The Well-Travelled Welsh Gal
Indonesia: Java & Bali
I met Rhiannon on two separate occasions and in two different parts of Indonesia. I was so glad to see her again because our first encounter was so brief! I caught up with her recently and asked her what she remembers herself:
“We first met in Surabaya, Indonesia. I’d just had a really hectic journey with I think an 8 hour delay in Kuala Lumpur so I was exhausted. I’d had some trouble sorting transport to the hostel from the airport as the flight arrived before the sim card store was open in the airport, and I couldn’t book a grab within the airport’s WIFI without being caught by the renowned Indonesian taxi mafia.
“After a mini breakdown I eventually sorted a taxi and probably paid quadruple what I should have paid, and made it to the hostel. It was so nice to meet you and speak to someone who could relate to these struggles, and you showed me where I could find a sim shop and some good food from the hostel before you started your journey to Mount Bromo. Despite being a brief encounter, I really enjoyed and appreciated our time together!”
I remember bumping into her on a train journey later, too, though she was with a bigger group and I was headed to a different direction. Being alone and feeling the culture-shock/jet-lag combination a little, it was so nice to even see her briefly. But then, a couple of weeks later, I walked into my hostel room and saw her perched on the bed opposite mine! We exchanged excited hellos that were equally full of relief in a way – I hadn’t been meeting any interesting people so far, so it was so nice to see her friendly face again.
“It was the first time I’d properly experienced bumping into someone I’d met travelling again. I was a bit disoriented at first, but it was so nice to be able to spend some more time together. We ended up spending the day going to a couple of beaches in the local area chasing the best sunlight, with an obligatory mie goreng for lunch.”
We set it as our mission to find the best beaches in Uluwatu – Bali otherwise wasn’t known for them as their USP. After some tricky navigation on my part we made it to the side of a rocky crag, parking our bikes and making our way down, hearing the crashing waves before we saw them. The first beach was a bit more secluded and rocky, but we found a good spot, taking shifts in watching the stuff and going for a paddle respectively. I remember us having a good girl talk about boys and relationships and the struggles of emotionally being in so many different places.
The second place was down a bit of a rogue dirt road at the end of a cliff. We left our bikes – hoping no one would steal them – and found a nice patch of sand, soaking up the colliding peace and chaos of the busy beach, welcoming the sea breeze and warm sun. Rhiannon was so easy to be around, and while we covered a lot of ground with good conversation, we were as easily able to enjoy our company in silence too, which personally, as a chronic small talker, find quite difficult. It felt nice to spend more quality time with one person rather than moving around groups and not really having a connection with anyone – that can get quite tiring.
That night in the hostel we all had Indonesian food delivered from a local place and it was delicious. I think we were all quite tired, so we chose from the wide selection of (definitely pirated) DVDs in the plastic wallets. We settled on Ocean’s 12 while we slurped our noodles, tucked into our chips and drank our Bintangs.
I think we went our separate ways not long after, but we’ve stayed in touch since. I asked her more recently about her time travelling – I remember her telling me about her time studying abroad in Hong Kong and being fascinated, so it was great to learn about her experiences in more detail:
“I spent the year studying abroad in Hong Kong which was a great place to explore – there was so much more to do there than I expected (still haven’t completed my bucket list 1!), and the scenery and surrounding islands were so beautiful; I’m not sure why this is such a well kept secret but I’m not complaining!
“It was also a great place to travel from, and I managed to travel around once a month with some longer trips due to their mid-autumn festival and Chinese New Year. I travelled to South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines.
“After finishing studying, I travelled solo for a few months around Malaysia and Indonesia with a trip to Borneo with some Hong Kong friends, before finishing my travels in Bangkok with a friend I’d met studying in Hong Kong too.”
