One of the biggest man-made natural disasters you don’t know about

One of the biggest natural disasters this year started 6 months ago, and I doubt you know about it if you’re not from Asia. Because besides the fact that it affected several countries in South East Asia, the major media outlets haven’t bothered to even headline it.

“Not even kinda?”, you ask?

Yep, not even kinda.

Between July and October this has been going on, and the country I live in was suffocating in a thick smoke that traveled across the sea from Indonesia for 2 months of it. A haze, repugnant in look and smell, and in an absolutely god-awful taste rolled into Penang, Malaysia while I was away. I heard about it while I was gone, but nothing that was startling. Nothing about how devastating it really is. So after a month of travel, I came back to what I thought was a normal Penang. Almost exactly how I left it. And for the most part it looked so. I didn’t know the winds had shifted, sending it another direction. A few days after returning we were getting back into our routine. I was starting my school year. Everything seemed to be back to normal.

But then it began.

It’s a yearly event, something that was mentioned in passing by fellow expats who have experienced it for decades. But no one could expect that this would be the worst year since it started over 2 decades ago.The white smoke snuck in from below and above. It blocked out the sun, and covered the mainland before weaving its way along the bay outside my apartment, slowly covering everything in sight 3,000 meters away. Then 2,000ms. 1,000ms. Suddenly our gorgeus view was replaced by a smog so thick I could cut it with a knife.

But by then the view was the least of our problems.


Our view a year ago.


Our view in early October

Once it began to seep into our apartment we had to have our doors and windows closed at all times. We soon became the air-conditioning addicts we made fun of before, and avoided going outside completely. On Facebook, I could see people who had jobs outdoors wearing gas-masks. Schools were closed across Malaysia, and every outdoor acivity was cancelled without mention.

Everyone knew that the haze had officialy closed down a country.

So cooped up in our apartment, avoiding the outside world by ordering groceries online and calling for take-out, we looked up what this haze really was.

And this turned up.

Our country-neighbor Indonesia, one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been, is also one of the leading exporters of Palm Oil. Palm Oil is in 50% of the products you use, in case you didn’t know. And with fields across the nation, companies big and small manufacture and sell it internationally. But after a busy year, the fields that had once hosted their products barren, and are completely useless to them. The crops, after use, tarnish the field to an almost, un-reusable extent. They need to start again, and need fresh space to plant new trees. But how can they do this?

Well, it’s simple. Burn the soil, and replant, and while you’re at it expand a little.

Quick and easy, right?

“Today, rainforest area the equivalent of 300 soccer fields is being destroyed every hour.”

This year it started in June, and winds from El Nino (The big bad storm) pushed the smoke to Singapore, Malaysia, and even up to Thailand. Since the fires started aren’t properly contained AT ALL (Smaller businesses even claim not to start them), the fire doesn’t just stop in the counterfeit fields. It spreads into one of the most magnificent and beautiful jungles in the world, home to the ever-dwindling orangutans, monkeys, rhinos and tigers.

And to countless Indonesians.

And while most years these fires are put out relatively soon, this year the right winds and a very dry rainy-season provided the perfect opportunity for the fires to manifest. Unstoppable, they eat away the jungle into ash as they suffocate Indonesian children, women, and men. With over 500,000 documented respritatory tract infections this year, there is an expected 100,000 premature deaths for next year caused by the smoke. 

And while Malaysians complained about the haze, looking at the official Haze Index, the highest the smoke reached was in the late 200’s.  That was where schools closed. The highest it is in the U.S.A at the moment is 107 at a town in California (Who knows whats going on over there). But you know what the index was in Indonesia? A place where a large percentage of the population can only afford curtains for doors, much less air-conditioning? Where fires rage uncontrollably over 5,000km of their land?


Haze in Central Kalimantan

“These fires are a threat to the health of millions. Smoke from landscape fires kills an estimated 110,000 people every year across Southeast Asia, mostly as a result of heart and lung problems, and weakening newborn babies.” ~ An excerpt from





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While the flames have finally died last month, Indonesia is slowly recuperating from the devastation left. “Slash and burn needs to be put to a stop…” says, The Guardian, who also says that small buisnesses and the government are apart of the problem. The small buisnesses really can’t be held accountable until the government strengthens the laws on the fires killing their country.

