As I mentioned in my last post, I had moved to Jakarta for work towards the end of December 2005. I had already been there a couple of times and knew the city reasonably well. I was also slowly getting to know the country.
When I went to Indonesia for the first time, I knew absolutely nothing about the place. A few months down the road, I had learnt the language, made some great friends, and in general fallen in love with the place. In spite of all that, I began to wonder what the rest of the world had in store.
How I became a travel junkie
Indonesia was just one of scores of other countries that I didn’t know about, just waiting to be explored. Would I wait for my job to send me to different corners of the world? While not outside the realm of possibility, it was unlikely, and would certainly be a very slow process. How unromantic would that be! I knew that I needed to take matters into my own hands and explore the planet myself.
However, like everyone else, I put my travel dreams on the back burner while I worked and partied like the yuppie I was supposed to be, and continued to take short trips around Indonesia with my friends or with my parents who came down on a couple of occasions. I saw some sights that I will never forget. Verdant green countryside, alien volcanic landscapes, thick tropical forests, vast underwater fauna and pristine isolated beaches without a soul in sight. Indonesia is indeed a paradise for travellers. Far from quenching my thirst for travel, these trips just added fuel to the fire.
During this period I covered most of Western Java and parts of Eastern and Central Java, Bali and North Sumatra. And these three islands form a very small part of the massive Indonesian archipelago! I was beginning to realize that travelling only during vacations is impractical to say the least. If I wanted to travel I would need to find some way of taking a few months off.
From a reluctant non-vegetarian to a full-blown foodie a la Andrew Zimmern
How can I not mention the food?
Indonesian food is extremely varied, and though it takes time for the Indian tongue to get used to the new flavours (and animals) it is delicious. Well, at least after you acquire the taste, it is!
I used to be an occasional chicken eater, but you can’t live in an island nation and not try the seafood, can you? I started with fish, then moved on to prawns, lobsters, crabs etc.
It took me about a year but my tongue eventually rid itself of its hangups and I was eating pretty much anything. There was even a stall in the food court near my office that sold bat and dog meat. I wasn’t exactly a regular customer, but I did give it a shot.
Languages: From sillyglot to polyglot in um… well, lets just say it took some time
I also acquired a new fascination for learning languages. Six years in Pune, and I never had the slightest inclination for learning Marathi. But after learning Indonesian, I realised how learning a little bit of a new language opens up a whole another world. I desperately wanted to learn another language, and I joined a French class (taught in Indonesian!).
My French is still half-baked but since then I have learnt Spanish quite well, and at one point even tried learning Korean. My Korean project was a massive failure so I gave up after a while but I can still read the script!
By the end of 2007 it was time to renew my annual contract and I had to make a decision. I had been dreaming for a year and a half and now was the time to decide. I asked my then boss if I could take a few months sabbatical in between contracts. The wheels were in motion.