Monday, December 29, 2008

Muslims Behaving Erratically

Solo, Java, Indonesia

So here I am in a Hotel Ibis in Solo (formerly Surakarta), Indonesia. Ibis is a reasonably nice European hotel chain, which in Indonesia is priced like a shabby small town motel in Canada — meaning, several times our normal budget of $10 to $20 a night.

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Our room looks European. It’s slightly smaller than is reasonable, so all of the furniture has a decidedly vertical orientation. The bathroom is also very European; the fixtures are all very modern, the showerhead is aimed at the hair of a six-and-a-half-foot-tall Dutchman who is not here, and the bathroom is small enough that if someone (Erin) opens the door while you’re showering, you can’t get out of the shower until she has fully closed it again. But all in all, the room is very comfortable, except when the air conditioning is set to 13 degrees, like it was when we arrived.

As happy as I am for this tiny European vacation in the middle of my Indonesian trip, this isn’t where we planned to stay. I am fairly convinced that this is the only hotel room in the entire city that wasn’t booked last night. And it’s not just Solo where the hotels are slammed; we can’t find anything available for the next several days in Jogjakarta either. Today we called at least 15 different hotels listed in our guidebook, and they were all full. This is an especial problem because we can’t stay here anymore — tomorrow, the Hotel Ibis Solo is fully booked.

This problem isn’t caused by a massive influx of foreign tourists. I think I saw three white people today. It just turns out that the period between Christmas and New Year’s is when Javanese people travel around their island. I had no idea.

I suppose I should have guessed that Javanese people couldn’t be as happy and friendly as they seem to be if they didn’t take some vacation time at least once a year. Everyone needs a vacation. I just had no idea that they all took their vacation in the same places I want to go to and at the same time.

It also seems odd that that time is governed by the birthday of our Lord, Jesus Christ, whose mother was a Virgin, and who died on the cross for our sins, amen, because most of these people aren’t really into JC, the sufferin’ saviour. From what I can see, the locals here do most of their praying under domes surrounded by loudspeakers mounted in tall towers that erupt into wailing song early each morning. I guess what I’m saying is, they’re Muslims. And for Muslims to plan their holidays around Christmas is, to my mind, unconscionably weird.

Erin and I left Bali on the 27th of December, partly to escape the coming New Years’ rush. I know I didn’t tell you guys, but the decision came suddenly. I had assumed that we would stay on Bali — Erin writing, me adding to my giant earwax ball — until New Year’s at least, but Erin got bored of writing and decided that we would leave Bali the instant I felt well enough to leave.

You see, I had been sick. My mind knew we were in the tropics, but my body missed Christmas at home, so I developed myself a really good cold, with a fever and everything. One day I got so chilled that I went for a walk in Bali wearing a hoodie. The other tourists thought I was nuts.

Anyway, Erin got sick of writing, and I got sick of being sick so the very first instant that I felt like I could get on a bus without dying, I did, and we left Bali. I got into a taxi and then into a bus, then a boat, then an economy-class train for six hours (a special treat) and then a pedicab and then another bed. Then Erin and I got up at 2:00 AM to climb a volcano to watch the sun rise, then Erin lost her awesome camera but had it returned to her by a man who only wanted $30 as a reward, and then we got into another economy class train for nine hours and got to Solo, Java, Indonesia, where we got the last hotel room in town.

Just before the economy class train pulled into Solo, Java, Indonesia, we met one of the most irritating and friendly men I’ve encountered on this trip. He was friendly in an aggressive, nearly bullying way, demanding that we answer his questions and refusing to leave us alone, no matter how much our body language (and later, our mouths) told him we were exhausted from being in the 9th hour of a train journey on a day when we woke up at 2 AM to climb a volcano.

Thrusting his wispy Muslim beard into our faces, he demanded to know what our religion is, and when we told him none, he demanded that we explain to him why so many westerners he met said they had no religion. Then he asked whether it was true that there were many devils in the United States. Devils? I asked, and he smiled and his eyes got wider and said, yes, devils, he had seen men flying across the sky on TV, was this not a fact? I wanted him to fuck off so badly that I nearly told him so.

When the train pulled into Solo, he tried to arrange a cab ride for us and finally, I was able to convince him to fuck off, telling him that I wanted to look at the train schedule before leaving the station, and that we were perfectly capable of arranging our own cab. He apologized for annoying us, we assured him he hadn’t annoyed us and that it was nice meeting him, he left, and we proved to be utterly incapable of arranging our own cab.

Walking out of the train station, we were adopted by a man who had both a lisp and the impression that he spoke English. He decided that he would arrange a cab for us and it took me at least ten minutes to understand that the low, low price he was offering was $50. We were unable to deal with the cab driver without the help of this middleman, so we left and found pedicabs who would take us for $2.

Being both overweight and overburdened with luggage, Erin and I decided to be nice to our cab-pedalers and ourselves and get two cabs. At first it was fun, being slowly but peacefully pedaled through the nighttime streets. Halfway across the city, though, my cab got a flat and slowed down, and lost Erin’s cab in the traffic. Then, riding around on one flat tire, my pedicab driver got lost. It took me about six undirected, wandering blocks realize that we had only told the one driver our destination, and the reason my driver seemed so confused was that he had no idea where he was supposed to take me. Finally, I told him where I wanted to go and he took me to the hotel where Erin was nervously sitting in her pedicab, wondering when or if I would show up. The hotel was full.

We went to a second hotel, this one, where they told us that not only were they full, but every hotel in town was full. Then they said they’d try to figure something out, and we sat our filthy, sweaty, volcano-hiking and economy-train-riding bodies on their nice lobby couches and waited. Erin took a shit in their pristine lobby toilet. Then the receptionist told us they had a cancellation, and we were in. We showered, flopped down on our beds and turned on the TV, and BBC World News told us that a few days ago, Hamas felt it would be a good idea to fire rockets at Israel, and Israel responded with their usual subtlety. Now the whole Middle East is up in arms.

On this end of Asia, we’ve got confused Muslims going on vacation for Christmas and booking all of our hotel rooms. On the other end of Asia, we’ve got some other Muslims (less confusedly, but no less inconveniently) fucking up whole countries where we hope to stay.

And God fucking help you if we decide to go to your town. First Bangkok and their crazed souvenir-toting revolutionaries, then Mumbai and their hotel-occupying gunmen, and now this. Erin and I are the fifth and sixth horsemen of the apocalypse. If we even book a ticket to your city, war, famine, pestilence and death will put you on their itinerary. If we even think about a place, in some way it will get fucked up. I swear, the whole reason Vancouver has been under three feet of snow for the last few days is that Erin got homesick over the holidays. Watch the news for Jakarta — I’m sure that sometime in the next week it’s going to get hit by a volcano or get buried in ten feet of dogshit or something equally awful.

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