But right now Indonesia needs everyone’s help. The corrupt government isn’t helping its citizens, calling the complaining affected countries (Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand), sensitive, and saying that it has done enough for its people by telling them to “stay indoors”. But when indoors isn’t even possible for most, what can the people do? And while the endangered Orangutans are slowly being rescued from the flames, it is more clear than ever that it just isn’t enough.

So how can we help?

We can help by spreading the word of the devastation. And we can help by donating to help kids and mothers and the Orangutans in Indonesia. If you didn’t know this was happening, your friends probably don’t either. So please spread the word by person and online.

Don’t let ignorance kill lives.





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Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – Part 2

Hey Guys, this a part two of an article I wrote, so if you haven’t read the first bit click here before you read on!

So at this point we were over a week into the trip, and we had been able to walk around the city of Ho Chi Minh, explore the work-in-progress city of Phenom Phen,  and climb up the temples in Angkor Wat, Siem Riep, both in Cambodia. On our last day in Ho Chi Minh (Before heading to the pretty pretty beaches of Da Long) we left in the morning to the Tunnels. We took a private van over to the river, where we would take a boat 2 hours up to our destination.

Now the Tunnels were what the Vietnamese used to live in during the Vietnamese War. They dug them extremely deep at some points, with them weaving in and around the ground sometimes for dozens of meters ( They could be over 100 feet long). I didn’t now much about them before, but actually being able to crawl inside them. Well. It was defintly some hands-on experience to say the least.

We ended up being dropped off at a nice marina, waiting for the boat’s captain to get on our way. Ho Chi Minh is very city-busy, and as we sat at the side of a flowing (brown) river, we watched the little ants buzz their way across the in-construction bridge. When the captain arived we jumped into a small skiff along with 3 high school seniors from the UK who had also booked the tour of the tunnels. It was kinda a tiny boat, but there was fruit and a nice breeze (see photo for the affects on my hair below) so we were able to enjoy the 2 hour trip up the river.

My Mum and I enjoy the *slight* breeze in the back.

My Mum and I enjoy the *slight* breeze in the back.

Bridges were so low at some points that I could've jumped up and touched them as we coasted beneath them.

Bridges were so low at some points that I could’ve jumped up and touched them as we coasted beneath.

Our small skiff.

Our small skiff.

We passed by all types of barges and fishing boats. Even some rowers!

We passed by all types of barges and fishing boats. Even some rowers!

Riding up the river was just, beautiful. Green jungle was on either side of us, and there were rarely any waves (except the occasional freighter wave that made us hop like a skipping stone). In a way it reminded me of the Rio Dulce, in Guatemala. The thriving greenery all around us gave the river a sense that it was in the process of being mummified with vines, and lanky Mangroves.

We were soon pulling up to a floating restaurant full of wooden chairs, connected to a bridge that dissapeared into the mangroves behined it. As we got on I took off the corniest orange life vests I’ve ever seen in my life (You could probably guess to my relief). We trudged across the wooden creaking boards that smoothly moved back and forth from the waves, and climbed up the bridge until we were land-lovers again.

Through Singapore (1/2)

I’ve been to Thailand and Indonesia. I’ve living in Malaysia. Believe me when I write that in the South East Asia I’ve explored, Singapore is what you find in the back of a magical wardrobe beside Narnia. Sleek silver brilliance striked with elegance and class, the most expensive country in the world was a shock to my system after 8 months of living in cabins in the jungle, trekking through dusty crowded cities, and crossing bridges into developing islands. All these massive buildings that cast their long shade down entire roads, all the international people, and all the cameras. The country where chewing gum in public is illegal was where I stayed for almost a week, and where I saw the lifestyle of the wealthiest class that exists mesh with those who sell Wanton Mee out of carts and hang their laundry off bamboo sticks. Singapore is a pretty cool place though, and I’m going to tell you all about it.

I arrived with my parents after an overnight bus ride from Malaysia, where getting into the country was easy (Though a few Arabian men were held back, most likely Singapore being cautious about Murrs). Hotel was an easy walk away from the bus station, and by the time we were checked in we were back out again. The main downtown area of Singapore is small, so walking we found an MRT Station and bought Easy-Pass cards. This turned out to be one of the best things we would’ve done, as the MRT was crazy-easy to use and got us everywhere we wanted to go for our complete stay for about 14 Singaporean Dollars each. We walked around downtown a bit once we were in the center of it all, and as luck would have it a free walking tour was starting and my Mom was more than excited to join it. Somehow we had missed the fact that the annual Olympic-Tier sports tournament was happening in Singapore for that week, and 2 free walking tours covering Little India and China Town were cancelled. But as luck would have it we were able to join the last Walking tour of the week through the business Centre and beyond. So not even 6 hours off the bus we were walking around Singapore with 3 college girls explaining this building and that fountain and this hotel. While I do enjoy these types of things, it was a major walk-athon after a short, abrupt night’s sleep. 2 and a half hours later I was more than happy to go eat do I could sit down.

