Westerners’ Don’t Walk…. And Other Indonesian Musings

At first it really annoyed me. The constant harassment in your face with people yelling at you ‘You want transport?’, ‘You go on moto?’, ‘Where you go?’. It wasn’t until I was in a car driving with a local for the day around to Tanah Lot and Uluwatu in Bali that I realised just how much of a game it is to them. I realized when our driver started yelling out of the car window to his friends ‘Haaalloooooo, you waaaannt transpoooort?!’ and then laughing. Then they would call him on his phone and they would laugh about it some more. The whole thing was just obscenely funny to them. And so I decided to make it obscenely funny to myself.

The first time I really decided to make it a source of entertainment was when I was drunk coming home one night from the Sky Garden Free Flow (two hours of horrendously bad, strong and free alcohol).  They see me, go to open their mouths and before they can respond any I am all over it ‘Hey! You want transport? I carry you while I walk?’ They look at me like I am nuts, laugh and I keep going. And then I yell at cab drivers ‘you want transport?’ and they look at me strangely before they start laughing and so the game continues……

It became evident pretty quickly that as a westerner, it is expected that you don’t walk anywhere. I could have 100m to walk down a one way street opposing traffic flow and the locals would try and convince you that it is too far for you to walk and that they should take you on a 3km round trip around the block on their moto to save you having to walk 100m. The idea of walking anywhere is just absurd. The look of shock and horror on the faces of people when you tell them you are walking somewhere is priceless.

Take for example Baluran National Park which I visited on the east coast of Java. I got to the front gate, paid the entrance fee and asked about transport in and out of the park. They told me it was either motorbike or ojek. You weren’t getting there one way for less than $5 and I had all day to kill and a Mount Everest Basecamp to train for so I said to the guy, no transport there. I will walk in. He says to me ‘NO!!!! You can’t walk?!’ I said to him “Why not?!” He says to me, “You HAVE to take moto! It is too far! It is 15 kilometers!!” I laughed at him and said to him ‘It’s only three hours and it is flat. It is fine. I will walk’. The entire staff look at me like a mental person as I start out along the road. And sure enough, after 3 hours of walking I got there. And had a great time along the way being surrounded by butterflies and interacting with the nature around me.

Of the most entertaining times that we embraced the ‘Westerner’s Don’t Walk’ policy was when I got up at 3am to hike to the top of Mount Pananjakan for sunrise over the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park. The lovely men outside the front of the hotel were trying to again convince me that 5km to the top was ‘too much’ and that I couldn’t get that far. I told them I walked 15km two days ago and I would be fine. They looked at me cautiously before also trying to convince me I needed a scarf and a hat because 15 degrees was also ‘too cold’. Ha! Try -40 in Canada… I am fine!

bromo taman nasional 090
OMG! Look! I am walking overland through the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park instead of taking one of those jeeps behind me that all the tourists take!!

On the way up I met a couple of cool guys I started walking with and between us we got to the viewpoint 1 for sunrise and then up to viewpoint 2 later in the day after the tourists had re-embarked their jeeps and had gone home. We found a stand of fried banana and I bought two, one for each hand. As the incessant questions ‘You want moto?’ started up, I had a stroke of genius. I said to them ‘No, I don’t need moto. Too fat from fried banana! Must walk!’ The women had a quiet chuckle. The men stared carefully at me as they were not sure as to what the correct response to a woman calling herself fat is and they said ‘OK’ and left us alone. So I employed this for the rest of the day. By the end of the day we had clocked up 3 mountain tops and approximately 25km of walking in around 13 hours. When I got back to the hotel and saw the men trying to sell me hats and a moto I told them where I had gone and walked the whole way. They looked like they were about to die of shock. And then they applauded me. Not a bad effort for a girl about to hike Everest Basecamp. I wonder if they will have me a moto to take me to basecamp…?

So it is about a week later that I discover why I have such looks of confusion on the faces of locals when I met a local in Sidoarjo who literally myth busted quite a few of my ideas. It turns out that fat in Indonesia is a compliment. If you are fat it means that you are healthy and rich and have lots of money to eat. On the contrary if you are skinny you therefore must be sick, having money problems, anxiety attacks, broken up with your significant other or have some other serious issue in your life that needs dealing with. Fat is good. As such, why would I want to be losing weight by walking….??? OK, I think now I understand.

The second thing that he pointed out was something that after about a month I started to realize all on my own…. it isn’t the westerners that don’t walk. It is the Indonesians. They literally can never be seen walking anywhere. They will ride a motorbike 100m down the road to the shop if it saves them from having to walk anywhere. The whole time I figured they were trying to convince me that I needed transport so that they could have my business because I am white and as such I must have money. But no. It turns out that again these horrified looks of ‘What? You are walking 15km?’ are sheer looks of concern given that this is not a concept they can fathom. Turns out that it isn’t the Westerners, but the Indonesians that don’t walk…..

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