My First Trip Abroad in Indonesia

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This week saw the first ‘travel talk on twitter‘ #TTOT . The tweeting conversation was about your first trip abroad. While technically my first trip abroad was a two week holiday with two girlfriends in Bali, I did not base my contributions on that. That trip was more about exploring arak jam jars at the Bounty night club then anything else.

The year after, those same two friends and I decided to backpack Indonesia for 3 months so taken we were with the exotic lifestyle after our drink-a-thon in Bali.

One of the #TTOT questions was “Where would you recommend someone go on their first trip abroad?” While there were many places I could have recommended- some way easier to travel then others- my reply was:

“Wherever your feet may land. Find the one you gravitate towards more and go there.

That place may be somewhere that is extremely challenging; just because you are green, doesn’t mean you won’t be able to handle it. And while some people need to stretch their comfort zones slowly, for others a giant leap into the wild jungles just might be the adventure they are looking for.

For those of you who are nervous or worried about your first trip abroad, let me share with you a few of the travel experiences I had on my first backpacking adventure around Indonesia, with only two girlfriends for company.

I’m telling you these, not to scare you, but to let you know that crazy things will happen wherever you go, and if my young and foolish 21 year old self survived to tell these tales, and would continue to search for more stories to tell for the next fourteen years travelling the world, then you shouldn’t be worried about stepping outside your comfort zone for your first trip abroad.

If you really want to go somewhere don’t worry about being inexperienced. You can do it, just believe in your ability to handle things as they arise.

Hand feeding the orangutans in the Wild on a jungle trek

Bukit Lawang Orangutans
Jungle trek in Bukit Lawang

I was carrying extra weight and really unfit on my first trip abroad, as were my friends. We thought it would be a great idea to take a two-day jungle trek up and down 9 mountain peaks in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra. It was one of the most physically challenging walks I’d ever done and at one stage tears of exhaustion began to flow.

Thankfully at the beginning of our trek, we were greeted by orangutans, who were now living freely in the wild after rehabilitation. A mother and her child came swinging through the trees and leaned down toward us holding on with one hand as we fed her biscuits. Oh, and the second day river tube home through the jungle was pretty cool.

Infections

Indonesia is a very hot, humid, and polluted place. Simple scratches can quickly turn into infections. Since I spent a lot of the time on my butt during our many hikes, or scraping my foot on coral while snorkelling, it came as no surprise that I ended up with many infected sores. I still bear one of the scars on my shoulder, that had a large swollen infected ring around it reaching halfway down my forearm. Another wound on my knee, needed to be opened up and scraped out of the junk (thank you whiskey).

But the worse, was a little scratch on my foot that oozed pussy infection and doubled the size of my foot, and had our visiting friends suffering from piggy backing me around on the streets of Kuta. After seeing many doctors, unsuccessfully, I decided to cut my journey short and go to England to get it fixed. 🙁

Kidnapped by mushroom-tripping local psychopaths on motorbikes

Samosir Island, Lake Toba, Sumatra

Samasir Island is situated on Lake Toba, Sumatra and is the place of magic mushrooms and my most terrifying travel story. In short, we hired local motorbike guides to take us on a tour around the island for the day. Things soon turned really nasty when they refused to take us home after we became a bit concerned with their strange behaviour.

I can only assume that they were tripping out on magic mushrooms, otherwise I am sure they would have killed us. How else could you not think this when your driver sang his own words to one of your favourite songs as he turned off his headlights, raced along the pot filled roads and tore around bends,

“I shot the tourist, and then I stole her passport.”

“You know Caroline, we could have an accident right now, and no one would ever know what happened. They would never find your body.”

Enter maniacal laugh.

Bali belly on boat for four hours to Lombok

I don’t know what it was that I ate, but it hit me as soon as the ferry pulled out from Bali to make the four hour journey to Lombok. I spent the remainder of the journey in the closet sized Indonesian squat toilet on the boat. What made it even worse, was the seafood feast complete with lobster and cold beer that my friends ate while dining on the beach upon arrival. I sat and watched while drinking tea with salt in it, as recommended by my Indonesian waiter. (Which by the way, is a bona fide cure for Bali belly or any belly you get in any country.)

Narrowly Missing out on being a Tiger’s lunch

Bukkitingi Sumatra Indonesia
Our guide pretending to be a tiger during lunch

Feeling a little fitter by the time we reached Bukkitingi, Sumatra, we decided to hire an Indonesia explorer as a guide for some more trekking in the jungle. This one was far less strenuous. We came across a small field of grass we thought perfect for our lunch break.

As we were munching on some pineapple, around the bend at the river bank sat a tiger quenching his thirst, each of us unaware of the others close proximity.

After about an hour of rest, we continued walking and as we reached the river bank saw a massive tiger paw print in the sand. Our guide held his hand over it, and from the heat he felt rising off it, was able to determine that the paw print was about an hour old. Needless to say I did not enjoy the rest of the walk at all, not knowing what direction that hungry tiger went.

Caught in a political rally in Jakarta, Java

Returning home from a tour with some locals to a theme park, we chanced upon a political rally in the city. With tankers and militia sitting around waiting to be called in, I had no idea how we, or our guides didn’t know about this. One wrong turn and here we were in our jeep surrounded by a sea of green. As happens a lot in Asia, each opposing party was represented by a certain colour. This time I think it was the greens verse the red.

The greens began to shout out and rock our car.

“Um, excuse me? But they are rocking our car. How are we going to get out of here they have surrounded us?”

We were trying to mirror the calm the driver was pretending to have. The wheels were turning over in his mind as to do what to do. He wound down the window, spoke a few Javanese sentences and grabbed a green flag that was passed to hm by someone in the crowd. He tied the flag around the radio antenna and magically the green sea parted with great shouts, and we were allowed to drive as quickly as possible out of there.

Surfing at Nias, Sumatra

 

Nias Point break

Nias is one of the world’s best known surfing breaks. We spent a couple of weeks at Nias and decided we could not just sit and watch the break all day, we needed to have an attempt at trying to surf it. We hired boogie boards and clambered over the reef to get to the break.

After dropping in on a serious local surfer on my first wave, and ruining his perfect wave, I decided that perhaps I better exit the water. His glaring face told me if I didn’t make the first move to leave, he would be assisting me.

Borobudur temples Java
Borobudur temples

My first trip abroad wasn’t only full of challenging obstacles. We had amazing experiences on remote surfing islands, watching the sunrise over Mt Bromo, visiting the historic Borobudur temples, chilling out for weeks in Bukkitingi and by the lake, river tubing, snorkelling, more jungle trekking, and lots of partying.

Indonesia was the perfect way for me to begin my life living and travelling around the world. Maybe if I did not have such an adventurous start to my travels, I would not have been so hooked into living this travel life forever.

Where was your first trip abroad? Would you recommend first time travellers to go there? Why?

More Resources for Indonesia

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