But touching on Singaporean History, the nation used to be apart of Malaysia but broke off for a couple of reasons. One being that the main leader Lee Kuan Yew wanted full control, and after centuries of British Rule he wanted to grow Singapore to be free of corruption. Having a thriving trade port, Singapore was able to finance itself and grow steadily. With a strong set of rules, Singapore never as much as stumbled. One particular bump that it had to get past though was the multiple ethnicities within its borders. 60% Buddhist and just under 20% Muslim, along with Hindus and Christians flourishing abundantly, religious discrimination was something that couldn’t exist for even a second if Singapore were to reach its full potential. So intense rules stating that not even a word of hate against any other religions were put in place, and massive fees were placed upon those who broke them. This greatly discouraged everyone else, and from it the country remained peaceful. Though those were not only the intense rules to exist. Jaywalking, chewing gum, and most recently publicly drinking alcohol after 10:30 at night are all prohibited with the threat of tall looming fines placed on all of them. And I’m only mentioning a few. It’s so common to have to pay a fine in Singapore that stalls are placed across the city for easy access to those who have to pay them.

But luckily I never broke the rules while there (Actually I should rephrase that: Never got caught. I may or may not have jaywalked there but I’m not tellin’ you nothin’.). After the walking tour my Mom and I met my Father at the Crazy Elephant in Clarkes Key, a main night-time area in Singapore. Situated alongside a river, the Key is crawling with tourists. My Dad being the musician he is was invited a week before to jam there, so as he played music I played pool and watched a light show coming off of Marina Bay Sands. You know, that hotel with a ship on the top of it.


57 stories? Yeah, I think so. 57.


Scenic place, but damn is it expensive.

It was a fun night, and believe me when I say that I crashed hard that night. In the morning, we were off to China Town, Orchard Road, and the top of Marina Bay Sands (The super cool hotel I told you about. Yes. To the very top.)


Singaporean Buisness Centre

Interviews and thoughts of growing up with travel

Hey guys, how are you?

Diving right in: I’ve been thinking about travel recently and its affects on me for the past 10 years. At 16 I’ve been to 20 different countries, and I haven’t lived in one place for longer than 5 years. Its been exciting, and always different. Recent events have made me re-evauluate my life, a life without travel.

What would that have been like?

I think I would be a very different person if I hadn’t always seen places and met people as a foreigner. Sometimes I forget that always being the new guy in a place isn’t supposed to be a yearly event. I’ve grown up looking at a side of life that allows failures, lives off passion, flourishes in the bad times, and will always appreicate the good times. And now I can’t imagine living in a different way.

So I guess a little self-exploratory is this weeks blog :). Who in your life inspires you the most, and what effect do you think you might have on people in your life? For me a professional donut tester is probably the most influential.

Frosted? Yes please.

My Mom was interviewed by An Epic Education talking about our whole life adventure from the start a decade ago. So if you would like to learn a bit more about me, from leaving normal life in the U.S to sailing in the carribean, from a different perspective you can listen to it here.

Thanks for reading guys! Until next time,

Sincerely, James

Check out my last post.

I wrote about homeschooling in Malaysia!

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Penang to Bangkok – A train ride through Malaysia and Thailand

Just a really-not-so-short 23 hour classy train ride away, Bangkok is Thailand’s riveting capital, overflowing with friendly guides, even more charismatic locals, and slightly too friendly swaying partiers. From Penang, Malaysia it’s only a quick ride of a taxi over one of the pair of bridges here, or a 10 minutes ferry ride that brings a traveler directly to the train station (A 5-minute walk up and down stairs cramming us into an almost safe looking lift)

I was headed to Bangkok for just 5 days, which coming with travel spontaneity turned it into a week-long roam of this Thai’s City’s streets. Our memories lined up on an old wooden shelf would show obscured pictures of me munching on scorpions, slicing up canals on wooden longboats, flowers hanging off its bow showering us as the wind blew them wildly around. Or even jamming out on acoustic 12-strings on the 1960’s modeled train on the ride there. I’m going to have to indulge in a couple of these, and I figure that where better to start that at the very beginning.

