So. You know I get 4 days off every month. I’ve been in Indonesia for almost 4 months now. Haven’t you wondered why you haven’t heard about any of my days off? And before you say, “What about Penang?” that doesn’t count. Despite all the fun I had wandering the streets, flushing toilets and working out in a gym, my trip to Penang was a visa run, not days off. I was actually doing online work while I was there. On Sundays and my 4 days off, I sign off from work completely.
I actually had my first 4-day weekend a couple of weeks before I went to Penang. I went to Sabang on the island of Pulau Weh. I previously mentioned that I was going there, though very briefly. Thinking back now, I’m surprised that no-one has asked me how Sabang was, considering how the journey started. The fact is, I didn’t write about it because there was not enough to write about. My hotel was nice, the beach was mediocre (I come from the beach so it takes a lot to impress me beach-wise), the hammock on my deck was wonderful, the food was bad, I had the second best massage of my life so far, and that’s about it.
But my second 4 days off…now that’s worth writing about. In multiple parts, even.
A and I went to Bali.
It started with an innocent comment. Back in Aceh, we had nixed the idea of going to Bali because it’s so expensive to get there from Banda Aceh, plus the travel time from there is about 6 hours, including connections. We felt like it wasn’t worth the effort for only 4 days since 2 of those days would be spent getting there and back. So we had put Bali from our minds. Being in Jakarta opened up the possibility again. A few days after we arrived here, one of our colleagues returned from her own 4 days off in Bali, and we learned from her that getting there from Jakarta is actually quite cheap. A got the idea that we could take our days off together and head south. So we did.
First, a brief geography lesson. Indonesia is an archipelago, which means that it is a country made up of a group of islands. Different sources cite different counts of the number of islands in the archipelago; estimates range from 13,000 to over 18,000. Whatever the true number, it’s a lot. Over 6,000 of these islands are inhabited, hence Indonesia’s giant population count of about 250 million. Banda Aceh is located at the northern tip of Sumatra, which is the westernmost island in the archipelago. Jakarta is located on the northern end of the island of Java, which is just below the island of Sumatra. Flying time between Banda Aceh and Jakarta is 3 hours; that’s how big Sumatra is. Meanwhile, Bali is an island to the southeast of Java (yes, Bali is an island, not a city). Flying time between Jakarta and Bali is just about 2 hours.
A got to work planning our time off. She found cheap tickets on Air Asia (US$80 each, round trip!), a lovely, small hotel in Seminyak that was close to many well-rated eateries and boutiques (US$26/night! And you’ll hear all about the food in a later post), as well as a day-long and a half day-long tour for us (total of US$83 for each of us for both days, including a driver). Paradise came relatively cheap. Not counting food money, each of us spent just over US$200 for our lovely long-weekend getaway.
We packed and lived in anticipation of getting away from Jakarta and the centre for a few days. The time seemed to crawl by until, finally, it was time to go. On the last Sunday in April, we ordered a cab and headed to the airport before the sun was even properly up, I with my simple Samsonite backpack and my ever-present small cross-body bag and A with her big, fancy hiking-style backpack that’s half her size, plus her own small cross-body bag. Our adventure was officially underway.
We told the cab driver that we were going to the domestic terminal…and he drove right past it and ended up adding another 15 minutes to our journey because he basically had to circle the entire airport to get back to that terminal. But we were cool – we were still over 2 hours early for our 8 am flight so we didn’t make a big deal of it. Yeah, we were cool…until we tried to enter the terminal and the security lady told us that we were at the wrong terminal, that this was terminal 1 and we needed to be at terminal 3 for Air Asia.
We started walking towards the end of the terminal, expecting to make a simple crossover to the next one. No such luck. After about 5 minutes of speed-walking with no end in sight, we realised that perhaps we needed to check with Information to find out how to get to that terminal. They very kindly told us that we couldn’t walk there and that we needed to wait 20 minutes for the next free shuttle to terminal 3, or we could catch a cab if we couldn’t wait. We decided to catch and cab…and none would stop! Luckily, the information guy was wrong and a free shuttle came along while we were glaring at the second cab that didn’t stop to pick us up.
We happily jumped on the shuttle and kept a close eye on the terminal signs as we passed them. By now, the time was creeping towards 6:15 am so when we saw a sign for “Terminal 1C – Domestic Departures”, we figured that it was likely our stop; C is the 3rd letter of the alphabet, after all, and it seemed entirely likely that the security lady could have meant “C” when she said “3”. We got off the shuttle.
We confidently joined the line to enter the terminal building. A was ahead of me and the lady glanced at her e-ticket and sent her through, but she stopped me and scrutinised mine, asking me if I was flying on Lion Air. I told her no, I was on Air Asia, and she told me that I was at the wrong terminal…again! A had stopped to wait for me so I indicated that she should come back and after a brief consultation with the security lady, we were off terminal-hopping again.
By now, we felt like we were caught in a comedy of errors. It was now after 6:30 am and we were at the airport but couldn’t find our terminal! We felt ridiculous.
We speed-walked away from the security line, discussing what to do now. We were debating catching a cab to terminal 3 when I looked up and realised that there was a free shuttle bus stopped about 100 meters away. Since we were unsure when the next bus would be around, we felt a sudden urgency to catch this one so we decided that I should try to run to catch it since A was encumbered with her big, fancy backpack that’s half her size. I took off at a steady jog, hoping that the bus driver would see me coming in his side mirror and wait for us.
I’m going to interrupt myself for a minute to explain the dynamics of A and my relationship. We have gotten along well since my first day at the Aceh centre. However, when we left Aceh and its imigrasi stress behind and started sharing a room in Jakarta, our relationship changed. We spent almost all of our waking and sleeping hours together and became buddies and companions…and the silly sides of our personalities really came to the fore. To be honest, I can’t blame that on A since I’ve always been predisposed to acting silly when the mood strikes me. However, I have very few people in my life who get that side of me or will allow me to comfortably indulge it. Usually, when I get silly, people start looking at me funny and kind of judgy, and since I normally don’t have company in my silliness, I rarely let that side of myself out to play.
Turns out, A is even sillier than me. The shenanigans (her word) that we’ve gotten up to in Jakarta have been truly fun (they are mostly “you had to be there” types of things so you won’t hear much about them here).
So it was much hilarity that I observed A hot-footing it past me as I jogged for the bus. No joke, guys – she’s 5’3″-ish to my 5’6″ but she left me in the dust! She ran like the police were chasing her. I was barely able to heave myself up the bus steps, I was laughing so hard at the sight of A sprinting past me in her Birkenstocks with her hair flying and her giant backpack bouncing.
We laughed for the entire 15 minute ride to terminal 3, while the other occupants of the shuttle bus gave us the side eye, probably wondering what we were cackling insanely about.
Eventually at about 6:50 am we finally made it to the right terminal. Despite our terminal-hopping adventure, we still got there before the Air Asia check-in desk was even open. Then we were on our way.