Surabaya: Flight In, Arrival, and Rude Awakening
My flight was an interesting one, to say the least. It’s always a peculiar feeling being the only American on a plane. Definitely makes you feel far from home. What little English came over the loudspeaker was broken and almost indecipherable. The air conditioning either didn’t work or they just decided not to turn it on. It was incredibly hot, and smelled like a locker room. I wasn’t helping the situation, after having sweated all day in the Hong Kong humidity. And the turbulence never ended for more than a few minutes at a time. It was the bumpiest and at times most unnerving flight I’ve ever been on. My friend Clay (who’s a pilot) once told me turbulence “is like bumps in the road,” but last night the bumps got so big it felt like we were going to blow a tire. What happens when you blow a tire at 38,000 feet, eh Clay?!
My arrival: The first thing I saw when I got off the plane was a long line piling up leading to a window that said “Visa On Arrival.” My cousin hadn’t said anything about what was needed for entry into Indonesia, but I knew I needed a tourist visa from what I’d read online. About half of the people were walking down the hallway to customs, and half were lining up to buy visas. I went with my gut instinct and joined the people waiting in line. As I got close enough to read the small print on the sign above the window, I first noticed the price for 7 days and under: $10 USD. No problem. Then I saw “cash only no coin” at the very bottom. I did a quick inventory of my wallet and found that I had $8 US and $60 HK dollars (equivalent to about $8 US). I was hoping they’d accept a combination of the two. Sure enough, the guy at the window reluctantly took the combination and then nodded me to the next line, which had about 40 people in it. That line moved twice as fast, but still took about 15 minutes.
It was while I was waiting in that line that I met Josef, our guide and translator for our time here in Surabaya. He approached me and asked if I was with the Darren Wilson group. I said yes and must’ve smiled really big – it was nice to see a smiling face in that strange, chaotic airport. He asked where the rest of my group was, so I filled him in on the story; them missing the flight in Hong Kong by 5 minutes, etc.
The wait for Customs took about 30 minutes. Thirty hot and muggy minutes. Then it was on to baggage claim to find my suitcase. The belt had already stopped moving, and there was a sea of bags and people throwing them around in search of their belongings. I knew if I didn’t find my bag at that moment I’d probably never see it again. I could only imagine trying to give my hotel address to someone at the counter of the lost bag department, if that even exists there. It’s a very “simple” airport. I searched around for a few minutes, trying not to get panicked, and then saw it out of the corner of my eye, under a pile of other suitcases. I think I shouted out loud at the sight of it!
I looked around for Josef, who had long disappeared, but he was nowhere to be found. I went outside to find a mass of people – more people waiting out there than were inside looking for their bags. Not sure what that was all about. Anyway, Josef’s smiling face suddenly popped out behind the crowd and we were on our way.
The drive in to the city was insane – I’ve never experienced anything like it in all my travels. Not in South Africa, Mexico City, or all of South America. Imagine a swarm of mopeds and motorbikes, and then an occasional beat up van that bursts through them as if they’re flies. The clearance between our van and the mopeds was at times literally a foot or less, while doing 50-60 mph. Lanes don’t really exist. There are painted lines on the road, but they don’t seem to serve any purpose. Out by the airport I saw a few shacks that had lights on and had some colorful banners hanging. Like people had opened up make-shift bars in abandoned shacks. They were all pretty full of people. Reminded me of Mexico City. The other thing I noticed was the far left lane. It was being used for traffic, but occasionally there would be a bicycle, or even a group of children sitting in the road. There was no real divider – it just must be known that that lane serves multiple purposes. Strange. I asked Josef and Irawan (our other translator) about the rules of driving and they said, “There’s only one rule – there are no rules!” They laughed, but I could tell they were serious by what was happening outside my window.
The hotel is beautiful – very classy. Josef and Ira accompanied me all the way up to my room, made sure I was happy with everything, and then left me with many handshakes and smiles. Very nice guys.
Wake Up Call: I was awoken at 4:00 am by some sort of chanting that was being broadcast over a loudspeaker through the darkness. I managed to get my balcony door open in my half-eyed haze, and as I stepped outside all the hairs on my arms stood up on end. I’m guessing it was a Muslim call to prayer. It gave the early morning an eerie feel… assumedly because I’m a foreigner and am simply not used to it.
If Americans feel religion is being forced upon them in any way, let me assure you, it’s nothing compared to being woken up by a man’s screechy voice blaring on and on for over an hour at 4:00 in the morning.
Darren and the rest of the crew will be arriving at 7:30 tonight. I plan on going with Josef and Ira to the airport, both to be there to greet the group as they come out, but also to try to photograph some of the scenes I’ve described.