Let’s do this.

And then there was a beginning

My parents and I were off with our 2 backpacks, guitar, and of course violin before lunch. Grabbing a taxi with an app that works in the majority of SouthEast Asia by bringing reliable taxis to your doorstep, we piled in and passed the time away looking out the window as our Driver joked about troubles with his Pakistani Wife, 5 children, and pointed different buildings out. He obviously knew how to be  his job, and flowed conversation that ran the time away. As an Indian man, he married his wife when she was just 18 and he 27, their cultures having pushed them together unrelentingly. A striking point in our conversation was how much he adored, and thought so highly of the public education system. But not because they were effective, it was free and there for absolutely anyone. Growing up in Malaysia in the 1960’s, 70’s offered no opportunities for academic knowledge, and he appreciated the fact, and hoped his kids did aswell, they could just go to school instead of working construction jobs and a variety of others as they grew up instead, like he did.

When we arrived at the ferry, we headed straight on without needing to stop (Though we might have for some banana bread.) The ferry doesn’t charge to the mainland, Butterworth, only charging about 40 US cents on the way back to Penang. So we got on it, and since it was a car ferry expected to get to Butterworth in 20 minutes minimum. Plagued by experiences of a 50 minute car-ferry ride back in Mexico, I didn’t have high expectations for speed. And my mouth practically dropped when we pulled out, our boat sped up and reached the other side in just about 10 minutes. It was easy, plenty of breeze, and faster than I’d ever expected. We plopped ourselves down concrete steps once we got there, dodging the disembarking cars, and walked for only a couple of minutes while following the signs to the train station. We got there with our tickets in hand, and even got time to eat Mie Goreng and drink Te-Ice before boarding.


Mie Goreng

When we did get to our train, it was purple and the inside looked like something out of a 1960’s movie. Basic leather seats that turn into beds and slightly-smudged-in-the-corners window panes, along with hanging beds above them. No plugs or wi-fi were there, though on just a 23 hour train ride why would we ever need those?


My family, being the card game addicts we are, started a game of Jim Rummy before the train was out of the station. Then, along with a Train Security Guard’s Thai daughter, we watched out our little cabin’s view of Malay scenery. The train tickets one way were about 30 US Dollars, and completely worth it. Passing through the scenery was just a bit priceless, and while the food was just a bit too expensive you could get local, much cheaper food from walk-on sellers. You could literally get anything from full chickens to bags of nuts to mini-picnics from them. It was easy, and no jet lag. definitely a plus.


Scenery through Malaysia



Scenery through Thailand

Crossing the border was just as calm as the ride, and we were officially in Thailand after only 15 minutes of checking out and in for the three of us. There was a cafe, and a duty-free liquor store in the building also, incase you wanted to get caffeinated and a bit tipsy all at the same time at an immigration office. Though, I should mention, with the bathroom situation on the train you need your wits about you to conquer it successfully and still dry.


Everything turned into beds in the evening

Passing by the end of the train, to get into the bathroom a heavy door must be swung open, and if you’re (unluckily) a man in this case, you get the pleasure of a standing room of about 4 feet, 2 of them precise locations so you can squat over a hole.

We left at 2 in the afternoon, and reached Bangkok at about 12 p.m. fully rested from a really enjoyable train ride. We marched onto the streets, and we hunting for our hotel after Pad Thai and Green Curry just a little while after.

That’s it for now, see you Thursday.

Sincerely, James




Houses in the wilderness as we go through Thailand



Bangkok’s Train Station

Captured | Bangkok, Thailand

It’s been ridiculously fun in Bangkok. The past few days adventures have snuck their way up and coiled around our daily lives, from jamming out on 23 hour train rides to munching scorpions out on the streets. We’ve been able to see temples, ruins, and shrines. Monuments and praying monks. Rooftop pools and speeding tuk-tuk rides through packed and certifiably insane traffic.

So when this all ends and I’m back home, I think I’ll have some stories to tell.

But until then, enjoy some photos.

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A brief “So Far”| Bangkok, Thailand

After 23 hours, our train from Penang, Malaysia arrived in Bangkok in the Afternoon, and our adventure began out on the streets in one of the most exciting cities of Asia. Our time here has already been amazing, and 5 more days will surely fly by. Once I get back I’ll have Articles on crossing the border, the biggest Reclining Buddha in the world, spectacular street-dishes, and what to expect walking down a single road here in Bangkok. Stay tuned guys!

