Monday, July 25, 2016

Indonesia: Baluran National Park


I actually rather want to finish these Indonesia posts so I can get into some traveling I've done in Taiwan recently (two trips to Tainan, one to Kaohsiung and one to Yunlin) as well as put up a few photos from our weekend in Hong Kong, so here's the last one!

After hiring a driver to take us to the airport in Solo, we flew to Banyuwangi, which is not exactly the most hopping town, but the only way to get from Solo to Baluran is to do it this way (other options include train with transfer in Surabaya, or a very slow train service that takes a more direct route but is so exceedingly slow that it will take you a good day and a half to get there with a transfer in some no-name town about halfway. There is no bus that I know of). We wanted to get away from the usual "temple, temple, temple, shopping" tempo of the rest of our trip and thought a stop in a little-visited national park, especially one known for having a beach overrun with monkeys, would be just about right.

When we got to Banyuwangi's Blimbingsari airport, we realized two unfortunate things: first, that there is no public transit from the airport to anywhere; and second, that the airport is 9km south of town while the bus station with buses heading to the park is several km north of town. There was literally no other choice but to take a taxi, as expensive as that was (and it was - it came to over IDR400,000 which is quite a bit for Indonesia, though not that expensive by other standards).

So we took a taxi to the bus station, bus (which tried to cheat us) to the national park entrance, and scooters from the entrance 12km to the coast, past some gorgeous scenery. We started at 7am and got to the beach just after sunset.

We didn't do much at the beach - the weather was grim so we didn't even really swim (we did go wading). I have a thing about not liking to swim on very overcast days unless I'm indoors. We rented the wooden bungalow farther from the hotel and canteen and immediately wished we'd rented one of the concrete cabins just because the very first thing that happened was a mouse scurrying about. We saw two mice in total and scared them off, and got the park rangers to seal off the mouseholes and spray something to repel them...we didn't see them again but also didn't sleep particularly well. This was also the only accommodation we had with a mandi (local-style bathroom), but we knew that going in so it wasn't a big deal. I prefer Western bathrooms when I can get them but I'm not averse to using something like a mandi.

Oh yes, and the canteen was closed the day we were there, so the rangers were nice enough to pick us up some food when they went to the other cabins further inland with the mountain view (where there is a general store and small restaurant more likely to be open). So we got gado-gado with rice for breakfast and ramen and local potato-chip-like snacks for the rest of the day. We'd also brought some cookies, coffee and tea. It was not fun at all keeping the food where we didn't think mice would come after it.

Also, we couldn't eat outside even though we had a lovely little patio overlooking the beach, because the place really was overrun with monkeys (and you do not want a troupe of monkeys to see you eat). They were literally more of a herd, a force of nature, than a group. Locals who day-tripped to the beach and weren't prepared found motorcycle helmets stolen, bags grabbed, unzipped and rifled through, snacks seized and gobbled down. They would try to come on our porch when we were reading and we'd have to wave a broom around and talk to them sternly the way we'd talk to our cats. Once, one of them figured out we were eating inside and got up on the porch, perched himself in the window and watched us eat, his little macaque face pressed against the glass as we slurped instant noodles.

This is not to say we didn't like our very rustic stay. I loved hanging out on the porch reading books as the weather changed above us, walking to the mangrove estuary, walking in the other direction to a string of more secluded beaches where we found interesting seashells (which we did not keep) and played in the water, or just sat on the beach and talked, watching the monkeys play.

The next morning we got up, had a leisurely meal of nasi goreng and coffee, arranged scooter rides back to the main road and caught the bus to Surabaya. We had to change buses once to one that was decidedly worse, and we got caught in traffic and had to navigate the dodgiest bus terminal in perhaps the entire country, but on the bright side, I had a nice long friendly chat with a local guy who could speak English and had a refreshingly feminist worldview (and knew a lot about Taiwan as his job was gathering edible seaweed, and he sold it to a Taiwanese guy).

Unlike life in Taiwan, or my study abroad in India, or to some extent life in China, when you take these short excursions, you don't get the same chances to interact with locals and understand, a little more deeply (if not terribly deeply) the lives, experiences and perspectives of people with experiences very different from your own. So, when the chance does present itself I'm always pleasantly surprised.

Anyway, we landed up in Surabaya later than we'd have liked, had dinner at a fancy shopping mall and a few drinks at the Hotel Majapahit with our Hungarian friend in Surabaya, and flew out the next morning. We had half a day and an overnight in Singapore on the way back which I thought was great, because I'm always happy for a chance to enjoy some time there, and then it was back to Taipei and the daily grind. (Perhaps in a future post I'll throw up a few Singapore snaps).

As usual, here are the links to the other posts about this trip:

Solo (Surakarta)
Baluran National Park



















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