Saturday, 30 April 2016

The Amazing Race 28, Episode 10

Bali (Indonesia) - Nusa Lembongan (Indonesia) - Nusa Ceningan (Indonesia) - Bali (Indonesia)

In this episode, The Amazing Race 18 crossed from Bali to Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan, two of a cluster of smaller islands between Bali and the next “major” island (or at least, next island with scheduled flights) to the east, Lombok.

By Indonesian standards, it’s a short crossing: half an hour or less by speedboat from Bali to Nusa Lembongan. But most visitors to Bali never get off the island of Bali during their visit. There’s nothing wrong with that, mind you. There’s plenty to explore on Bali itself, especially given that only a small minority of foreign visitors to Bali stay more than ten days.

Citizens of the USA need a visa to stay more than 30 days in Indonesia, and even if you apply for a tourist visa in advance, it is typically valid for a maximum of only 60 days stay in the country. Sixty days isn’t nearly long enough to explore more than a small portion of Indonesia, especially if you travel by bus, train, and/or boat rather than by air.

If you have time and permission, though, Indonesia is one of the best places in the world for island-hopping, rivalled only by the Philippines. The coastline is fractal. Zoom in on a map, and you’ll see successively smaller and smaller islands between the larger ones. Some of the channels between the main islands are deep, with fast currents, but none of the breaks in the chain of islands are terribly large. And while settlers from overpopulated Java have colonized many parts of the other islands, Indonesia remains among the most ethnographically diverse countries in the world.

Wealth, or lack of it, has also preserved the possibility of affordable island hopping by sea throughout Indonesia and the Philippines, as has the desire of national governments to promote national integration and break down distinctions between the identities of regions and islands. Most Indonesians can’t afford to fly, preserving demand for slow — but cheap — passenger boats. And the government encourages internal trade and movement of people (especially to “underpopulated” big islands such as Borneo and New Guinea), despite the backlash it has sometimes produced.

The Indonesian government subsidizes a national shipping company, PELNI (Pelayaran Nasional Indonesia) which operates a network of long-distance German-built passenger ships that covers the country.

Planning a PELNI journey in advance from outside Indoenesia is difficult, however. You can get from one place to another, but not necessarily on a predictable schedule. Some PELNI long-distance services operate only once a month (the trip takes two weeks out from end to end, and then two weeks back) and schedules are confirmed and tickets sold no more than a couple of weeks to a couple of months in advance of departure. Portions of the PELNI Web site have been translated into English, which is good. But beware: It’s common to get redirected to an error message or an (unhelpful) “help” screen that’s only in Bahasa Indonesian, leaving you unclear on what has happened or, in the worst case, unclear whether you have completed a ticket purchase. You really have to inquire locally, once you get to Indonesia, about routes, schedules, prices, and availability.

It used to be that wealthier people (the local 1%, and foreign tourists) travelled in upper-class cabins on PELNI ships, while poorer people (99% of locals) travelled deck or “ekonomi” class. With more domestic airlines offering “low-fare” (although still unaffordable to the masses) services within Indonesia, more of the local gentry now fly, and it’s unclear whether PELNI will continue to offer cabins or will convert to single-class service.

“Kelas Ekonomi” isn’t as bad as it might be — there are dormitories with padded mattresses on platforms raised off the decks — but it isn’t for everyone. Even for a backpacker, a berth in a cabin is probably worth the price if it’s available. Here are reviews of cabin and Ekonimi class PELNI journeys, and a couple of video walkthroughs of the “ekonomi” dormitories and decks on PELNI ships.

If you’ve travelled on a PELNI ship recently, please let me know what class you were in, what it cost, how and where you found out the schedule and bought your tickets, and how the trip went. I’ll share any responses in comments or in a follow-up article.

In the Caribbean, by comparison, you might expect — and some travellers do expect — to be able to travel by a series of inter-island ferries from Key West to the coast of Venezuela. None of the islands in this chain are too far apart, but many have no regular passenger shipping links. People with money fly, and people without money (except for those with their own small boats) don’t leave their home islands. Flights between nearby islands that are under separate sovereignty or in different ex-colonial spheres of influence can cost more than flights to and from Miami. Island-hopping Caribbean tourism is largely the preserve of cruise ships and private yachts (or people with money to charter them).

From Nusa Lembongan to the even smaller island of Nusa Ceningan, the racers crossed the only bridge between the two islands, a swaying suspension span. You might mistake it at first sight for a pedestrian bridge, because it’s too narrow for cars or trucks. In fact, it carries a constant stream of motorized passenger and cargo two-wheelers. There are many places in the world, especially on islands without regular car-ferry service where bringing in a car or truck is difficult and expensive, where the main roads — sometimes the only road(s) to a town — are singletrack.

