There is a childlike excitement arriving at a new place, no matter what the circumstances. My expectation of arriving in Indonesia on a beautiful clear afternoon at 3:30pm, checking into the hotel and strolling the promenade was already replaced by the reality of a late flight and a 30 minute drive into town through heavy rain clouds and dwindling light. I strained out the window to glimpse the town I had never seen and take it all in before dark.
Ujung Pandang, the fourth largest city in Indonesia and located on the island of Sulawesi, is more run down than I had expected. Outside of the city it is a maze of flooded rice fields and winding rivers of brown. As we neared the city center, we were met with the smells of Asia, a mixture of exhaust fumes, cooking oil and muddy streets. Everywhere people roamed the town in flip flops, in rikshaws, carrying small children, in scarf wrapped heads of many colors. The erieness of the darkening day was enhanced further as we heard the low rumbling call to prayer from the numerous mosques that dotted the skyline. It seems, in many Asian cities, that humanity lives on the streets, eats from open fires on the side of the road and drinks from decapitated coconuts. And Ujung Pandang is similar. However, the juxtaposition of this scene are the crowds of 20 somethings dressed to the nines on their way to the clubs that line the waters edge. Ujung Pandang is both traditional and modern, run down and a little hip side by side.
We check into our mid range hotel and while we wait for the AC to kick into our windowless room, we head out into darkness and pouring rain to explore. The security guard smiles and gives us an umbrella as the rain begins to resemble a monsoon more than a shower. We dodge the puddles and the traffic, soaking our flipflops and checking landmarks every few blocks so we can find our way back.
I love the feeling of being the only westerner for kilometers around and to be totally immersed in another culture. There is a feeling of not completely knowing what’s going on and wondering when I will make a wrong turn and get lost either physically or culturally. What nuances of the people will I learn tonight? How will they react to me? It’s the feeling of being of little on the edge and out of place.
We continue to dodge the oncoming traffic and the rikshaws and the raindrops and find numerous local stalls of food that smell absolutely exotic. We are tempted but are careful. We tend to always want to jump in to the local “everything”. I hate to be a “tourist”, BUT….anyone who travels must be careful when they eat new spices, new oils, new foods. So while we are dying to go to the local spots, on the first night, we resist.
Indonesia is known for a hot sauce called sambal and Ujung Pandang is the “capital” of sambal. We have been eating sambal for years but want to experience it in its birthplace. We find a “food court” which is a good compromise between completely local and completely tourist. We gorge on noodles and chicken and Bintang beer and a few different kinds of sambal.
We hop in a rikshaw and laugh with the driver as he navigates his way through the rain and the oncoming traffic and the potholes. I put up the umbrella in front of us to ward off the slanting rain.
It’s not the ideal way we wanted to experience Ujung Pandang but we have now had our introduction to Indonesia. We are happy to be here, happy to be in Asia, happy to be traveling and experiencing. Tomorrow we head to Irian Jaya, now known as West Papua. One last flight on our 3 day (4 if you count the date line) adventure to reach far eastern Indonesia. We have almost arrived but it doesn’t matter. What is important is to enjoy the journey.
To your adventures.