Indonesia was a hard place for me to travel alone in. Other than the fact that I set the bar very high and travelled through five of its islands (Borneo, Lombok, Bali, Java, Sumatra) in just over two weeks by all modes of transport possible. I'd also been on the road for months and was going absolutely broke. These weren't the biggest struggles through Indonesia. The culture was.
All the electric bikes in China still didn't quite prepare me for all the bikes in the urban development of Pontianak in Borneo, Indonesia. I witnessed a few accidents, followed by a lot of tears. Arriving at the airport I asked a man working at baggage claim about the Equator Monument. One of the only noteworthy aspects of Pontianak is that it's on the equator. The man told me, "It is very far. I don't think you can get there." The next day I took a cheap van from my hotel to the monument.
Then I went to Lombok and walked around the town of Senggigi. I saw a handful of European and American retirees and a lot of bored looking Indonesians. No one seemed to be getting along. By the beach one evening while watching the sunset, a young Indonesian man passed by and we talked for a minute or so. He told me about his life working at the restaurant next door, and the growing tourism in Lombok. Then he walked off, saying "Watch out for your hair."
The island of Lombok is made up of mostly practicing Muslims, and most of the women and girls have their hair wrapped under a Hijab. My growing wavy hair, filled with beach weather frizz, was pretty visible.
When I travelled to Chengdu in Sichuan Province, China, I stayed at a great hostel that was filled with binders of travel ideas and packages. They had everything from tours around Tibet and Tibetan regions in Sichuan Province to Yangtze River tour packages. I asked one of the receptionists to call a cheap hotel in Zigong, a city a few hundred kilometers east of Chengdu. It wasn't on the tourist trail but it had a few random museums and teahouses that I wanted to see. The receptionist guy made a funny face when I told him about Zigong. "Why do you want to go there? Not many people want to go there. Not a lot for foreigners to see." I asked him to please make the reservation anyway.
Arriving in Sumatra, I left Padang after only a day and decided on two or three nights in Bukittinggi, followed by an overnight bus (van) to the north end of the island (passing the equator once again) so I could take a boat from Medan, Sumatra back to Malaysia. It was the cheapest way to get to Malaysia. I was rolling in a rickety van, my third one of the day, and seemed to be arriving in Bukittinggi just in time for sunset. I could hear the bells ringing at a temple nearby, and crossing the main street I saw a minister greeting his parishioners who were flocking out into the streets following Saturday service. The van let me off on the corner of the main street right in front of a mosque. As I hauled my backpack over my shoulder I could hear the call to prayer, and passing me were devout Muslims of all ages, walking in and out of the temple for their evening prayer. This spiritual overload after a rough few days and an overwhelming two weeks in Indonesia was just what I needed. Walking up the hill to my hostel as the sun set over Bukittinggi reminded me of why people travel, and why people bother to take the long way around some of the time.
Also, a lot of men tell me lots of things throughout my wanderings, but I don't think I listen to any of them.