It’s hard to put a three week vacation that spans five islands into words, but I’ll try and there will be a lot of photos! Be sure to click the photos to see larger versions.
On June 16, after 14 months away from home I finally got to see my parents again when they came to Indonesia. We had been planning their trip almost as long as I had been gone and we had quite an itinerary.
I kind of think of the the trip in two parts. The first part consisted of them being jet-lagged, adjusting to new food, some hard-core sight-seeing and cultural immersion.
We spent the first four days of the trip in Ubud, Bali a cultural area in Bali famous for temples, monkeys and the setting of the third part of the book Eat, Pray, Love. Will and I thought of it like the Epcot Center version of Indonesia after living in our village, but to Mom and Dad it looked crazy and chaotic with motorcycles and cars zipping down the streets and people asking us if we needed transport every few steps. Nevertheless we were excited to finally be together and we got a little sight-seeing in.
After Ubud, we hopped on a plane and flew to Yogyakarta (pronounced and often spelled as Jogjakarta). Our main attractions here would be the famous Buddhist temple Borobudur and Hindu temple Prambanan. We hired a car for the day and he took us to both places. Will and I had seen Prambanan before with our old boss who came to Indonesia in January, but this was our first time in Borobudur…and it didn’t disappoint!
After Yogya, we took an executive train to the capital of our district. It was a fast, air-conditioned train and Will and I were freezing while Mom and Dad were perfectly comfortable in their t-shirts! I guess we’ve adapted somewhat. When our train got in, we hopped on an angkot to go the rest of the 14 miles or so to our village.
People have been asking me, “So, what did your parents think about your site?” Well…Will and I are apparently under some illusion, after 15 months in the Peace Corps, that we live in luxury. My parents, however, shattered our illusion and told us how much they appreciated our service and sacrifice after only two days at our site! Why you ask? Well, it’s hot. There’s not a lot of ventilation in rooms at night. There’s a rodent problem. The rodents sometimes pee in our house (including the housekeepers room my parents slept in, which we didn’t realize was so dirty) and that smells terrible. Our side of the house seems to be less cared for by the housekeeper. We don’t have a close relationship with our host family. But..but…we have an electric oven and a hot water heater and a pressure cooker! My parents kept encouraging us to consider moving after the vacation. We are still trying to figure out if our situation is just Peace Corps-y or if we have gotten used to more than is necessary.
On that note, we took my counterpart’s car and hired a driver to take us to Batu where Will and I had spent 10 weeks in pre-service training. We stayed in a lovely mountain chalet which was a welcomed site for my poor parents. They also got to meet our training host families, who spoiled us with our favorite foods and reminded us of the overwhelming love and generosity of Indonesian families.
After that we planned to hop an executive bus to Surabaya, spend one night there and then fly to Kalimantan on the island of Borneo. But, with this being the world’s most crowded island and a still developing country, the travel had to break down at some point, right? I had warned my parents to be prepared for icy cold AC on our bus, but when we got on it seemed a little warm. After we got going we realized that the AC was broken, and there was no way to open the windows. At one point they stopped to let a mechanic onto the bus, and the air coming onto the bus, which was more than 90 degrees, felt refreshing. We arrived 2.5 hours later, dripping, red, and exhausted, but alive. Nothing a Starbucks frappuccino and air-conditioned hotel room couldn’t fix. They next day we checked out late and went to the airport for our flight. By this time we had met up with our friends Emily and Richie. When we got to the airport we were told that our flight (the one flight a day from Surabaya to Pangkalan Bun) was canceled. When we asked why, they replied, “there is a problem.” After asking them what they planned to do, they agreed to put us on a few flights the next morning that would indirectly get us in early afternoon.
We arrived in Pangkalan Bun (the smallest airport I’ve ever seen) around 1pm and met up with my dad’s first cousin, Steve, who is traveling through the region. Our orangutan tour company was waiting for us at the airport. He put us in cabs, and, after a quick stop to copy our passports and pay our way into Tanjung Puting National Park, we were boarding our river boat only about 4 hours later than we had originally planned.
This is where the second part of the vacation starts. The fun and easy part where mom and dad are well rested and in good health again!
We spent the next three days floating down a river, hiking, eating amazing food, and meeting lots and lots of orangutans in the National Park which is an orangutan preserve. The park is about the size of the island of Bali. We saw lots and lots of birds, primates and even some big Monitor lizards. I highly recommend this trip for those who are in this part of the world. The crew took such great care of us cooking our food, cleaning up after us, setting up and taking down our bedding each night and morning and pointing out all the cool wildlife. Just wonderful.
While we were all a little sad to leave, we were also probably ready for a real shower and some privacy. At the airport we said goodbye (for a few days) to Steve and flew to Surabaya where we said goodbye to Emily and Richie. I didn’t know I should have also said goodbye to my suitcase since it didn’t show up in time for our flight to Lombok that afternoon. Yes, that’s right, the bag didn’t make it onto one of that day’s two flights leaving one of the world’s smallest airports. I wouldn’t see it again until I came back to Surabaya and got it a week later.
Luckily there were no other travel snags and the four of us arrived in Lombok and took a taxi to our hotel in Senggigi. That night we went out to dinner and I found a store open late with cute, beach dresses and sarongs to give myself some retail therapy (and clothes to wear for the next week). Dad was all too happy to pay for my new clothes, feeling sorry for me having lost my bag (and probably still feeling sorry for us being in the Peace Corps). The next morning we went to breakfast at the hotel and were greeted by a beach view. The hotel was beautiful! Unfortunately we had to leave at 8:30 to catch our boat to Gili Air.
We waited at the harbor for a while that morning, and then we got onto the public boat to Gili Air along with boxes and boxes of food, loose fruit and vegetables, water, beer and other goods to keep the tourists happy on the islands. Gili Air is one of three small islands off the Northwest coast of Lomok. You can walk around Gili Air in about an hour and a half depending on how many stops you make along the way for refreshments.
Dad said it was his favorite place yet and it’s hard to find fault with a small island with good food, white sands, and turquoise and blue waters. Gili Air is still in that sweet spot in time where there’s plenty of good restaurants and services, but there are no chain hotels or big resorts. Who knows how long that will last, so you should go right now!
Three days in Gili Air went by fast, and it was time to hop on a speed boat to Bali. We spent the last day and a half of mom and dad’s time in Indonesia in Sanur, Bali. Sanur is the oldest tourist area in Bali and it’s a nice, laid-back beach town. Mom and Dad got to do lots of last minute shopping and we even met up with Steve for another dinner!
Even though we did so much, the trip went by too fast and it was time to say goodbye. With tears in our eyes, we hugged goodbye knowing that the longest time apart was behind us and the next time we saw each other would be upon our return home.
Will and I spent an extra two days at our lovely little guest house in Sanur, met up with Steve one more time, and went to yoga in a very beautiful setting overlooking the ocean. We came back to site ready to rock year two.