Indonesia’s islands are small and compact, each one a unique jewel box full of promise. Sometimes the contents are an insight into life as it flashes past the car window; a women combing her child’s hair, chickens scratching around, a tethered cow chomping grass in a paddy field, a fruit market. Often it is the poorest elements of life that line the street. It is the poorest elements of life that can not afford the luxury of privacy.
Sometimes the contents of the jewel box are something glittering; a glimpse of a temple, streets decorated for a festival, the split second when you realise the Kodak moment has passed uncaptured, untrapped, still free.
Indonesia might geographically be small and compact, but the distances are deceiving. Each country seems to measure distance in a different way. When we lived in the States, the answer to the question: “how far is it to the shopping mall?” was a sensible; “twenty minutes”.
Ask the same question in the UK and the answer isn’t a matter of time, but of distance. It might be five miles to the shopping centre, but it could take you 15 minutes or an hour depending on the traffic.
And in Indonesia the answer is different again. It’s non committal. It could take you three hours or five hours. And this is dependent on a range of factors: the state of the road, which are only single lane; the number of mopeds that buzz around you; whether you get stuck behind a lorry. I frequently cast a furtive glance over the speedometer to reassure myself that we were going faster than 40 kph. Each time I was disappointed. This makes planning a trip quite difficult. Of course, we’d seen a map before we’d left, and made rough estimates of how long it would take us to do each leg of the journey. We even sought advice on how long it would take us to get from point A to point B. But then we choose to ignore it. After all, how could it possibly take us seven hours to drive 200km. We were so widely out on our estimations. So the lesson learnt is that, if travelling with young children, or even if you don’t want to be stuck in a car all day, listen to advice!
That said, I don’t think you can learn so much, or experience real life, without spending time on a road trip.
Today we drove from the plantations of Kalibaru, and hopped on a ferry to Bali. And all of a sudden life has changed. Where Java is predominately Muslim, Bali is predominately Hindu. The streets are lined with life and every second house is a temple. The architecture is absolutely stunning.
So I suppose the lesson is, even if the road you travel is long and winding, you’ve made a decision and, whether right or wrong, out of the decision you will be rewarded with new experiences, sights and sounds. And that’s what travelling is all about.
Ferry Crossing: Ferries leave every hour from Ketapang in Java to Gilimanuk in Bali, and the crossing takes just over an hour. Don’t expect luxury, but it’s a fun way to arrive on the Island. You can buy tickets very cheaply before you board.
Accommodation: The Westin, Nusa Dua, family suite. Superb five-star hotel with excellent children’s facilities and spa. www.westin.com/bali