SYNOPSIS:  On the road.  From airports to hotels.  From planes into more planes, taxis and minivans.  Reaching my new destination.   About a good travel rule and about networking in Indonesia.  

The photos in this blog are of a few Sumbanese people.

At home my rule of thumb is that you have to plan an hour for everything or you will be running late.  A stop at the grocery store, just heading to the post office — you just never know what comes in your way.  Here, the rule of thumb has to be that everything takes a day. 

I will roll three days of transit into one blog, but three days of moving is finally behind me: from Flores to Bali, from Bali to Jakarta, from Jakarta to Sumatra.  I have arrived in Bukittingi, my last stop before heading home, to learn something about yet another ethnic group. 

After the miracle of actually getting off Flores Island the first night — on standby for 8 hours —  it felt like deja-vu when I landed in Denpassar (Bali).  I had been here before.  This was the airport designed by the architect of my Yogyakarta Hotel.  Waiting for my luggage took as long as the entire flight — one hour, and once again it was dark when I left the airport.

I checked into the IBIS Hotel nearby.  Not my typical kind of choice, but a safe bet.  A real hotel with wifi, clean sheets, hot showers and a huge breakfast bar.  That feels good once in a while.

My students had produced a slew of work and I spent evening and morning grading. 

I could have gotten up really early the next day, and powered all the way through to Sumatra and perhaps been at my destination the same night.  But if I do that on extended travels I will get sick in no time.  I have been a model of good health for all these weeks and under all these challenging circumstances — I can only thank heaven for a strong constitution — and I will keep a reasonable pace.

That meant that I graded in peace in the morning, nibbled myself through the entire huge breakfast buffet and at checkout time at noon, and not a minute earlier, I headed to the airport; once again without a ticket.  I assumed that it would be easier to get away from Bali than to get out of Flores. 


Never assume!

Only Garuda, the most expensive and most reputable of all Indonesian airlines had a half-way decent system to coordinate people like me.  But even that system had its shortcomings.  After I checked in with a Garuda clerk I was told to show up at the Help-desk Counter by 2 PM to see if any of the four afternoon flights was available.  For two hours I dicked around at the airport showing up at the counter when requested only to find out that all this accomplished was to get me onto the waitlist!  I was pissed.  I could have been on this list hours earlier…  There was a hierarchy:  frequent flyer passengers first, ticket holders (who had missed a plane or were trying to get out earlier) second.  My standby kind third.  I was #25.  It looked hopeless.

But when the call for the first plane came, name after name was called and nobody was there.  Just like yesterday — people were ahead of me, but were counting on being called by the clerk on their phones or notified otherwise.  Nothing really mattered than actually being there in person.  I was in this game with a father-son team who were trying to get out earlier than anticipated.  They thought that they had gotten on a list the day before at a travel agency.  Turned out they were no better off then I, except they had made it on the list as #11. 

The clerk at the desk was a remarkable young man.  For hours I watched him dealing with hysterical people calmly, friendly and without ever losing his cool. 

The list shrank and shrank and after the third plane and only us three left in person,  we got on.  This time it took me only four hours on standby; a step up from the 8 hours yesterday.   

I couldn’t care less about the 1.5 hours when no plane got clearance for take-off.  When we should have landed, we finally took off.  But as a first in my entire flying career, I have seen the miracle happen that the luggage was faster than I.  By the time I had made the usual bathroom stop and arrived at the luggage belt it was already rolling.  Wow.

The POP! Hotel is only minutes from the airport.  Again, it felt like deja-vu arriving there.  This would be a safe place for all of my souvenirs to wait for me.  Twice in a row on standby, and against all the odds, my 24 Kg suitcase had made it through.  I could not push my luck any further.  8 kg stayed behind — more souvenirs, some of them quite heavy, had been accumulated since shipping off my last package in Surabaya… How I will get all of this home has to be figured out.  But that is too far away to concern me now. One step at a time.

