An overland journey home

Kiwi journalists Mauricio Olmedo-Perez and Charlotte Whale are taking the scenic route home from London.

Ferrying and feasting in Indonesia

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Rice paddies in Bali, Indonesia. Photo / Mauricio Olmedo-Perez
Rice paddies in Bali, Indonesia. Photo / Mauricio Olmedo-Perez

During the week we spent in Indonesia I sustained at least one hundred mosquito bites. They were mainly focused on my legs: at one time there were 20 little red welts which was highly attractive.

Mauricio called them kamikaze mosquitoes because they attacked despite the huge amounts of repellent we used and they even got us through our clothing. Very niggly indeed and of considerable concern - Indonesia is a malaria hot spot. Luckily for us we had over-invested in malaria pills so had plenty to take.

Before we travelled to Indonesia we opted to stay the night in Singapore. Whenever I'm not with Mauricio when we go through customs, he always gets pulled aside. I tell him it's because he fits the worldwide profile of a bad-ass gangster. And sure enough, as he entered Singapore, with me lagging a few people behind, a security official stopped him.

Turns out he was carrying something he shouldn't have been: chewing gum. It's illegal in Singapore, as is jay walking and failing to flush toilets after use. So we weren't surprised to find the country incredibly clean and efficient.

Unfortunately it rained hard the whole time we were there so there's nothing much to report. The next morning we took a short boat ride to the tiny Indonesian island of Batam and the launching point for our 29-hour ferry ride to Jakarta.

There's definitely more of an edge to Indonesia. We felt like we needed to keep an extra close eye on our belongings while we waited with the other passengers in a dusty warehouse at the port.

We had purchased first class tickets as they were really cheap for the length of the journey and the other options sounded a little daunting.

Once on board, we were escorted through the 3rd class area on the way to our cabin. To be honest, it made me feel a little uncomfortable and embarrassed - as if I was parading through as a spectator to how the other half lived. The conditions were cramped and quite dirty. People were staking their claims on mattresses, most of them were on a raised platform but others were on the floor and in corridors.

It all reminded me a bit too much of the movie Titanic. The difference between the upper and lower decks was huge. We had expected our cabin to be like the tiny bunk-bed carriages we'd slept in on overnight trains but it was very spacious and we had our own bathroom with a hot shower - it was the best shower I'd had in a week.

There was even a television with movies and the National Geographic channel. We felt very spoilt because we had committed to travelling third class if we had to.

When we ventured to the ship's restaurant to eat we were delighted to find it was hilariously tacky. There was an off-tune band singing on a stage covered in airport-lounge carpet.

In Jakarta we had the familiar ordeal of trying to get a cab that wasn't going to charge us ten times the reasonable rate to get into the city centre. Mauricio decided we should each get a motorbike taxi instead. Take my advice, never try to ride on the back of a motorbike with a pack that weighs over a third of your weight. Weaving in and out of traffic at speed and trying to actually stay on the bike was nearly impossible. I was a nervous wreck by the time we arrived at the hotel.

I don't really have too many nice things to say about Jakarta. It's crowded, the traffic is worse than anywhere I've been and it's not very pretty. Its only redeeming feature is a tiny pocket of the city called Kota which reminded me of a town on the Caribbean. Beautiful white colonial buildings with green shutters and palm trees. Very pretty.

We moved on quickly from Jakarta by way of train to Jogyakarta. It's described as the most attractive city on Java. It's certainly colourful, with lots of street art and bright shop fronts. We discovered a fabulous restaurant and did something we never do: went back for a second night. Usually we like to try other places but this one was too good. Situated in a traditional Javanese house, Kesuma had a certain charm and flair thanks to its French owner. His Indonesian wife is the chef and draws on her grannie's old recipes to inspire her dishes. The flavours were so complex but worked perfectly. It is an absolute must.

We made it to Bali for Christmas and spent the day hooning around the island on a motorbike. I wore my Santa hat and sang carols much to Mauricio's embarrassment.

Christmas dinner was pork ribs at the famous Naughty Nuri's Warung and Grill washed down with some of the restaurant's popular dirty martinis. The drinks are described by US celebrity chef Anthony Bordain as the best he's tasted outside New York. We were feeling warm and fuzzy as we headed back to our hotel. It was a great, if slightly unconventional, Christmas Day.

We didn't expect Bali to be so built up. I don't think I saw one patch of countryside in the hour it took to get from the airport to Ubud, where we stayed. Described as the more 'hippy and arty' part of the Bali, Ubud is still very busy... and quite fancy. There were lots of trendy cafes and boutiques.

Behind Ubud there were pretty rice fields that we could explore. We decided to stay clear of Kuta - the hallmark of Aussie-excess and the site of the Bali bombings. If I was to visit Bali again I would stay at the little settlement of Candidasa. It's a sleepy beachside resort and there are plenty of motorbikes to hire if you want to go and check out the action of more populated places.

It's off to Australia next. We are so close to home I can almost smell mum's cooking!

Home-cooked meals are a distant memory so the thought of it is very exciting indeed.

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