Ah, my first few days in Indonesia, this place is like nowhere I have ever been before. I’ve travelled more than most people my age so I can say I’ve seen a good amount of the world. Coming here I had no idea what to expect, seeing as I’ve never been to Asia and I didn’t really know anyone from this part of the world growing up. I was fortunate enough to have sat next to a nice Indonesian girl on the plane who goes to school in St. Louis, so she gave me a quick rundown of what to expect and some things I should know going in. I will be honest though, although she had good intentions, she really didn’t give me a great heads up of what I was about to walk into.
When I got off the plane she was nice enough to call me a taxi. The gentleman she spoke to was a nice man named Pak Heru. The project here uses Heru for all their taxi needs around Jakarta and I see why. Watching other drivers, I saw he was a bit more conservative than most AND he makes good time. Talk about efficiency. I got to the hostel in Jakarta around 2am and passed out immediately. I woke up around 7 the next morning and called a taxi to take me to the bus station. Apparently, I had just missed the bus departure because he stopped somewhere behind the bus and forcefully got me out and starting running after the bus. Confused, I got the money out and grabbed my bags. Literally all in stride, someone got off the bus grabbed my luggage, threw it under the bus and herded me on. All while running with the bus down the street. With 5 hours of sleep in 30 hours I wasn’t too shocked by the experience more just happy to be on the bus where I could sit down and sleep for the 6-hour ride. Of course that wasn’t the case.
I step on the bus and end up stepping over people sitting on the stairs. This bus was packed to the gills like a can of sardines. I ended up standing up for 5 out of the 6 hours. This sounds like a horrible experience, but this was my first experience with real Indonesian people and they truly showed me the definition of hospitality. Of course they knew I was a foreigner just by my appearance, so a younger guy who spoke English came up to me and introduced himself. I wish I could remember his name but I was so tired there was no way I could remember that. Him and his buddy chatted me up with regular conversation, and then the parade of vendors started pouring on. It was like Skymall but better. People with all sorts of beverages came on, as well as snacks and baked goods. People selling watches, wallets, flashlights, you name it I saw it. At a few points people came on with ukuleles singing songs. All of a sudden someone handed me a water, and then it was on. I don’t know what I was eating but people were just handing me food. Funny thing is I didn’t know that Indonesian food is spicy and watching me eat spicy food is pretty entertaining. As soon as I bit into the first little piece of cake I saw a pepper hanging out in the package. All of a sudden my face turned bright red and I started chugging the water. All the Indonesians started laughing hysterically at me because of course they’re used to all the spices. After the most interesting bus ride of my life, I finally made it to Garut where I met the project manager Laura. We ate lunch since I hadn’t eaten a proper meal in like two days, got on an angkot, then an ojek and all of a sudden we were at the project house. I passed out immediately.
The next morning I was eager to get out and explore the village and the forest I was going to be working in. After sunrise I packed up my stuff and headed out on a walk up the hill. I made it into the farmland and kept walking for about 2 hours until I met a few farmers who stopped me to chat. Their English was very poor and I knew little if any Indonesian, but from what I was able to work out one of them wanted to come with me to be a guide because he knew I was going to get lost up there. This kind gentlemen’s name was Ahmad. We walked for about an hour up into some really dense, really steep overgrown farmland. Eventually I couldn’t keep up so I told my new friend we had to go back.
We headed back to where we met and when we got there they treated me to some coffee and some bananas. Those bananas were the best bananas I’ve ever had in my life, probably the freshest I have to assume. We hung out for a bit and then he pointed to his dirt bike and says “offroad?” and pointed up the mountain. What was I going to say, no? I got on the back and we headed up the little dirt paths going up. Eventually the bike got too big and the path too small for the both of us to continue up that way so we got off and continued on. I must’ve stopped 10 times in the hour we walked up the rest of the way. I’m not in bad shape, but Ahmad made me look like I’ve been completely immobile for the past 4 years. All I wanted to do was get to the top where there was no farmland because there’s proper forest up there, not agroforest, but I couldn’t even make it that far. I couldn’t help but think Ahmad was amused by me struggling up to the top because every time I asked him to stop he would start chuckling. When we got to the highest point we were going to we looked out over the valley. He showed me where all the cities and villages were. He pointed out Garut to the left, Cipaganti the the right, and Bayongbong in the middle. It’s nice to get an aerial perspective of where you are – it helps when you’re trying to navigate where you’re going. Anyway we walked back to the bike, which was almost as hard as the way up trying not to slip on the mud paths. He drove me straight back to the house where I proceeded to pass out immediately and sleep for a ridiculous amount of time.
I was really nervous before I left because I didn’t know what to expect from Indonesia. I had heard some things but you never go by what you hear because it’s all hearsay. I had a friend who had been here recently and she had a blast, so I was optimistic but nonetheless nervous. My first two days here were better than I could’ve asked for and set me up for what seems like a great volunteer term at The Little Fireface Project.
- Sam Weiss, Volunteer