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I’d rather feel the earth beneath my feet....

...Yes I would, if I only I Kelud.

all seasons in one day 31 °C

Good morning from Jakarta! The title of this entry is the 2nd in a row to come from the quill of Passepartout Jack, any complaints should be sent his way. If like me you're not sure - it's a Simon and Garfunkel line!

On our first morning in Singapore we had breakfast in Chinatown followed by a walk around the Gardens By the Bay including a treetop walk which provided some stunning sea views and views towards the Marina Bay Sands buildings. This iconic development which is three skyscrapers with a large top one or two floors in the shape of a ship that connect all three was the finish line of the excellent first series of Race Across The World last year. So many cargo ships on view, if only I could just get on one! On that subject: Ever since my cargo ship journey was confirmed as caput, I had fully intended on asking around at Port Kelang (Kuala Lumpur), Singapore and Jakarta's seaports for a lift or even enquiring directly at the offices of the shipping lines I know have routes to Freemantle from here. But the more news I read the more I thought that any slim chance I had was probably gone. No captain would be stupid enough to expose their crew to the additional risk of allowing me on at this time. With this decision made in my head I actually started to look forward to the Air Asia flight I booked as a backup a few weeks ago from the island of Lombok, just East of Bali to Perth. Anyway, after looking up at it for an hour or two we decided to splash out and have an expensive drink (which predictably became two expensive drinks) at the top of the Marina Bay Sands towers. Again, the views made it well worth the money. As you can see from some of the roads in the photos, Singapore seems very quiet. We didn't have anything to judge it against obviously but I'm sure it would normally be much busier. We always got a seat on the Metro and the bars and hotels were all quiet as well.

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On day two we had a leisurely start before a walk round the famous Botanical Gardens. Part of this is meant to show the sort of jungle environment that would have covered the entire island a century ago, which is slightly depressing as it's now down to a mere acre or two! The centrepiece is the orchid garden, but we were too tightfisted to pay to go in! Next, Orchard Road, one of the main shopping streets where we visited a branch of Marks and Spencers to replace a pair of my shorts which had given up the ghost in incredible fashion in Kuala Lumpur. I don't know what I expected but I didn't think it would be absolutely exactly like it is in the UK! It wasn't quiet either! For lunch we went to an area called Little India and had one of the best (and cheapest) meals of the trip so far. Jack had a mutton curry and I had fish. They came with all the trimmings and as though to ensure the true and authentic experience I had a bit of Delhi belly the following day!
In the afternoon we visited the Asian Civilisations Museum. Whilst there I received the news that New Zealand were insisting that all international arrivals self-isolate for 14 days. This was a significant development and I hoped Australia wouldn't follow suit, at least not for another fortnight. Afterwards we spent our final hour or so together at another rooftop bar this time admiring the Marina Bay Sands towers from the other side and hoping the bill for this drink wouldn't be as big as the one we got up there! Apologies, it appears I didn't bother to take any photos whatsoever that day! *EDIT 21/03 - Just checked the credit card bill - turns out it was bigger!!

As I explained in the last post, I had decided to leave that day as it would give me 15 clear days between leaving Singapore and arriving in Australia, so if the Australians did add Singapore to the list alongside Iran, Italy and China, I would be ok. I thought my geographical knowledge was pretty good but I didn't realise until last week that all that would be required to get my exit stamp was a 55 minute journey to the Indonesian Island of Batam, less than 10 miles away across the Singapore Straight. Jack's flight home wasn't until the early hours so I had booked the 21:40 crossing, the last one of the day. In order to spend as much time at the bar (er I mean with Jack) as possible we set off towards the port quite last minute. I said goodbye to Jack at Tanah Merah MRT (Metro) station where he changed trains to head towards the airport and I changed for a bus to take me to the ferry terminal. I arrived at the terminal at 20:40, exactly the time specified on my confirmation email, which was great... or it would have been if I had been at the correct terminal. Everything looked closed up and there was nothing on the departure board. The staff in the BatamFast office were less than helpful but eventually told me that the 21:40 sailing goes from the terminal near Sentosa island, about 8 miles away and only about 1 mile from where we had been drinking an hour earlier! Luckily there was some WiFi so I quickly booked a taxi using the GRAB app and thankfully Singapore's excellent road network helped me greatly (half of the journey seemed to be in tunnels)! I dashed through the shopping centre that I was dropped off at hoping that following signs for the "Cruise Terminal" was the right thing to do! I made it to the correct BattamFast office at 21:08 and to my relief was handed a ticket and directed towards the immigration area! Despite surely looking just like someone with a fever, dripping with sweat and knackered, they let me through the health screening and I used the automatic gates for passport control. I boarded a clean modern fast boat named "ASIANFAST 1" just before it pulled away.

