?!” Michael said, confused

“I guess so,” I shrugged.

Michael placed the pen near the wall, and looked back over his shoulder to check with Fatty for reassurance that this was in fact what he wanted. Fatty nodded his encouragement.

“A message,” said Saroo, Fatty’s 13 year old son. “To remember”

I could see that Michael’s mind was racing; his eyes were like the dials of a slot machine as his imagination searched in vain for the appropriate course of action. Knowing that he’s useless at thinking of things to write in a birthday card, never mind a commemorative message on the side of someone’s house that will last forever, I held my breath.

He proceeded to draw what can only be described as a crude self-portrait, with his name scribbled, in his unsightly chicken scratch handwriting, underneath.

“This is my hair,” he announced, proudly, as he drew it on, with his tongue poking out of his mouth in concentration.

If someone had walked to the front door at that very moment they would probably have assumed that Michael had farted into his hand then held it over Fatty’s mouth, such was the expression on Fatty´s face.

I was trembling and snorting with repressed laughter, biting my lip with the full force of my jaw to stop myself from blurting out.

I knew as I watched him dot the ‘i’ of his name, with an artistic swish of his hand as if he were a gourmet chef putting the finishing pinch of salt on his signature dish, that this would be a classic memory of our friendship.

Michael looked back over his shoulder to Fatty for some approval for his creation but, of course, nothing came.

Saroo backed away into the house as if a firework had just been lit. The crickets chirped. I still hadn’t breathed.

Michael cleared his throat and sat back down. Fatty went back into the house and closed the sliding door behind him.

“Tough crowd,” Michael signed, wiping some sweat from his brow. And that was it. We both exploded into helpless laughter, as silent as we could manage. Just when we had regained composure, one of us would glance at his ridiculous picture and we’d be off again, gasping and hooting into our cushions unable to breathe.

Thankfully, it was some minutes before Fatty returned, and, to be fair, if he was angry or even disappointed with Michael’s defacement of his house, he didn’t show it. He gestured for us to follow him back to his car and this time we both jumped into the back.

“Where next?” we asked each other.

“How many more relatives are there to see?!”

We were somewhat surprised when we got out of the patrol car outside his government office. He motioned us into a tiny room, with a couple of prayer mats on the floor, and he said,

“Now you sleep, sleep for free”

The room was a place for the Muslim officials to pray at the various times throughout the day, as is the Islamic custom. Fatty opened the door and like a couple of ignorant idiots we stepped inside without removing our shoes.

Fatty ushered us back outside and politely gestured for us to respect the traditions of his faith. We were delighted to get a free night’s stay, especially somewhere as random as a prayer room.

This is what we’d come for, this was one of the main purposes of our journey. We wanted to collect interesting travel tales that we’d remember forever: random days, with random people, followed by random nights, in random places.

The unpredictability of hitchhiking, for now at least, was proving to be a real rush.

We went to sleep happy men in our prayer room that night.

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Day 2: Fatty and one for the shudder bank – Situbondo, Indonesia

Anyone that could speak some English told us that people do not hitchhike in Indonesia. Everyone uses the taxi busses because they are so cheap and plentiful.

Eventually, though, someone did stop. I was on my way to the toilet when Mike called me back. In retrospect, I realise it would have saved me a lot of grief if I’d have just gone to the toilet when I had the chance, but we’d been waiting for a while and there was no way I could risk missing the ride.

A rather serious looking man, in a beige uniform, driving a patrol car, had pulled up next to us. He peered out of his open window through a pair of small dark sunglasses.

“Surabaya?” we asked, pointing at our sign. He thought about it, nodded and I hopped into the cab, at the front, and Michael the back. His name was something along the lines of Fatarama, but we referred to him as ‘Fatty,’ because we’re not clever enough to remember names that we haven’t heard of before.

He had a classic government-official-type moustache and whenever he struggled to find the right English word, which was often, he closed his eyes and seemed to meditate for a few seconds, wobbling his head, even while he was driving.

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Fatty told us, with the little English he had, after a few bouts of meditation, he’d take us to Surabaya. He stopped at a shop to get some water and Michael and I changed places. It was when I jumped in the back that I realised that my bladder was screaming at me.

You can hold it, Rich, I assured myself; but after a few more bumps down the road I really started to struggle. I think what made it especially bad was that I didn’t know how long it would take us to get to Surabaya. I knocked on the cab to get Fatty’s attention. No reply. I knocked again. Nothing. I looked at my half empty bottle of water. I had to do it, I had to go.

