SYNOPSIS:  About exploring a few historic sites in Surabaya via the city tour bus.   About shedding 7 kg of weight.   About lice.

Andalus Hotel, the dated, dirty, everything-broken hotel in the Arab Quarter, was my base in Surabaya.  I had left a big suitcase in the trust of some of these not-a-word-of-English guys.  Sometimes, you just have to take a chance.  They gave me a big smile when I came back yesterday and rushed my suitcase out of storage.  It was untouched.

It was time to shed some weight.  A souvenir here, a textile there, a few hundred grams of coffee as a present, just a small woodcarving — after a month all of these ‘this weighs nothing’ items, they added up to more than 8 kg.  That means air travel would now be seriously impeded or I would face stiff charges every time I boarded another plane. Where to find a box?  I stopped at a shipping expedition and got the usual “yes” answer for everything I asked, except the guy understood not a single of my questions, nor did he have anything I needed.  A stop at a nearby minimart proved more successful in obtaining a box.  Tape I bought from a street peddler and transport to the post office was provided by one of my trusted motorbike guys at the hotel. 

I have been quite reluctant to ship anything again after my postal dilemma in Myanmar (see Myanmar blog). The box I packed ($300 worth of souvenirs, teaching materials, and clothes) never made it home.  The $100 in postage were clearly pocketed by the lady there.  But the Surabaya post office gave me some hope that things will be different this time.  I got a routing number, the box was entered in the computer, professionally wrapped (after I had spend all this time and effort with my duct tape) and I seemed to be in good company with lots of other boxes there heading toward all corners of the globe.  There was even a clerk who could speak English.  Now I will just keep my fingers crossed.

At the Andalus Hotel, instead of the huge deluxe room, I now rented one of the smaller rooms. As my taxi was fighting rush hour traffic coming here from the train station, I had memorized some of the landmarks of my surroundings and decided it was time to venture out for some food.  I had hoped for a small family restaurant, but there was nothing beyond street vendors.  Wherever I went, men, women and children stared at me, called out “Hello Mister!” — I wonder where that was coming from — and asked for pictures (of themselves). 

Within my hour walk, I passed a shoe market, a cow farm (in the middle of a bustling metropolis!), several mosques, and numerous small neighborhood alleys.  They are hardly visible when you drive by and I definitely have to come back during the day to explore some of them.

50 cents for a handful of noodles wrapped in newspaper, 20 cents for two potato kibbes, and $1.50 for two apples.  I can’t figure out these prices.  50 cents for a bunch of bananas and $2 for a carton of papaya juice.  That looked like dinner and breakfast to me.  Laundering the Bromo mud clothes took the rest of the evening.

Today, I was up by 8, heading out for the House of Sampoerna again.  This time I was not going to miss the city tour.  With a bus full of Indonesian tourists — I was the only foreigner — we took off at 8:58 AM.  Talk about punctuality!  Focus of the tour were some of the Dutch colonial buildings, the famous bridge Jembatan Merah, site of a major battle of the revolutionary war for Indonesian Independence, and the Heroes Monument inaugurated in 1952 by president Soekarno.

Surabaya is full of Dutch colonial structures.  Some show signs of age and neglect.  Others have fared remarkably well and look like new — like the PTPN XI.  It was built in 1925 by a team of three architects who included anti-earthquake features into the structure.  In 1980, the building was expanded without the inclusion of these features.  Guess what — the 1980 structure has already sunk by 40 cm and is no longer level; the 1925 structure is doing fine.

Surabaya’s major role in the revolutionary war (following WWII) is commemorated in the expansive heroes park.  Reliefs show the historic periods of the city, whereas several sculptures of major players of the war are lining the grass square.  An Obelisk in the center and a small glass pyramid recall both I.M. Pei’s entrance to the Louvre and the Washington Monument.   

Based on all the landmarks I had now memorized and a somewhat generic map listing some major spots in town, I walked home.  I crisscrossed Chinatown (or what is left of it).  What scared me the first night was now familiar.  And even the dirty Andalus Hotel felt a bit more welcoming. 

I put myself down for a nap.  The sheets were stained and had holes in them, the blanket — who knows when it was washed the last time.  But that’s why I travel with my own sleeping bag.  When I woke up, something on the bed next to me was crawling!  A louse!  I crushed it and put it down like a trophy, looking at it in horror. 

I had heard about lice being a problem in Indonesia.  I had not thought of it affecting me in any way.  That it is a common occurrence became a bit more clear after I saw at least three couples of people de-lousing each other in public, by the way.  A girlfriend tenderly took care of her boyfriend, a girl combed her mother, and a father bent over his daughter’s head…

Just looking at the dead lice made me itch all over.  I imagined lice crawling on my head and I nearly panicked.  I checked every black spot in the room — there were plenty on the walls, the sheets, the towels.  But none of them was alive. 

I should have just checked out and moved down the street to the Royal Something Hotel.  For just $20 more I most likely could have had a clean room.  I am not sure what made me stay.  I immediately showered and fine-combed my hair.  Nothing.  But what if I already have the eggs nesting in my hair?!   I was freaking out.

I searched Lonely Planet all over for that reference to lice, to no avail.  It had made mention of silk as a good anti-measure.  My sleeping bag was made out of silk.  But how was that supposed to work? 

I can only hope and pray now.  Good night. 

3 comments so far

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  1. But how did it compare to that one place you stayed in Djenne…or that Niger River bathroom on the boat!!!!!

    • No comparison! That was the worst ever, except one spot in Iraq which I did not mention publicly. It was beyond description horrible. Still turns my stomach.

  2. Hope you could sleep and put the thoughts of those creeping things away for the night.