“Rent a Car” and foreign exchange counters were the first things welcoming us as we walked out of the Jakarta airport in Indonesia. Ignoring the desperate calls of the car company representatives, we decided to first exchange our money. At the time (May 2011), CAD$1 would buy you around Indonesian Rs. 8,500. I exchanged about $100 and left the forex shop with a fat wallet full of rupiahs. It was hard to imagine where I’d spend 85,000 during the next two weeks in Indonesia. But I would soon learn that with water bottles priced at Rs.2,000 each, and a good meal easily costing Rs.20,000, I would spend it all plus much more. But hey it was still super cheap, so say the least.
Since we had no set plan as to how to arrive at our destination Bandung (a city 4 hours away from Jakarta), the abundance of the Rent-a-Car companies at the airport was very convenient. We moved from one counter to the next, looking at their little booklets with pictures of different cars and their rent rates. On the outside, we seemed unhappy with their prices, as bargainers often do, but in our hearts we were delighted to hear the low charges. With some negotiation in broken English and lots of hand gestures, the best quote we got was 48,000 rupiahs in total ($6) with a driver included! The deal was sealed, we all squished into the mini van of our choice, and drove off for the next four hours!
When we arrived in Bandung, I looked out the car window in amazement. “What are we going to do here for the next four days?” I thought. Bandung seemed like a very small city and if compared to the places we’d been so far, it looked more like a small town. No big intersections, no buses, and the absence of that certain “hustle and bustle” if you will. If it had anything to be deemed extraordinary, it was the number of motor bikes flooding the roads, zigzagging and roaming around with their black-helmeted drivers. Bandung was truly an Asian city – the first of its kind that we were seeing on the trip. Our itinerary for Bandung was quite empty as well with not more than a couple of activities planned out. This was in complete contrast to our trip thus far, as we had pretty much been on the go all day everyday, often dealing with dilemmas on what to see and what to skip in the interest of time. So I really didn’t know how the next four days would be spent.
It turned out that Bandung was our little resting oasis. Sleeping in everyday felt awesome and the bags under my eyes somewhat disappeared. I got my laundry washed and beautifully pressed, organized pictures, and repacked my travel bag from top to bottom. Longer than usual Skype conversations with family made me actually miss them for the first time since the trip started. The free time gave our group a lovely bonding opportunity as well; we debated on religion, marriages in different cultures, sang, danced, and Af even held a little fitness session in our room! One full day was dedicated to shopping at Western clothing outlets. That night, I remember how heavy rain forced us to hail a taxi. Once in the taxi, we ridiculously conversed with each other in a mixture of Tamil, Urdu, Gujrati, and English words so that, as per our logic, the taxi driver is less likely to deem us Westerners and rip us off. It was our craziness at its peak.
The main sightseeing trip we made was to the dormant volcano Tankaban Perahu, located about an hour away from Bandung. I remember being so fascinated in the morning thinking about how close we’d be to a source of natural disaster. The volcano is not supposed to explode because it’s dormant, but could it decide to erupt anyway? I let these crazy thoughts linger in mind to keep things exciting. It didn’t scare me. With luscious, green tea plantations spread all around the winding road, we sang until we reached the top of the volcano viewing site. It was so busy here. Entire families had made their way up here to have an enjoyable day, and it reminded me of Murree in Pakistan. It was also here that we learned that Justin Bieber was more famous than we thought.
“Where are you from?” a hyper group of kids asked us.
“Canada,” we replied.
“Ohhh, Justin Beiber!!!” They exclaimed at once, and started singing the super-hit “Baby.”
Once at the volcano, the first thing we noticed was the smell: a strong smell choked our throats. It was the ill-smell of sulfur. We peered over the fence to look into the volcano’s maw and witnessed an incredible sight. The giant pit in the ground was fuming, indicative of the heat and the molten lava somewhere deep down under. The mustard-coloured sulfur coated the pit all around. Slipping and falling, we then climbed up a steep, sulfur-coated set of rock-cum-stairs to get a better view of the magnificence of this volcano. Check out the pictures below.
Not too far from the main volcano site, hot spring water from the volcano had been used to create a small park with swimming pools. We all bought tickets and excitedly bathed in the sulfur infused water that is known to have countless health benefits. When we came out of the water, we touched our faces and convinced ourselves that our skin felt silky smooth indeed.
It would be unfair to tell you about Bandung without also talking about the amazing Hunny Hostel where we stayed. It was owned by the nicest family who were so hospitable, respectful, and helpful that they had us praising them everyday in our conversations. In fact, we called the owner “Dad.” Dad had two sons and a wife who also stayed in this homestay and helped with the small day to day tasks. Together they kept the place super clean as well. On one of the days, “Dad” even came in our room to kill a baby lizard on a special request from my very frightened friend, M. On the same street as Hunni, we came to fancy a restaurant where we went so often that the entire staff knew us soon enough. We’d greet the waiters, “Teri ma kasi,” (hello in Indonesian) and sit down there for hours. It was so nice to be able to enjoy delicious smoothies at breakfast without having to rush out to catch a certain train or bus. Lunches were spent eating the likes of Nasi Goreng (Indonesian fried rice) and dinners were made joyful by the nightly show of live Indonesian pop music at the restaurant. Good times!
After four refreshing days, we bid farewell to our hosting family at Hunni and set to leave Bandung. Our next stop was the beautiful island of Bali, which I’m so very excited to write about! Stay tuned!!