“Human Lives are buildings under construction; how intricate the detail, how wonderful the message, and how high you are is up to you.” 

~Sincerely, James




These vases were hidden underneath stairs at the end of a temple – yet they have intricate designs of dragons and serpents spanning in golden color along the middle which are absolutely stunning.


In this river, wooden boats whizzing by, slcing through choppy waves are swarming around.


On the streets inexpensive clothes and food are guarenteed, even throwing stars and models of extra-terrestrials from the Aliens vs. Predator franchise made with wire and lightbulbs can be found.



A statue with a mournful face are everywhere along the temples, some with very toothy grins even.


Never ending, these golden statues have been here for hundreds of years – and will be for hundreds more.


Bukit Lawang – In the Indonesian Jungle, Part 2

(See Video Here)

As if the hot weather of Mexico had snuck into my baggage, following me across the Pacific Ocean, down the coast of Asia, and waiting patiently in my backpack for me to go to Bukit Lawang to pop out, it was seriously hot here. I’m trekking up the steep stone steps to my cabin, my backpack pulling me backwards, while my sleep-craved body pushed upwards, listening to the sounds of the rushing river behind me, and yipping monkeys in front of me. I’m sweating like I haven’t been living in hot climates since I was 6 (the irony) and I smell like I hadn’t had a shower all day (not too far from the truth)

But hey, I was taking an early step to being one with the jungle, and if a tiger came running by I would be the best camouflaged in the village.

There were only 4, or 5 cabins that made up our hotel, and ours was the third one on the left. It was pretty much a dream come true for the minimalist, and a nightmare for the person who can’t bear to live without watching The Walking Dead with air conditioning on a sofa not entombed in a mosquito net. Walking inside, we make way around the room opening the windows and the doors to the balcony, and I don’t even take a second to look around the room until I feel a breeze come in. It’s a small room, but fits in the jungle environment. A large, pink bed with a pink mosquito net drawn around sits in the corner, taking up almost half of the space. My bed is aloft, at the end of a ladder, about 7 feet above the ground on the opposite corner from the Princess Bed. Below it are steps that lead down into the bathroom, where a large hole in the corner lets in light, also giving a view of the village of tin roofs beside us. The bathroom is a large room with a wooden branch next to the sink the size of me with little branches sticking out of it that could hold your towel and clothes when you took a shower. The shower was a pipe that came out of the wall and when you turned it on, you had to let it run to get past the brown murky water. The best part though, was the toilet which held no toilet seat, and to flush you dumped water into it from a bucket of water.

Drinking good ‘ol ginger coffee

It was all spectacularly awesome (From the windows, to the walls) and we had a fantastic breeze coming in from our balcony, which offered a view of the river and the wall of jungle. We headed downstairs after dropping all of our stuff off, and enjoyed some Indonesian food (I had Chicken Curry, and we got some Vegetable Spring rolls to share) and had the opportunity to talk with the employees. Practically the moment we were done eating, my dad was playing guitar with 2 other guys, the population of the reception area gradually growing as the sound of strings reached ears of other musicians down the road. It was time for bed though, and I was dead-asleep in my room ten minutes later.

Omellete Roti

In the morning, everyone was awake by 9 and drinking ginger-coffee and having Roti Omelettes (Omelettes with tomato, egg, cheese, and most importantly grated potato) down at reception. After making plans for a trek through the jungle the next day, we got to take our time and walk through the village, looking in some stores. Being a pretty isolated place, the “grocery” stores had only non-refrigerated things (Milk was condensed for coffee) and mini-sized things travelers would probably forget, like shampoo or toothpaste. But in the local shops, they held much more. With dozens of bracelets and necklaces with Indonesian wood carvings at the end, and perfectly carved wooden statues of orangutans, the shops were full with cool knick-knacks. It only took us a couple of minutes to find things we wanted, and my dad was carrying Indonesian Hand-Drums on the way out. For the rest of the day, we walked around, eating at different places, discovering new views of the jungle. I took a swim at one point in the river, and got out with a bruised bottom for skipping along the rocks (Not my proudest moment)

View from Reception

At a restaurant looking over the river, we met 4 Australians who were making a mini web-series called “Yearns Out”, and Bukit Lawang was one of their first stops in their 6-month planned journey across Asia. They were filming Nomadic people that had made drastic (or not-so-drastic) changes in their lives, travel-wise. I ended up playing cards with some of their group, and we all got along fantastically. Their next stop turned out to be Penang (They may or may not have planned it before or after my family and I had talked about it) and ended up heading there on the same flight we were.