Rhiannon is probably the well-travelled person I met on the road, so I asked her how off the beaten track she’d really been:
“The most rogue place I visited was probably Tung Ping Chau, an island off the coast of Hong Kong which is much closer to mainland China (you can see it from the island!). The island has some interesting history, with it previously being used for smuggling guns and opium during the Opium War, and as a stop for those attempting to escape mainland China during the Cultural Revolution. It is now a pretty quiet fishing village, with few people living there through the week.
“The ferry journey is around an hour and a half long from Hong Kong, and there are only two ferries a day on weekends and public holidays, which adds to its remoteness. My favourite thing about the island was its rock formations. The water was so nice and clear too which was unexpected; I regretted not bringing my swimwear. I think I saw somewhere that you can camp overnight, but you need to apply for a permit.”
She also told me about some special memories she had and people she met in Sa Pa, Vietnam – a place close to my own heart:
“I was probably most impacted by the children I met travelling. I was waiting for the train to head back to Hanoi with some friends when a kid who was about 12 came up to me, and asked if I would be his PenPal. He asked his parents to bring him to the station during peak tourist hours so he could spend some time practising his English. Despite not learning English in school or his parents speaking the language, he was basically fluent! I felt incredibly humbled and really admired his drive, especially realising this wasn’t an individual case.
“Our tour guide in Sa Pa, Pei, taught himself English and French through Google translate so he could cater for and engage with a wider group of tourists. As a Welsh speaker, I appreciate the importance of linguistic diversity and how much it can mean to have tourists making an effort to speak your language. I made an effort to learn some phrases before travelling to different countries, and meeting these people who made such an effort to speak English definitely made it feel worth it. It’s easy to take speaking English for granted, but seeing people go to such lengths to practise is so admirable.”
That last paragraph really moved me. I’d heard of these experiences of trilingual kids of barely 5 years old in this town and being astounded, and then guilty of Western culture’s (particularly the English) ignorance. As a society, we intrinsically believe we are superior in some ways and so simply don’t need to learn anyone else’s mother tongue. But this isn’t true. These highly intelligent children should all be an example as to how we should deport ourselves – to treat one another as an equal, not more or less important. I agree with Rhiannon that it’s basic travel etiquette to learn some phrases so you are able to communicate in some way in a foreign country, out of respect, no matter how awful your intonations (as mine were) are. The smallest gestures like that could really mean the world to someone else. No matter where you are, always learn how to say thank you. Ok rant over.
I asked if she had any future travel plans when the world opens up again…
“I should be travelling at the moment, but there we go! I was planning on travelling around South & Latin America after graduating university, with the potential of visiting Central Asia too. I’ve been following journalofnomads on Instagram for a while now, and they travel around Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan a lot and both the scenery and the cities look incredible.
“I’ve been practising my Spanish this year with the intention of spending a fair bit of time in South and Latin America, so hopefully I’ll be able to put it into use some time in the next few years.”
Learning a new language, researching unfamiliar territories to explore and staying ever curious: let Rhiannon be an example to every future traveller. Finally, arguably the most important question of all, I asked her the 3 lessons she learned while travelling:
- Always say yes (within reason!) – “Some of my favourite memories were travelling to places I wasn’t planning on going to, or going to events I thought I’d be too tired to enjoy properly. The best example of this is probably spending the night camping on the tidy island Gili Kedis, with a group I’d just met in Lombok and ended up travelling with for some time.”
- Be patient – “It’s inevitable that you’ll encounter frustrations and delays with travelling, but the chances are there’s nothing you can do to change things and getting upset or frustrated won’t help the situation. I learnt a lot from these experiences.”
- Learn to enjoy your own company – “I was a bit nervous about travelling solo for such a long period of time, but I ended up really appreciated having some time to myself on a long bus journey or treating myself to a nice meal out. It’s so important to take some time to yourself to unwind, and to appreciate the incredible cultures and environments you’re lucky enough to be experiencing!”
All of the above confirms what I sensed from Rhiannon when I started getting to know her a bit more: she really is fearless and unwaveringly goes for what she wants, with kindness and inquisitiveness at the forefront. So to sum up: let’s all be a bit more Rhiannon.