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Batam Island is a strange place. Travel blogger Peter Alexander who has very kindly been passing on tips and words of wisdom since I left the UK warned me that it might not be a terribly safe place for a Westerner to be. He tells me that about 30 years ago there was virtually nothing but jungle here, before someone came up with the bright idea of creaming off some of it's near neighbor's success by attracting day trippers and weekenders to shop in the hastily built malls and stay at 4 and 5* hotels at a fraction of the cost of those over the water. According to the WikiTravel page it is known as the "production leg of Indonesia-Malaysia-Singapore Growth Triangle". Unfortunately, all this created an Asian version Milton Keynes and the rapid development came with high crime levels perhaps associated with tourists looking for slightly seedier things than a cut price H&M. Anyway after passing through Indonesian immigration with Peter's warning on my mind, I splashed out and took a ticket from the pre-paid taxi counter at the over glamorously named "Batam Center International Terminal" at a cost of Rp75,000 (£4:03). I had cashed in 3 of my reward nights so my stay at the 4* Best Western hotel cost me next to nothing. As I connected to WiFi I learned that the USA had, as expected extended it's travel ban to include visitors travelling from the UK. UK citizens that had not been in the UK for 2 weeks would be exempt it seemed.

The morning after I faced my next mini-challenge in securing a booking on the once weekly ferry to Jakarta run by the state shipping company PELNI Lines. I had read numerous reported failures online of people trying to book through the website so wanted to give it a go! After about 10 minutes I had my reservation! The ferry was at 15:00 on Wednesday 18th. However that's not the end of the process as the website does not accept payment. Instead you have three hours to take your reservation code to a branch of one of the three listed shops and pay. The first two shops I tried didn't seem to know anything about it, but the third, after some persuasion said they could do it but only in cash. Back from the ATM I secured my booking with 1hr 6 minutes remaining, but a little concerned I had handed over a wad of cash and only got a tiny scrap of a receipt to show for it! Feeling very pleased with myself I left the shop and went to stand outside a Starbucks to get some WiFi and order a moto-taxi to take me back to the hotel. Once connected I got three messages from different people each giving me the news I was dreading. "Australia to order all international arrivals to self-isolate for 14 days". In order to catch the train from Perth I would need to arrive in Australia within 11 hours and lock myself in a room for two weeks! The game was finally up.

Over the next two days I frantically looked to see if there was any way out of the situation but emails were arriving! The first was from Holland America line, operator of the MS Noordam, my lift to Vancouver. This was the one leg of the journey that the whole trip had been planned around because once a year the Noordam moves between Australasia where it spends half it's time to North America where it spends the rest of it touring Alaska. As it's essentially a ship relocation move, fares are a fraction of the cost of other Pacific cruises (or they seemed to be when I booked early on). The email said that HAL had suspended all operations until 14th April, 2 days before the Noordam was meant to sail from Sydney with me on it. The next email came from Journeys Beyond Rail (previously Great Southern Rail) who operate the Indian Pacific train service from Perth to Sydney, refusing my refund request despite the imposed travel restrictions. Thanks a bunch.
I spent a while pondering the possibility of flying to Sydney spending 2 weeks in isolation before hopefully sailing to Vancouver. Sadly though half of me was suddenly starting to lose enthusiasm for the trip. The whole point was to circumnavigate without flying, a goal already missed quite spectacularly because of the virus. The idea of flying to Australia and then potentially having to fly to the USA or even home, was not something I wanted to risk. Also during this time I read news that Singapore had imposed restrictions on arrivals from 12 countries, including Malaysia. We had narrowly avoided that one!

