Sometimes you just get caught up in the whole tourism bubble, and are left later with the thought of “why on earth did I do this”? Seems familiar?
Well, when visiting Bali, I had one of these experiences and suddenly I found myself standing with a stupid crown on my head, holding a giant bat (a BAT!!…. with giant TEETH!!). One thing is that I throughout the years have evolved and stay clear of animal entertainment as much as I can while on holiday (well respected zoos being the exception), but what ever gave me the idea of actually agreeing to holding the vampire-like creature will forever remain a mystery.
About half a life time ago, more specific in 1993, my father was given the opportunity to join a Norwegian land surveying company in a 2 year project on the island of Java, Indonesia. Since my father had been prone to prefer in-country trips with our old combi-camp to remote places in Norway with fishing opportunities, I was quite shocked about his acceptance to the offer. I was even more happy about my own sudden opportunity to expand my travel repertoire, which up until then was limited to trips to Mallorca, Bulgaria and London.
My first encounter
It was the year of the Olympics at Lillehammer in 1994; the most freezing and terrible winters of them all, and come April it was FINALLY time to pack our suitcases and head off to Indonesia for the first time. The flight, however, was a bit below par, since my father (as well as my mother and brother) was a heavy smoker and had also booked me in the smoking section because he didn’t think I would like to sit alone in the smoke free section (little did he know …) The whole night (while coughing and desperately trying to catch my breath) I cursed the bastards from the non-smoking section coming into our section to smoke!! But we made it to Bogor, and even though I had to burn my clothes (figure of speech) and take a two hour shower using two full bottles of soap (not a figure of speech), I was soon ready to explore the area.
My first impression of Indonesia was that it was a country of many contrasts. Our neighborhood was very luxurious with great villas, pool, gardeners, private drivers (some which were later convicted for cocaine abuse, but that is another story…), armed guards and the only scary elements were some stray dogs barking and trying to intimidate us. Our house was of medium size, with a kitchen, 3 bedrooms, bathroom and a separate part for the maid (which we of course needed… or maybe not). In the middle of the roof, there was a big opening for a natural watering system for the plants below (and a even more natural entry way for a horny snake trying to make out with my father’s PC cable and for the giant spider I at one time spotted in my bedroom; but again…. a different story). We also had a cosy lawn with gardening furniture. But one thing that struck me as odd was the giant brick wall in the end of our yard, with shattered glass and barbed wire at the top, obviously meant for keeping something or someone out…
Life behind the wall
My curiosity of what might be behind the wall drove me more and more crazy and after a few days I had to go outside and check. Let’ s say that what met me was a neighborhood completely different from ours. Just a few meters away from our privileged life with maid, gardener and private driver, people lived in shady houses resembling cardboard boxes and without any of the amenities a spoilt teen takes for granted. The shock was a big one, and I do believe at that moment, I shed myself off most of the materialistic whims I had become so accustomed to over the years. I also made two other observations: 1. Even though the owned nothing, and lived in a shack, they did have large TV-antennas on their roof to ensure them information. 2. Despite their living standard, everyone looked happy and they were eager to communicate with us in bad English and sign language.
My father’s house and work were in Bogor, a “small” town 1 hour’s drive from the capital Jakarta and with approx 750.000 citizens. A couple of years later, while studying Natural Geography, i learned that Bogor in fact had the world record in number of days with thunder and lightning (about 300 days a year!!). Every day typically started with a delightful sun, but at about 13-14, clouds starting to appear and a short while later all hell broke loose. I’m remembering not exactly feeling safe having a 3m in diameter satellite dish on our roof. Some days the lightning was so bad my father had to take us out in his car, since it was the only place we felt secure, and while driving we could see the lightning striking all high elements around us like cranes, tree tops etc. And, in the middle of all this, children were playing outdoors in the rain with giant umbrellas with big metal tips. Luckily they pulled through without any injuries… at least for the duration of our trip.
The two months I spent on my first trip to Indonesia were fantastic and I left fully loaded with impressions. We got to celebrate our independence day there with other expats, which by the way included a tequila race with some of my father’s younger colleagues and ended with me (for the first and last time when drinking) barfing in a bathroom with golden faucets (at least I did it in style…). We also got to participate in hash house harriers runs through the jungle (where I once were chased by a flock of stray dogs and another time encountered a poisonous snake in the middle of the path…), ending up in an on-on in the end (meaning drinking beer and fraternizing with the other runners).
We also had time for a trip to the “Paris of Java”, Bogor, several trips to Jakarta and a weekend trip to the holiday destination Pelabuhan Ratu.
My last trip with Dad
One year later, in 1995, I went alone to visit my father for a couple of months during winter (the bless of being a self-studying student…). I soon got used to life in Bogor and spent my days by the pool, at the mall or binge-watching TV while my father was at work (hey, I was 20 and this was before cell phones and internet, so of course I watched a lot of TV!). My BFF from back home sent me updates of all the national and local gossip from back home in the mail, which took about 10 days and I simply lived for these updates (since I wouldn’t want to miss out on anything..). I also had completely control of what was shown on the two English speaking TV channels and the TV magazine became a good friend. What was particularly special with the TV channels in Indonesia was that it was not allowed to show any kissing scenes. So, e.g if I was watching Beverly Hills 90201 (which I often did) and someone went in for a kiss (like they often did), the TV channels either paused the whole program and jumped to after the scene was over, or they simply replaced the scene with e.g. a still picture of a lizard. It was also commercial breaks every 3 minutes, which was very unusual (and annoying) for me, since I was not used to that from back home at that time. The TV shows were also overruled by the several daily prayers and they did not always remember to pause the program in the mean time, which was also annoying.
Towards the end of my vacation with Dad, we went back to Pelabuhan Ratu and spent some marvelous days at Samudra Beach Hotel with tennis, tanning, bathing and we also had time for a trip to a dormant sulfur smelling volcano with hot springs. Dad also helped out the locals in some of their daily chores like getting their boat on the water. Other than at the hotel, the area only had one other restaurant where they spoke English and we ended up having dinner there every day. And every day, the minute we walked in the door and they saw me with my long, blonde hair, they run to the back room and started to play Abba’s “Dancing Queen”. A major embarrassment for me, but my father found it to be hilarious. One day when we were having dinner, a fight broke out between a couple of lizards in the ceiling right above us, and it ended in one of the lizards fell down on my place, dropped his tail (a defense mechanism to confuse enemies) and ran away. It is safe to say I ended up with room service that day (which was actually my first meeting with the concept… and Cecilie like!)
After a few great days by the coast we returned back to Bogor and I left for Norway a couple of days later. Little did I know that I had seen my Dad for the last time. A few month later he went back to Pelabuhan Ratu with some colleagues, got caught in the treacherous currents right outside “our” hotel and never returned to shore alive. I still miss him all the time; long gone, but never forgotten… ❤
The years after
It took me a long time to accept that my dad was never to return and as the years passed, the need to return to Indonesia for closure grew bigger. In 1997 I went back to Indonesia, not to Bogor but to Bali and just being in the same country made me feel close to him again.
The first days in Bali I felt sad but good at the same time and I felt that I had finally gotten closure. I was then able to enjoy myself and me and my travel buddy had a marvelous holiday in Sanur and Kuta, with trips to Ubud and Tanah Lot, feeding of viscous monkeys, holding a giant bat, eating grilled corned and drinking beer at the beach and simply enjoyed the sun and heat (which have later become my numero uno things in life…).
Now, 20 years later, I am starting to plan a trip back to Bogor and Pelabuhan Ratu for a final goodbye to the best Daddy in the world…