At the end of the day, we were all in bed extra-early to be prepared for the 5 hour trek the next day in the jungle, that would end with us rafting back down the river. On this trek, we’d be looking out for Orangutans, snakes, any other monkey because they’re always awesome, and Tigers (OK, maybe we weren’t exactly trying to find the tigers, but just a couple of months ago one was rumored to have stolen a couple of cows) So in the morning, we were up and ready to head out, quite excited.

Bukit Lawang – In the Indonesian Jungle, Part 1

 (See my Vlog in Bukit)

At six o’clock in the morning, I’m awake and sipping juice, thinking of things I had yet to pack. In the following 5 hours, I would have been driven to the airport, flown across Malaysia’s mainland, and landed in Medan, Indonesia, where I would be in pursuit of a red bus that would take me the 2 hours to Binjai. Once there, it was time for another bus to Bukit Lawang that would last another 2 hours, but would be the end of the day of travel. My parents and I had booked the flight from our home un Penang, Malaysia for Indonesia about 5 days prior to take off, and after a seemingly whirlwind of preparations including transportation plans, Jungle Tours, and accommodations.We were not novices in the public transportation deal in 3rd-world countries, but this would be the first time for u in Indonesia, and considering our final destination was in the middle of a jungle alongside an uncontrollable river, where we’d be one with the monkeys, snakes, and those-who-may-not-be-named-so-they-don’t-crawl-up-my-leg-while-I’m-sleeping. Electricity would be scarce, Wi-Fi even rarer, but we were ready.

After checking to make sure we had forgotten nothing, that all the windows and doors were locked, we headed to our favorite Malay restaurant an easy 30 meters away from our complex. We sat down, had some ta, and pretended to not be already-stressed for our upcoming travel day as we made chit-chat with friends of ours. They gave us a ride to the airport when the time came, and when we got there we were able to go straight through, and into security(A reason why we print our boarding passes online, and never bring any check-in luggage) Everything went smoothly, and were were sitting down next to our gate, drinking caffe lattes a half an hour before boarding.

When the time came, we jumped on the flight and got comfortable. I was going to use my laptop, but never got the chance to, because as soon as we reached flight-height, the captain announced our dissension, and a very short 45 minutes from boarding, we were walking across the airport flight strip in Indonesia. Americans get a Visa on arrival, so we had to pay 35 dollars in Indonesian cash per person when we arrived, and as my parents went running across the airport in search of an ATM, I watched other flyers check-in, until I was the only one in a giant room full of Indonesian officials watching soap operas and playing Clash of the Clans on their phones. Indonesia’s native language is the same as Malaysia’s, Bahasa, so besides telling the Immigration officer “thank you” or “What’s Happening?”, I was out of luck with making any chit-chat. By the time they got back, and we had coasted through security, we were starving, and we made our way through the crowds of people(Medan’s airport is the 5th busiest in all of Indonesia) and into a local restaurant. After some planning on where we should be going to find our little red bus that would take us to Binjai, we charged through the countless of people offering to give us rides to cities all across Indonesia(which is apart of the 3rd largest island in the world by the way) After a man with a red shirt with the brand of the bus we were taking on it hailed us down, we followed him into a bus that didn’t look like it lived up to what it boasted on its side.
On the outside, the bus offered free Wi-Fi, Air conditioning, and TV. On the inside, held a single channel showing Indonesian Soap Operas in Bahasa on a tiny, usually blurred TV in the front of the bus. A tiny, airplane-like fan above each seat that shoved waves of hot air at each unlucky recipient. And absolutely no Wi-Fi, which was to be expected as we were slowly going through a city into the jungle. I sat on the other side for the bus from my parents, next to an Indonesian man in his early twenties who saw me as an opportunity to practice his English. After asking me the seemingly obligatory question of “Where you come from?”, we chatted about Indonesian Government, English Certificates for Indonesians, and what was happening in the dramatic school-themed soap-opera overhead.Ari seemed very enthusiastic about it, and assured to me various times that it represented the best in Indonesian Television.