The slight plus side to all of this was that instead of rushing through one of the most interesting countries in Asia, I could max out my permitted stay of 30 days (which can even be extended to 60). However almost literally as I was looking at flights home in a few weeks, news arrived of the Foreign Office's unprecedented decision to advise against all unnecessary foreign travel. While they hadn't explicitly advised anyone already abroad to return immediately, I wondered how long it would be before insurers started to insist on it. Within minutes, the cheapest flights home that I had been looking at roughly trebled from around £390 to around £1100 before thankfully settling back down again.

There are no direct flights from Indonesia to the UK, or at least, not at the moment anyway. Many options involve a self transfer in countries where I wouldn't get through immigration and others were stupidly expensive. A flight to elsewhere in Europe and then using my F.I.P card to get home would have been foolish, as borders were closing left right and centre. I eventually settled on a flight from Denpasar, Bali via Dubai. This ticked all the boxes of it being a short airline provided transfer and via somewhere I hadn't already been (I liked the idea of a round trip!) It also means that for the next week at least I can travel East and pretend I'm still circumnavigating!

On my last full day on Batam I decided to make use of the free shuttle bus provided by the hotel to the shopping centres at the North end of the island. There was only me on it in both directions. Tourism has totally fallen away here since the outbreak of the virus. Many visitors come from China and Japan. In over two hours at the shopping centre (The Grand Mall) which I would say was about the size of the White Rose Centre, I can't have seen more than about a dozen other shoppers. I hope this is the closest I come to experiencing an apocalypse on this trip! Almost out of pity for the 100 or so members of staff apart from anything else, I bought a t-shirt, a coffee and had a wet shave before catching the shuttle bus back to my 15 floor hotel, which following the departures after the weekend was also virtually empty. The staff at the hotel were really friendly but everyone here must be worried for their jobs. I hope it picks up for them soon.

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I left the hotel mid morning on Wednesday having filled up on as much of the outstanding buffet breakfast as I could. After 4 days I still hadn't been able to find any information about the buses on the island (I think the guest relations desk at the hotel thought I was kidding when I asked them for help) so I booked a taxi. I Google translated my confirmation email and it said I needed to go to a PELNI office and exchange my payment receipt for a ticket within 24 hours of departure time. The only PELNI office I could find on Google maps was near the Sekupang terminal, several miles from where all the reports online told me the boat would be, but it seemed daft to just ignore the instruction. I asked the taxi to wait which was a good move, as after a few seconds the lady behind the counter nodded at my receipt and said "Batu Ampar" (the other port). I had prepared my response, the first time I had actually used my Lonely Planet phrasebook! "karcis"? (Ticket) "BATU AMPAR!" she said a little frustratedly! So back in the taxi for the 20 minute journey round the coast. By this time, the Vessel Finder app I had downloaded told me KM Kelud had docked at Batu Ampar which was reassuring that at least I was going to be near it, even if I didn't have a ticket yet! A little while later I was dropped off at Batu Ampar, the taxi driver having shouted "Jakarta?!" at about 1500 people to try to make sure he dropped me off in roughly the right place! I found a crowd of people that looked like they could be waiting for a boat and someone pointed me in the direction of a hole in a wall of a building where my scrap of a receipt was finally exchanged for two tickets. I have rarely been more conscious of the amount of stares I was getting than over then next hour or so while everyone waited for boarding to start. Just curiosity I'm sure but I was glad when I got into a conversation with one of the porters. I correctly assumed that I would struggle to say goodbye to him until I was in my compartment and had given a decent tip, but I didn't mind too much! Sadly I have forgotten his name (I would never make a proper travel writer) but he was born in Malaysia and moved to Batam 15 years ago as the tourism boom started to happen. He had worked at the docks for 10 years. I tried to find out why the Kelud was sailing from this grotty cargo harbor when there was a half decent looking passenger terminal at Sekupang, but the usefulness of my Lonely Planet Indonesian Phrasebook and Dictionary was quickly exhausted!