In a risky move, I downed the remainder of my water. I looked out from the open paddy wagon. The streets were busy and everyone seemed interested in me. I felt another surge of pain in my bladder, but still I tried to hold it. I knocked again on the cab, a little bit more frantically this time. No reply. We turned down a slightly quieter street. “This is my chance”, I announced to myself, with a steely determination that surprised me. I unscrewed the lid and arranged the bottle. Nothing happened.

I closed my eyes to relax, trying to ignore the pedestrians milling about, going about their errands around me. I thought of running water, I thought of waterfalls. As my eyes were closed, I felt the car come to a stop and, success! The sound of liquid hitting plastic was met with the sheer relief that anyone who’s really, really, really had to go can relate to.

I heard the doors of the cab open and shut and I snapped open my eyes. We had pulled up outside a grand looking house with elegant white pillars set against smooth, pale pink walls as if the place had come straight out of The Great Gatsby.

Before I had time to react, I realised that Fatty must have phoned ahead because a family had rushed out of the house with beaming smiles and were seconds away from greeting me. Mike and Fatty circled around from the cab to the back, where I was still sitting. Panic stricken, I moved the bottle away from my crotch and tried to covertly tuck everything back into my shorts without looking like I was molesting myself.

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Of course, I dropped the bottle and spilled the contents over the floor and myself. For the record, having my clothes freshly damp with urine, with my penis hanging pathetically out of my shorts, is not my favoured method of introducing myself to a new group of people. But this was what happened.

Once inside, I retreated into the bathroom with my tail as much between my legs as I could manage. I stood in front of a pristine mirror and gave myself a hard look. I sighed as I remembered the mother’s face when she pretended not to notice that my hand was wet when she shook it. I shuddered at the image of Fatty, having picked up the bottle from the floor of his wagon, had to empty the last few drops of what was clearly urine onto the grass.

I closed my eyes and repressed the memory deep into my vast bank of embarrassing episodes. I then shook my head and tried to get on with my life.

Day 1: Ketuk and the sex slaves – Pekutatan, Bali, Indonesia

After about 10 km more, the bouncy pace of the first enthusiasm imbued 11 half of the day had been replaced with a weary shuffle.

A slow moving truck, the first vehicle I’ve seen to drive with a limp, creaked to a standstill ahead of us. The exhaust pipe spluttered and hacked black smoke and a dark vicous liquid. As he’d pulled over, the huge tailback of traffic overtook him and we weren’t sure at first if he’d pulled over for us or to let the multitude of cars pass.

The driver’s receding hairline belied his youthful face. His name was Ketuk and he spoke a bit of English. Thankfully, he was headed a lot further than we first requested, all the way to Petkutatan, 64 km away.

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“So what´s in the back of your truck?” asked Michael, trying to make some conversation. Ketuk´s countenance seemed to change: his cheerful disposition darkened and his lack of response hung heavily in the air. Thinking that perhaps he hadn’t been heard or understood, Michael asked his question again but the driver´s grizzly gaze remained on the road ahead. We left the subject alone for the time being, but whenever the conversation returned to the contents of his truck, or indeed the purpose of his journey, Ketuk’s grasp of English seemed to mysteriously dissipate.

“Guns or drugs“, I whispered to Michael from the corner of my mouth.

“Sex slaves,” he replied, looking happy at the idea. He even showed me he had his fingers crossed.

I nudged him with my elbow. “What the hell would a sex slave dealer want with a couple of random hitchhikers who are 20´000 km away from home?” I hissed.

“Maybe he needs some guys to test out the sex slaves?” said Michael.

“Maybe we are the sex slaves” I countered.

Michael cleared throat and directed my attention away from him with his eyes. I straightened my posture away from my friend and realised that Ketuk´s eyes were fixed firmly upon us with the kind of look a disgruntled father would give to his misbehaving children.

When we were half way to Pekutatan, once darkness had fallen, we stopped off for a drink at a cafe on the side of the road. It had an open shop front with an array of colourful foods and drinks on offer.

We met a young lad of about 17 or 18 that looked a bit like a teenage Gary Coleman, mainly on account of his huge smile. He could speak some English, so we were able to have a reasonably good conversation with him.

