White Knuckle Flights and plenty of Red Tape

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April 29th 2011
Published: July 18th 2011
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So the morning Emma had been looking forward to had finally come. We hired a bike each to take us to the airport - again one building next to a runway about the width of a dual carriageway.But before this we had to get through checkin.

We had read some of the small print on the ticket over the last few days and started worrying over the *no change of name* clause in it. We started to think that the fact our names showed as Friedrich and Christina might cause a problem. As it was a domestic flight our passport shouldn't be needed but so far we usually got more attention at airports than most as we were Bulé (the local word for foreigner which is usually shouted to alert everyone we are in a shop or even just on a street).

All these fears were nothing in comparison to Emma. The first hurdle came after they had switched the luggage scanner on and our bags went through. We handed our tickets over and in practising our Indonesian were conversationally asked our name. Emma responded "Emma" with a smile. After a quick look of puzzlement from the man holding our ticket and only a brief moment of panic on Emmas face she came back with - "oh its a nickname - my full name is Christina". If they were suspicious they were either very good at hiding it or more likely they just didn't care.

We carried on with the check in and were surprised when a set of bathroom scales were brought out to weigh our baggage. We had worried about the low weight restriction for this flight but our hand luggage was crammed full of books and shoes so we passed under the 10kgs allowed. The next shock was when they asked to weigh us as well on the scales. We weren't sure if this was official or just curious Indonesians. Emma got embarrassed about having her weigh shouted around the airport but she didn't have to worry as Andy's weight was the one that drew the most chatter from the ever professional staff.

We went through the turned off metal detector and sat in the departure lounge which was about the same size as house lounge back home. We then sat and waited for the plane to come. With our basic grasp of Indonesian we managed to find out that the plane was late. It flew to Banda Neira then onto the Lease Islands then back to Banda Neira and finally Ambon. The plane touched down and let off a group of people and then after briefly viewing it through the door waited another hour for the plane to come back.

Finally the plane skimmed past the window and we rushed to the door to get onto the plane first or at least have some time outside taking photos. It was tiny maybe the size of a medium sized coach and all of a sudden the excitement had a slight hint of worry as we thought about it taking off. After a few quick photos we were on the plane as near to the front as possible - but with the size of the interior it didn't make much difference.

The pilots cabin was open and you could see straight in to all the levers and switches they were pulling and flipping. The most worrying part was the large wheel they kept turning. It seemed more mechanical than computerised and you could imagine the cogs turning to steer the plane or lift the wings.

Soon we took off and there was definitely a sharp intake of breath as the plane dropped off the end of the runway over the sea. We were up and going. The noise from the engines was loud but the view from such a low height was amazing. So after almost 3 hours waiting for this plane our 45 minute flight was over far too soon. We touched down in Ambon and got in a taxi with Phillip to the city centre after he failed to find a cheap flight that day to Jakarta.

We stayed at the same place Pondok Wisma Lestari just because we knew the owner spoke good English and we knew how to get to the Immigration Office from there. We got straight out that afternoon to the Kantor Immigrasi to extend our visa. Again Jan the owner of our guesthosue insisted we couldn't extend a visa on arrival to 60 days but we set out hopeful after going there 20 days ago and they had said we could.

We got ojeks (moped taxis) up there and despite the unsure look on our drivers faces they found the place. We went in and were back out again within 15 minutes. The forms had been filled in and we had left our passports behind. Apparently we could come back the next day after 2 and it would all be done. This worried us more than you would think as things should not be that easy for visa extensions. But we shrugged it off and headed to the city to work our way through a few other things we had to do now we were back

We couldn't book flights until we definitely had our visas so the only thing we could really do was go and find somewhere to fix our camera. The first place we stopped in gave us directions to somewhere. Unfortunately we weren't paying attention and got lost. We did however stumble on another place called digital 88 where they seemed quite professional and thanks to an Indonesian speaking American we could ask if they could fix it. The answer was go to Jakarta or Bali, neither of which we could do. The woman was telling us about a noodle shop in Bali that fixes them as we looked at the price of a new camera.It had been a mixed day where we now had high hopes of a visa but where looking at an expensive and poor quality camera.

The next afternoon we went back to the Immigration Office and paid our $25 each only to be told that their boss wasn't in to sign off the visas so we had to come back the next day. Another setback and to top it all Emma wasn't feeling great. We went to a Hotel round the corner from ours Hotel Amans which had free wifi and decided to rinse this skyping home and checking balances etc. Whilst there they offered us a room at their cheaper hotel the Amans Inn for about the same price as our homestay and with the added benefit of free wifi, cold beers and a pool we said we would be there the day after next once our visas would be supposedly finished.

The next day rolled around and we had said goodbye to Phillip as he headed to Jakarta and we were still stuck waiting for our visas. Emma was feeling too bad to get to the Immigration Office so Andy set off on his own. Within 5 minutes of being out of Emma's supervision it had started to go wrong. Andy had hailed an ojek driver and given him the name of the place and on the first corner we came to he over-revved the bike and with Andy's extra weight on the back they went toppling over.

Neither of them were seriously hurt, the driver was bleeding from a graze on the top of his foot and Andy's leg was throbbing but both us seemed keen to avoid the oncoming swarm of bystanders looking to cause a fuss. We got back on and set off. When he got there he charged him double but Andy was already planning on paying this anyway. A local shop owner did come over to warn me that he was overcharging him but by pointing at the drivers bleeding foot he seemed to get why there was an extra charge.

Finally there Andy was just hoping it would all go smoothly inside. By this time he had a slight limp as his knee had gone stiff and it ended up helping me a little. They wanted Andy to get a photocopy of the passport and visa and then it would be done. Because of his limp they sent a young land from outside run off with the passports to get photocopies. They only agreed to give Andy Emma's passport after he signed her paperwork saying he was picking it up for her. In less than half an hour it was done and Andy headed back to the room.

Emma was feeling better and made a bit of fuss over Andy's leg. However foremost on both of our minds that we now had the freedom to go anywhere in Indonesia for the next 30 days. We settled on Sulawesi deciding to return to the Togeans and the surrounding area. We booked tickets for 3 days time and due to complete lack of anything to do booked into a nice(ish) hotel with wifi and a pool.

Ok so that's not strictly true. The hotel we stayed in did not have either of these, but it did had HBO TV and hot water(briefly). Its sister hotel next door had the wifi and the pool but as westerners we were allowed to use them. We did very little over the next days so I'll just list the highlights.
- Watched the royal wedding with a beer on a tiny TV in Indonesian
- Ate fish and chips in a British themed fish and chip shop
- Drank beers with an Australian entrepreneur
- Watched batman films back to back on HBO
- Got followed through the market by kids shouting Bulé (foreigner/white skinned)

So we didn't do anything particularly cultural as there wasn't really much within easy reach. It took at least a day to get anywhere and a day to get back so we were stuck waiting for our flight. Eventually we flew via Makassar to Palu. As this was a bigger city than Ambon we planned to get a new camera and maybe got to a place from Sophie and Dales blog called Donggalla which was yet another beach.... Its such a hard life.

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