Eventually it was time to queue up. I had read a lot of reports online about PELNI ships and how the boarding and alighting process can be chaotic so it wasn't as bad as I was prepared for, but it was one of the most crazy experiences of the trip so far. I didn't really feel I should be taking photos though. At the health screening point there seemed to be some disagreement between the health officers as to whether I should be allowed to board, given my recent travel history. It took some explaining that I hadn't used my Chinese visa. Eventually though my temperature was checked for the second time and I was waved through. I felt really guilty walking through the 3rd class area which was terribly cramped and crowded, knowing that I was on my way to a first class compartment of my own. The 22 year old KM Kelud is (officially) meant to have a capacity of 2607 along with 157 crew members and her gross tonnage is 14800 (I found a poster, can you tell?) I think it was in his "Full Circle" series that Michael Palin said that getting to know a new vessel is one of the great joys of travel. I have a vivid childhood memory of being told off for standing in the wrong place on the Mersey ferry so I don't share his enthusiasm. I had booked both beds in a two berth class 1A/A compartment, the best available, for luggage security apart from anything else. From reports I had read I had prepared myself for the worst but it wasn't too bad! Very spacious and even had a TV with an HDMI port so I could connect my phone to it. The bathroom was pretty filthy but everything worked. I'm glad I only just met the family of cockroaches that I was sharing the room with an hour before disembarking, otherwise I might not have slept as easily! The Kelud boasted a cafeteria with a sign for "Kareoke" though I heard none, a large restaurant and ballroom sort of area, a mosque, a sun deck (sort of) and a couple of small shops that sold little more than drinks, biscuits, crisps and vouchers for the WiFi that didn't work ("no refunds")! Meals are included in 1st and 2nd class tickets but 1st class were called before everyone else. I was given dinner on day one and breakfast, lunch and dinner on day two. Each meal was basic but decent and consisted of rice, chicken or fish, a sort of paratha and a bottle of PELNI branded "Jungle Juice"! I only ate with a maximum of about 6 others so first class must have been virtually empty. I watched hundreds and hundreds boarding so it must have been busy on the lower decks. Meal time entertainment was provided by a half decent 5 piece band who I felt very sorry for, performing to such a tiny number of people. I wanted to clap but I would have been the only one! At about 20:10 the Kelud bobbed steadily over the equator without fanfare or announcement. As Peter pointed out to me the other day, there will be few if any other ways of doing this apart from on a huge cruise liner. Yesterday morning I was woken in the early hours by the Muslim call to prayer, played over the ships tannoy including the speakers in each compartment. The approach to Jakarta was made in during a spectacular thunder storm with some of the best forked lightening I have ever seen. This was fun at first but then I remembered the amount of times I had seen flooding in Jakarta in the news recently! The whole sky was lit up several times as two tug boats were attached to pull the Kelud into Tanjung Priok harbor. Dissembarkation went smoothly until a hold up at the luggage screening area caused a queue right back to the bottom of a very long escalator. Everyone seemed to think this was mildly amusing at first but the laughter quickly turned to moderate panic as nobody seemed to know where the stop button was. People on the escalator could do nothing but watch as the pile up got bigger. Being the biggest and fattest person there with a massive rucksack, I was ok but there were a few minor I injuries before the power was finally switched off. The last train from the harbour had left an hour earlier (if it had run at all, Peter had told me it is usually suspended) and the rain was still hammering so I took a taxi to the hotel.

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As I wrote this Peter informed me that he had heard that Indonesia has stopped issuing visas at the border, another restriction I have narrowly avoided! I have two days to explore Jakarta before my train East across Java to Surabaya on Sunday.

Posted by around129 19:37 Archived in Indonesia

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Comments

Phew! I can hardly wait for the next episode. That Jungle Juice must be good stuff keeping you going like that... superb organisational skills. Take care with the rest of your journey - the Holmfirth borders will be open for you.

by RayEliz

All the best with Tokyo/Helsinki excursion.

by RayEliz

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