“Could you translate something for us to Ketuk?” I asked him

“No problem,” he replied.

“Could you say ‘thank you for your generosity, you are very kind. What is in the back of your truck?’”

Gary asked Ketuk what we wanted but instead of giving us the answer, the two Balinese had an animated five minute conversation in Indonesian. Their elaborate, inexplicable hand gestures incited a burning sense of apprehensive curiosity within me, but just when I was going to ask him again, the food that Gary had ordered before we arrived, an interesting rice dish with fried vegetables, was served.

“Come!” said Gary, offering his plate with twinkling eyes, “Sit with me. Eat with me”

We thanked Gary for his generosity, something we would get used to doing time and time again with Indonesians, but we declined his offer and went on our way to meet whatever fate Ketuk had in store for us. We continued on our journey in silence.

With the seeds of trepidation sown in our suspicious minds, they started to germinate when Ketuk’s rickety truck turned down a dark, deserted side-road. There were no street lamps anymore. The only light we could see were those from our old truck. They flickered in vain out into the darkness and we strained our eyes in an attempt to make out what was outside.

Shielding my reflection with my hand on the dusty window, I peered out into the black jungle that bordered the road. All my weary eyes could see were sinister looking trees and bushes blustering restlessly in the hot evening wind. It had been a long day and my eyes felt hungry for sleep.

I sighed as we pulled up outside a house to see a gang of men were sitting around a flickering fire drinking beer and laughing with each other. Four or five motorcycles were scattered nonchalantly in the driveway. I shared a quick look with Michael and we hopped out of the truck. The men saw us and approached our vehicle.

Happily though, the only thing they were eager for was to greet us and our paranoia was instantly evaporated by their smiles. We shook the hand of every man there, sometimes two at a time, whilst offers of cigarettes and beer were shot from every direction.

It wasn’t long before we were motioned onto the back of a scooter, the three of us, plus luggage.

“It’s a good job we packed so light”, Michael smiled.

We wobbled along on the struggling scooter, back up the deserted road and into Pekutatan, a small town right on the beach. Ketuk took us to a tiny guest house owned by a little old laughing woman. She had a rag tied around her head like a rapper and when she smiled, which was always, the creases of her face closed her eyes.

Our humid room had two single beds and a curtain separating them from a room with a cold tap in it. We sat down on our creaking beds and a thing, an insect I guess, it looked like a cockroach except far bigger, scampered out from under my bed and outside into the muggy night.

It begins, we thought, as we dabbed our filthy, sunburnt faces. The adventure begins.

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Day 1: Mambo – Ubung, Bali, Indonesia

Two hours later we were still walking down the same road.

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Our flipflopped feet were black from the pollution, dust, dirt and grime. I could taste the city on my arid lips. As another fleet of motorbikes zipped past us, like bullets in a warzone, I took another breath of hot, smoky air and looked over at Michael. He was holding our sign behind him, as he plodded along, in the hope that a driver would feel some pity for a couple of reddened travellers, coughing on the exhaust fumes.

“That’s not going to work”, I said.

“Why not?”

“Just trust me. Who’s the brains of this operation?”

“You are”

“Right.”

Just then a car pulled over. “Rich! This could be it!” Michael gasped, nudged me.

“See, I told you it would work,” I said to him as we scampered up to the car. Michael stuck his head into the passenger window as I hummed our hitchhiking song behind him. “Hello!” he cried. “Hey, you wanna a ride to Ubung,” said a cool looking bloke, with tattooed arms, a big smile and a slightly Americanized accent. He had a Hindu Swastika hanging from his rear-view mirror, which, at first glance, could have been confused with the more modern equivalent.

“So, what’s your name?” asked Michael, sitting in the front.

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“My name’s Mambo,” he replied, still smiling. Maybe the heat was getting to me, because I started chuckling and came out with “Ah like Lou Bega! Do you know ‘Mambo Number 5’?”

Lou Bega?! I thought with a cringe, why the hell did I just reference Lou bloody Bega?! I saw Michael grimace at me in the mirror. I punched myself in the arm in repentance.

Thankfully, I don’t think Mambo heard me, or perhaps he just chose to ignore my remark. Michael cleared his throat to break the awkward few seconds of silence.

“You speak fantastic English,” he said. “Have you been to England or America maybe?”

