Hi, I'm Megan. I am a writer, a photographer and an international public health professional. After a year-long research project in Indonesia, I'm back in my hometown, Chicago. It's great to see white snow again, but I miss the fresh coconuts that machete-slinging street vendors would chop open and sell to me for a mere 50 cents. Currently looking for ways, other than hibernating in a hat and gloves under my comforter, to stay warm. Please contact me at mmryan1@gmail.com to pitch your ideas. (FYI - I already tried hot potatos in my pockets, an old Irish tradition)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Are we there yet?

Fiona (my friend who teaches English in Jogjakarta) and I sat in the back of a partially run down van, without AC, in the heat of Makassar. We were on our way to Pantai Bira (a beach in South Sulawesi). Makassar is the largest city in Sulawesi and arguably the hottest in Indonesia. Fresh off a 14 hour bus ride (that should have only been 9) from the province of Tana Toraja to Makassar, we prepared ourselves for an equally incommodious journey to the beach. Sweat seeped through our shirts and our pants stuck to the seats as we got in the van. But then we found ourselves, despite our stickiness, unexpectedly perky - we each had an entire seat to ourselves! This perk barely lasted past the outskirts of the city as we traversed the back streets and loaded more people into the van. I couldn't move without pushing a poor old man into the door, and Fiona sat on the crack between two seats. It was too good to be true.

In Indonesia I've lost all ability to feel shock or surprise when I travel; I expect inefficiency and discomfort (and it's all part of the fun!) but my tolerance only extends so far. Frequently my limits are exceeded. I call times like these "this is too much!" situations, and they function more or less like a snowball picking up speed as it rolls and accumulates snow. Indonesian "snowball" situations invariably start with of one of the following: small spaces - or no personal space - too many bodies, heat or smoke. My impatience is the snowball's growing diameter!

15 minutes after Fiona and I got in the van to the beach a passenger realized she left her motorcycle helmet at the bus terminal. We went back to get it. Annoyed but sympathetic, (helmets are essential on the road here) we wrote it off as a minor setback. In reality it was a harbinger for the events to follow.

By the time the driver decided the car was sufficiently full, we had spent two hours searching for peoples' houses (we waited for 30 minutes while one women got ready, probably making some rice for the road). The grand total? Ten people, plus some babies on mamas laps, in a 7 seat van. What a cozy start!

Thirty minutes on the road we made our first pit stop: bathroom break. 20 minutes later we stopped at a bakery where Fiona and I bought a curious pizza-like pastry with sweet bread and unidentifiable meat covered by indo-cheese. Was this going to be the pace of our trip?? Fortunately, we only made a few more stops before arriving at Bulu Kumba, not our final destination, but the place where you must switch to a pete-pete (a smaller van) to get to the beach. Almost to Bulu Kumba, we learned essential information that the driver omitted before we left Makassar.

Driver: No more Pete-pete to Pantai Bira.
Me: Wait, you mean we will have to wait until the next one is available?
Driver: No, they aren't running anymore. It's past five o'clock.
Me: So we can't get to Pantai Bira tonight?
Driver: ----

I look at Fiona. We glance out the window to see if we can spot any signs of a hostel or hotel. It didn't look promising.

Me: Can YOU take us to Pantai Bira tonight?
Driver: I'll take you for 300,000 Rp (approximately 30 american dollars)
Me: That's six times the price we paid from Makassar to here!
Driver: It is very far.

Perhaps we should have suspected this would happen, but two full days of travel and our brains were way below normal capacity. Eventually, we found locals willing to take us to the beach and agreed upon a price twice as much as the cost from Makassar to Bulu Kumba, which was 5 times the distance. As the only foreiners and no other options, we had zero bargaining power. We agreed upon 100,000 Rp (10 US dollars) and waited an hour for our car to arrive.

Until we reached the beach, a series of unfortunate events continued. The car carried three barrels that smelled of fish and a man next to me kept asking me questions between puffs of cigarrete smoke. Techno music blared out the speakers. As the driver pulled down a DVD screen from the ceiling (It baffled me that the van lacked a door yet had this DVD player) I felt some hope for a more pleasant ride. All hope, however, was smashed when porn showed on the screen. A women in a jilbab sat and watched, giggling and fascinated. I remember thinking, "this beach better be out of this world".

So it went that the beach was beautiful and our trip to Tana Toraja exhilarating, which overshadowed the drag of travel. I've learned to find humor during difficult travel for two reasons in particular: 1. Indonesians respond positively to someone who laughs when the natural response is to cry or get angry. If I smile when I'm unhappy (like when there are three more people in a car than there are seatbelts, the driver AND the woman behind me are smoking and a 5 year old tugs at my hair) at the very least I get a smile back. Sometimes someone will start a conversation that distracts me and passes time. Secondly, of course, these experiences make for great stories, and most importantly interesting blog entries!

simple is better

As much as I love making things more difficult than they have to be, I've decided to simplify my blog and use blogger instead of wordpress. I must admit, Wordpress lured me in with it's widgets and promises to attract readers. But empty promises they were! No one uses wordpress, and what's the fun in blogging if you can't follow other bloggers, and they can't follow you??

So tune in here for future posts. To see my previous ones go here: http://meganryan24.wordpress.com/