To make it more of a challenge, the racers had to carry live chickens and quantities of coconuts across the bridge. Earlier in the episode, they were each given a sarong that they were required to wear while visiting a temple — whether for modesty (some of them were far too scantily dressed for most places in Indonesia outside foreign tourist ghettoes or ethnic Chinese enclaves) or tradition. None of them, however, kept their sarong when they left the temple, or already had a sarong with them, despite the fact that a sarong is the most common type of clothing for men or women in Indonesia, and a practical accessory for a traveller almost anywhere. On the road, you can use a sarong to carry a bundle of laundry, shopping, or almost any awkward load. A sarong can serve as a dressing gown, beach wrap, sunscreen (some of the racers got terribly sunburnt in this and the previous episodes), modesty garment to wear to a shared toilet or bath, or simply as everyday attire. If any of the racers had kept their sarong, they could have used it to bundle up several chickens or coconuts to carry, and finished the challenge in a fraction of the trips across the bridge and total time.

If you ask people in the USA, “Where in the world do men wear skirts?”, you’ll most often get the answer, “Scotland”. But by far the world’s largest numbers of male skirt-wearers are in South and Southeast Asia, where a male skirt is called a “lunghi” (India) or “sarong” (Indonesia) among other names. I’ve read that skirts were introduced to Indonesia by traders from Yemen. That seems plausible (standard adult male attire in Yemen today includes a sarong and a western-style suit jacket as well as a large curved ceremonial dagger worn in the front of the belt like a codpiece!), but Yemen is a small country, and there are far more sarong-wearers in Indonesia. Today, although the most traditional Yemeni sarongs are locally made, ordinary Yemenis mainly wear mass-market sarongs imported from Indonesia. Ah, globalization!

John Gilmore, one of my sarong-wearing male friends (and the founder and principal funder of The Identity Project, who has made my work possible for the past decade), had this to say about sarongs in an e-mail interview in 2004:

I met you at the IFWP conference in Geneva back in 1998. You wore a yellow sarong (skirt)…. Do people have a hard time paying attention when you are not in a suit and tie?

It’s never seemed to be a problem.

Sarongs, which are basically a rectangle of cloth, wrapped around the waist and hanging to near the ground, are popular clothing for billions of men and women on Earth. At an international conference, I would not expect cultured people to stare at unfamiliar costumes. When traveling, I wear and learn the local clothing; people are usually happy (often amused) to help a foreigner learn to dress themself properly. At home, I enjoy showing people the costumes of other regions I’ve visited. I’ve worn a gho from Bhutan (a large, thick robe, tied tightly at the waist) in Boston, and a turban from Rajasthan in San Francisco. Actually, reactions in San Francisco two years ago to me wearing a turban really bothered me: about three out of ten people treated me as if I was an e-vill terrorist. Get over it, people; it’s just a hat! The U.S. is such a provincial backwater. More people wear turbans in this world than the entire population of the United States.

I can never figure out the singular fascination that people have for what fibers other people wrap around their bodies. It gives small minds something to gossip about, and provides endless simple fun in tweaking them.

I occasionally wear sarongs and other skirts, although my personal favorite Indonesian garments are long-sleeved cotton batik shirts in fine bright patterns, which are actually more characteristically Malaysian although also made in Indonesia. (Here’s John giving another lecture in what appears to be one of these.) But you won’t know what you like until you try it on for long enough to get used to it. Take advantage of the chance to try wearing a skirt for a while sometime, when you are in a place where it’s the norm. You might find that you like it, and not just while you are travelling in skirt-land.

Link | Posted by Edward on Saturday, 30 April 2016, 06:37 ( 6:37 AM)

Indonesian garments are long-sleeved cotton batik shirts in fine bright patterns, which are actually more characteristically Malaysian although also made in Indonesia.

No - batik is more characteristically Indonesian (specifically Javanese) than Malay.

Posted by: Richard, 29 January 2018, 18:38 ( 6:38 PM)

@Richard -- Batik *in general* is more commonly asscoiated with Indonesia than Malaysia. And the production of batiks in Indonesia is much greater than in Malaysia. (Indonesia is a much larger and more populous country.)

But the particular style of design to which I was referring, and that I happen to prefer as a matter of taste, is more characteristically Malaysian.

Posted by: Edward Hasbrouck, 31 January 2018, 11:08 (11:08 AM)
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