“Thank you very much. I haven’t been to England or America but I’d like to. I learned my English working on cruise ships”

“Oh really? I applied for work on the cruise ships when I was in New Zealand but I didn’t get the job. Must have been the hair!”

Michael said, grasping a clump of his mangy locks. “You look like John McEnroe!” replied Mambo, laughing with Michael.

“You cannot be serious!” I said in my best American accent, as I leaned forward, but the car fell deathly silent once more.

I sat back again, folded my arms and looked out the window for a bit.

After explaining to Mambo what we were attempting to do, and that he was our first ride, he replied, “You will find it difficult to hitchhike here. The police fine locals who pick up foreigners”

“What is Indonesian for ‘hitchhike’?”

“Urrm, we don’t have a word for it here that I know of”

Although our optimism was slightly dented by Mambo’s ominous warning, we both felt great to have been picked up and driven the 7 km to Ubung. It wasn’t much but it was a start.

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Day 1: The first step – Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia

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Michael asked a bemused shopkeeper for some cardboard so we could fashion a sign and thus a new routine we were to repeat on countless occasions was forged.

In order to form a successful partnership when two people travel together, I think they usually fall into their roles due to their natural abilities, their key skills, what they are good at.

Michael’s job, on account of his affable charisma, was to ask shopkeepers for cardboard whereas my job was to write out the sign because I could remember to put the marker pen back in my bag.

I scrawled “GILIMANUK”, a town on the west coast of Bali, about 130 km away, in big, thick, black letters.

I don’t know why, but as we approached the busy road with our sign, knowing for well that few of the locals would have seen anything like this before, I felt an unexpected prang of self-consciousness. Everything we´d read and researched about hitchhiking in Indonesia had suggested that it just didn’t happen here. This was it. We had meticulously planned this adventure for the last few months. We’d published our intentions to everyone we knew on Facebook; if we failed at the first hurdle, on the first day, we’d surely return home as the same losers as when we had left.

If Michael also felt a bit ill-at-ease, he certainly didn’t show it. He stood up on the elevated platform, between the petrol station and the road and, whereas I must have looked as assured as a librarian trying to earn a bit a cash on her first night dancing in a strip club, Michael held the sign high above his head with the brazen pride of a ring girl in between rounds at a boxing match.

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I took a step back from the platform in admiration and thanked my stars that he was with me.

Day 1: Land of Dragons – Bali, Indonesia

Is there a place on the entire Earth that can rival Indonesia as the most perfect place to begin an adventure?

Over half of the surface area of the 17´000 islands, haphazardly scattered across the equator between Australia and the Indochinese Peninsula, is covered with impenetrable jungle. With 400 active volcanoes and an average of three daily earthquakes, it´s as if Mother Nature herself has set up an obstacle course in the Indian Ocean, daring Australians to get to Asia.

Since the year 2000, Indonesia had endured 45 incidents of major seismic activity averaging 7.2 on the Richter scale. In fact, as soon as we set foot in Denpasar airport, Bail, we were but a few hundred kilometres from the great Mount Tambora, responsible for the biggest eruption in recorded history: an 1815 catastrophe that was heard in Perth 6´000 km away, caused a 2-day sunlight blackout as far as 600 km away and even changed global temperatures for the following year.

As if the natural disasters weren´t enough to contend with, it could also be said that the local population have to some extent absorbed some of the personality traits of the tumultuous isles they live upon. Indonesia, the 4th most populated country in the world, is crammed with 500 ethnicities speaking 700 languages living among the second richest biodiversity on the entire planet (after the Amazon).

Whilst “United in Diversity” is the national moto, it hasn’t always been so rigorously followed. For example, what the CIA has called “one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century” was 4 perpetrated here during the 60s when as many as 500,000 people were massacred in the wake of a political uprising.

More recently, in the decade since the turn of the 21st century, Indonesia was subjected to 24 separate terrorist attacks, the worst of which being the 2002 Bali Bombings whose death toll reached 202 people.

On the day we departed Kalgoorlie, the Australian government’s tourist advice website, www.smarttraveler.gov.au, recommended travellers to “reconsider the need to travel” to Indonesia and gave the country the second highest possible danger rating, just below “DO NOT TRAVEL”.

If you´re looking for adventure, intrigue, culture, diversity or danger then look no further than the one country where the great explorer Marco Polo, so often charged with exaggerating his tales, didn’t have to do so.

There are literally dragons that live here.