I'm glad I fixed my sandals, they make an excellent cushion when you're sitting on something hard—like the back of a truck. Miguel and I decided to hitchhike from Yogyakarta to Surabaya to drop in on a friend of a friend from the states. Why would we hitchhike when a bus or train from one side of the country to the other is no more than 2USD? It's not about the money, it's about the journey.
We started just outside the opposite end of town than we wanted to be on. Our host's cousin and house maid took us on motor bikes into town. From there we grabbed a bus, hitchhiked with two ladies and finally took an angkot to the other end of town. An angkot is like a mix between a bus and a taxi. It's a van that drives a specified route through the city and you can get on and off when you please, but like a taxi you only pay for the distance you travel.
Before we left we made two signs on a cardboard box—one for our final destination and one for a big city on the way. We lost the sign to our final destination before we made it to the other end of town. We weren't on the side of the road for more than 5min when a truck pulled over and let us hop on back. As luck would have it they were going 80% of they way to Surabaya.
The sun is harsh at the equator, especially when there are no clouds to dampen it. In the back of a truck there's nothing to block you from the suns scorching rays. We put on sun screen and hoped for the best.
Miguel and I really like mangoes. In fact, you might even say we love mangoes. We were going to bring a bunch of them with us on our voyage but I lost my travel knife so we had no way to cut them and we were running low on time because we got a late start.
Around we started to get hungry. We were woefully underprepared for this trip. We had little water, little food and no cover from the sun. Luckily Miguel had two packages of ramen noodles stashed in his bag. We had no way to cook them so we added them both to my Nalgene bottle and set them to bake in the sun along side us. In 20min they were done.
Eating ramen out of a Nalgene with no utensils can be difficult. Miguel tried first and got noodles all over himself. The locals were mesmerized at the sight. They acted like they've never seen two white guys drinking noodles out of a bottle in the back of a moving truck. Still they was good.
A little after the truck stopped at a road side stand. They were selling roasted coconuts. They had whole coconuts(in the outer green husk) over a grill. After 30min they would cut the top off and brew a tea inside using the milk and meat from the coconut. I've never had a grilled coconut, in fact, the thought of grilling a whole coconut had never crossed my mind.
It's funny how quickly you loose track of time in the back of a truck. Before you know it the sun is down and you have no idea where you are. Luckily I had recently purchased a smart phone so I could check Google maps and follow our exact location. This came in handy many times. We'd get on a bus and if it deviated from the route we wanted to take we'd get off and find another.
A little after the truck pulled over to let us off. The men asked us for money, we think for food. We gave them some money but were worried that that's what hitchhiking in Indonesia would be like. Again we were lost. We had a general idea of what city we were in but not sure what part. I think we were on the opposite end of town than we wanted to be on again. I took out my phone. It showed our location so we started walking. It was supposed to be 4k to the other side of town.
A note on hitchhiking and Indonesian cities/highways. When hitchhiking it's generally best to get to the far edge of town in the direction that you're going. That's where all the streets converge giving you the highest chance of finding someone to give you a ride. Unlike anywhere I've ever been before, Indonesian cities have no edge. The road from town to town is lined with shops and houses so you can't really tell where one place ends and another starts.
We had been walking and trying to catch a lift for over an hour. Google maps wasn't updating. The city was weird and Miguel made a comment to that effect as soon as we got there. For starters it wreaked of sewage. Kinda like someone was making a can of baked beans at Yellowstone national park. This was probably due to the literal river of garbage slugging along beside us.
None of the people we saw were speaking. Then, out of no where, it started to get crowded. People were dressed in what I can only assume were traditional religious garments. Perhaps these were all the Muslims I haven't been seeing. In a matter of minutes we were at the heart of a gathering. There were projectors, speakers and lots of Muslims. I felt uncomfortable being an American and we kept moving as quickly but non-discretely as possible—which was not very possible on account of carrying two huge packs and likely being the only bules(white guys) to walk those streets.
As quickly as we had entered the demonstration we were back out of it. That's when I started hearing music. It was Price Tag coming from a road side restaurant but on really crappy speakers. It was an oddly joyous song to be playing in this somber, smelly town.