I was in Jakarta.  I got rid of some stuff and after a good breakfast I was facing the last flight of this journey.


This is how it should be!   I arrived at the airport in Jakarta around 8 AM, walked up to the Lion Air ticket counter and had a real ticket issued for a flight a mere 2 hours from then.  No delays, no standby.  Remember there were times where you could do that in the US, too?

Luckily I was traveling with a suitcase that now weighed a mere 16 kg.  Thank goodness!  Lion Air had signs plastered all over requiring passengers to declare any weight over 20 kg.  They even made me weigh my carry-on!  I cheated just a bit and only produced one of the two pieces I was going to carry on.  With that I came in at exactly 20 kg. Whew!  My 5 kg camera bag remained unnoticed.  The official bag got tagged, but I figured that the untagged bag would remain incognito if I just carried my one tag around prominently enough.  My carry-ons are not big; they are only heavy.  It worked.  🙂

I arrived on time and without incident in Padang, Sumatra.  Off to the final stretch of this journey, which involved overland transport.


Here is another really good travel rule for Indonesia:  Do not try to figure things out on your own.  Tell someone! 

I had sat at the Flores airport cafe for over 7 hours before talking to the owners.  Once they knew what I was up to, they shifted into gear.  Had they just known earlier, they would and could have helped earlier…  Remember the experience I had at Kupang in Timur?  Somebody at the T-More hotel knew what I was trying to accomplish and in no time, he helped me out finding a minivan; a much superior solution over what I had been looking for.

This time I was putting these experiences into practice.  I immediately told somebody at the luggage customer service (there was no other counter or unoccupied person in sight) that I needed to get to Bukittingi but I needed help locating the bus station.  The three people at this counter were bored out of their minds and jumped at the opportunity for some action.  They put their heads together, talked, waved me to wait and before I knew it somebody had been summoned who spoke some English.  My request was passed on to a person who was going to “call his friend”.  I was not sure what about but soon I was escorted to a car outside.  My luggage was secured and I was told to sit.

Now, wait a minute!  Nowhere in the world would I just walk away with an unknown man to another unknown man’s car, have myself and all my luggage (and all my money) stuffed in there and waited.  Here?  That’s exactly what I did without a question and without a doubt that I would be helped instead of robbed, raped, shot, or else.  Try that in America, or for that matter anywhere in Europe — no chance!

I waited, I did not know for what or for how long and decided to spend the time writing.  It was early enough in the day.  I could wait and let things happen.   About 1/2 hour later, I was told to move myself and my luggage into yet another car that had pulled up behind me.  Communication was limited, but I did as I was told.  And I found myself in a minivan with three people who were also going to Bukittingi!  The two men did not speak any English, but the hijabed women in the front seat, a photo-journalist from Jakarta spoke flawless, even colloquial English! 

She explained to me that an informal transport service, not quite legal but tolerated, had sprung up to avoid the 12-km transition to the bus station and to avoid the overcrowded public buses altogether.  This was house-to-house service for up to 6 people at a time. Four people minimum.  They had waited for two hours and through the grapevine and networking between people there, were directed toward me, to make the quota for this minivan.  So cool!  Now I understood that I had been waiting for three more people as well.   

The 3-hour trip flew by in no time thanks to the photo journalist.  She was the translator between all of us and an educated and spirited woman in her early 30’s.  I so hope that we will cross paths again.  She got out in a town 30 minutes before me to conduct research for a photo documentary about the oldest all-female Islamic boarding school in Sumatra.  How interesting!  I really would love to know what comes out of that.

I am sorry for all these travel details.  I know those of you not interested skimmed through it and that is just fine.  But for those of you traveling here or elsewhere someday, some of these specifics might provide helpful insights to make your own decisions.  And for me, writing this down will ensure that I remember some of the more mundane things on this trip as well.

Thanks for hanging in there.  Let’s have fun in Bukittingi!