Going though Medan was a momentus time for us, giving the opportunity for us to see Indonesia up-close for the very first time. After passing several rice fields and small huts on large masses of grass, we entered the city. Large, concrete, squares and rectangles followed beside the packed paved roads, shielding the angry drivers from the sun. With large Coca-Cola advertisements hanging from every restaurant, and many drivers picking up random people off the street that they somehow knew, and without a word gave them a ride. I’d characterize the drivers as angry, mainly because most of them were honking their horns like the popped out dollar bills, and had this permanent crease in their face that made them seem somehow worried and frustrated all at the same time.
We were not in Medan for more than an hour when we were suddenly in Binjai (Not much of a change there) and kicked off the bus, We didn’t need to move an inch before a pack of Moped-driven carts called “Becaks”, and their drivers surrounded us, asking where we were off to. We needed a ride, and paying them 150,000 Indonesian currency( 8 dollars to every 100,000) we were whisked off to the Bus Terminal, where we’d end the majority of the journey on one of their buses. As soon as we arrived, we hopped on to a “bus”, A.K.A, an old van refitted with new seats, that was so cramped I got to meet a German man with his shoulder in my jaw and my elbow in his ribcage. The following ride was another 2 hours, along dirt roads that led us further and further into nowhere. After about an hour, we stopped next to a tiny store, where people got off thinking to go buy something, and the driver and his help discreetly changed a flat tire.

Once we were on the rocky road again, picking up and dropping off people every 15-20 minutes, little children barely closing the door behind them before we sped off again, obscuring them with a cloud of dust. we got to a fun little part where we dodge cards on a road that held cliffs on either side. At some ports we got creepily perpendicular, until I could look straight out my window and see the bulls and cows grazing below us, and I didn’t feel too secure with the thought that they’d help stop our fall.

After braving without injury the bumpy parts where my dad and I bounced up and down, hitting the roof like a pair of cartoon characters, we pulled into a bus terminal disguised as a Gas Station (Very sneaky) We still had more to go, but this time we would be getting help. Going off of a text the manager of “Green Hill”, the place we were staying at sent us, we were looking for the Indonesian with “the Afro”. Funnily enough, this was much easier, as a man pulled up in a Becak with a Afro balancing on top of his head the size of a watermelon a couple minutes after we got off the bus. He introduced himself, and told us our names so that we knew we could trust him. Jumping into the cart, I propped my feet up and enjoyed the breeze and scenery, taking video of the trees around us, and my dad with his own cart behind me. I had to hold on though once we started going down hill, tightly maneuvering through an “Italian Job”like set up of buildings. We could hear the rushing of water, and when our bumpy ride came to an end about 5 minutes from our lodgings, I was very excited to have finally made it.

We disembarked upon the hilly riverside, passing by long, unsafe bridges that crossed it. One was completely made of jagged, uneven pieces of wood that some locals were crossing along. Why they didn’t cross some of the more safe-looking bridges, I don’t know. Unless they were really the safe ones, I still didn’t want to be walking on any of them, but little did I know I would be crossing them in the future, more than once. But passing the bridges, we’re walking down a pathway, jungle to our right, and a large field of green grass before a river to our left. when we see our first monkeys. The size of golden retrievers, they climbed up trees and ran across the grass, I guess just “Monkeying” around.

Har har.

The closest ones, a pair of cleaning each other on a branch just a couple feet away from us don’t even stop as we walk by. Taking a quick photo, our guide tells us that the monkeys re always out in the evenings, playing and resting in the trees. He turns the corner, and we follow him, almost content with his promise that we will be seeing monkeys again real soon. We are soon walking between different hotels, made of multiple cabins each. Chickens run across the dirt road in front of us, cats passed them like they could care less, with that sneaky look cats they always have.Locals waved and smiled as we walked by, men with long, majestic black hair and women hanging up laundry, a pleasant, content look on their face as they waved at us. Everyone is very happy,  and in the next couple of minutes it takes for us to reach Green Hill, we’ve been put into an exceptionally good mood from their welcoming faces.
Our accommodations, a plot of land with a concrete-floor reception area, and several cabins leaning off the climbing hillside, is awesome. We’re met with the receptionist, a 20-something Indonesian who completely light up once he finds out my dad is a musician. Along with the key to our cabin, we order some food, and get invited to a jam-session here in the reception area later that night. I’m very excited to have some warm food and shut down until morning, so it’s with excitement I follow my parents up to our cabin.