After another 30min of walking we'd had enough. We found a gas station and decided to stay there and take turns sleeping and looking for a ride. I got the first sleep shift. After 10min Miguel woke me up and said we had a ride. One of the truck drivers that had been parked in the gas station had started talking to Miguel and told him they were going and hour more in our direction, leaving only 20km to Surabaya. We decided to take it.
He gestured to the back of his dump truck and with my pack on my back I pulled myself up to peer inside. It was dirty. Really dirty. It was literally full of dirt. We got atop the pile of sand and the driver motioned for us to lay down. He said we couldn't be seen or he'd get in trouble.
A note on Indonesian distances. The Indonesian kilometer seems closer to an American country mile. Meaning if someone here tells you something is 10km away, it's likely 15km away. But if they tell you the waterfall you jumped from is 15m high, it's likely only 7.
The sand was really comfortable and the temperature was perfect. The sky was clear but no stars were visible. Since I've gotten here I've seen very few stars. Whether I've been in the jungle or on the beach the stars simply aren't out.
A we got dropped off again. We thought about pushing on for Surabaya but figured we'd have a better chance finding a place to sleep in this smaller town. We started walking when we came upon a beautiful park—unlike any we'd seen since we got here. Well, I haven't seen any parks since I got here. I started walking inside when a man dressed in army gear came out to greet me. This was not a place to sleep.
A short way down the road we came upon a building a with a little grass in front. I suggested we look in back. There were some people sleeping on the side of the building but we just walked past them. Then we came to the sewage treatment center. It had lots of great grass but smelled like the previous city. Around the corner of the building was a parking lot with a row of ambulances. We saw a 1 meter wide strip of grass behind them and decided to go for it. That's when we heard the security guards. It was late and they were shooting the shit so when they weren't looking we made a run for it. Hidden behind the ambulances we feel asleep. I awoke around but Miguel was still sleeping so I went back to sleep. Around the guards woke us. They were very nice. I got the feeling that sometime in the night they found us sleeping there and waited until then to wake us.
We went back to the road and started hitchhiking. A hospital worker came out and said we couldn't stand there so we moved further down the road. No more than 5min went by before a guy in a black SUV picked us up. It was blasting AC and had tons of room. We'd spent the whole previous day crammed in public transport, baking in the sun and sleeping in dirt, so this was a welcome change.
30km later we arrived at Surabaya and the man dropped us off. I hadn't heard anything from my friend in around a week so I decided I'd make the most of being in Java's second largest city and visit the US Consulate to try to get my visa extended.
A couple bus rides and a bit of walking and we were in the place Google Maps told us it was. It wasn't there. So we started asking around(a good way to get really lost). Like normal everyone pointed us in a different direction. Eventually we got to the correct building. It's no wonder we had such a hard time finding it, there weren't any signs, American flags on anything. The only giveaway were the security guards with the American crest on their uniforms.
This was not the place to be. No one spoke English but it was clear this building would be of no use to me. One of the guards called his friend who spoke English. Apparently he was a guard at the new location. He said they were closed today due to protests but that I could come tomorrow after 10 o'clock. I asked if I could get my visa extended there and he didn't know. I waited until after 8 and tried calling the new building but the number didn't work. So I emailed them.
Miguel and I were very hungry so we stopped at a street stand for some bubur ayam. It was delicious. My phone was dead so we went looking for a place with internet and electricity. We came upon a business complex and found a coffee shop in the lobby. It was air conditioned, served fresh drinks and had free wifi. I got an email back from the US consulate; I guess I need to go to Indonesian immigration which is luckily in this city as well.
The only reason we came here was to visit a friend of a friend and it looks like that's not going to happen. If I don't hear back from her by the time I'm done with immigration we'll start hitchhiking for Mt. Bromo. If I didn't know it already, this trip has really driven home the lesson that if you enjoy the journey the destination isn't so important.
Lots of people I've met while traveling have posted pictures from my trip on facebook. You can check them out here. If you want to make sure you always know about the latest post, use the form on the left side of Dangertravels.com to sign up for email updates. Eventually I'll add a photo gallery to my site but for now you can check out more images on dropbox. When I get a better internet connection this folder will have more.Soundtrack: Price Tag (Jessie J)