“One minute you’re sitting on the side of the road, sometimes for days, and the next minute somebody pulls over and things just start to go go go,” says Colin Brewer-Cook, who has hitchhiked as much as geographically possible from California to Bali. “It puts you right in the here and now.”
Hitchhiking – or hitching – is not common in Indonesia. It doesn’t have the same romanticized history as documented in the United States by writers such as Steinbeck, Vonnegut and, of course, Kerouac, whose book On the Road epitomized the beatnik search for the “real” America.
Hitchhikers tell their tales from the road.
By Hana Miller
But as travelers and local city dwellers alike are setting out to get a taste of the “real” Indonesia by traveling across the islands in the back of trucks, whether as social experimentation or as an expression of freedom, perhaps we are not far off.
Unlike in other countries, most of the vehicles that pull over to pick up hitchhikers here are unwieldy long-distance trucks that slow down just enough so let their passengers jump in the back.
As with truckers all over the world, many are happy to have some company on the long haul and can hardly mind the extra cargo when they’re already loaded up with motorcycles or livestock. Other drivers pick up hitchhikers out of perplexed curiosity.
The sight of Brewer-Cook standing on a roadside in a rural Indonesian village, wearing overalls and a big smile under a mop of brown curls, and carrying nothing but his backpack and a banjo, is enough to pique anybody’s interest.
He decided to buy a one-way ticket to Indonesia (stopping first in Australia and New Zealand) based on a flip of his lucky silver dollar coin. The trip marked his first time outside the United States and the beginning of his adventures in hitching across the world.
“Hitching is like watching the universe cook,” he says. “You get to see all the different elements and ingredients get stirred up to create the most beautiful delicious situations.”
Perspective and attitude are obviously key ingredients in the recipe for enjoying a mode of travel that leaves so much to chance. When someone is ready for everything yet not expecting anything, then gratitude becomes a driving force. As does a certain romantic notion of freedom.
“It’s like this overwhelming feeling of total freedom and happiness with a slight hint of sadness,” says Brewer-Cook. “It introduces you to strangers who introduce you to other strangers who become family and friends and lovers.”
The path for a traveler is marked by encounters with local characters who make the journey memorable, but whom they may never meet again. With every hello, the road is also paved with a goodbye. Unfortunately, the bittersweet doesn’t end there: For every generous ride there is someone, dishearteningly, passing on by.
“At least for us bule, hitching here is incredibly easy,” says Paul Calder, a US exchange student based in Yogyakarta. “Almost anyone will pick me up, and people often go out of their way to help by offering me food and a place to sleep, and helping me find other rides. It’s so easy that I sometimes feel a bit guilty because I know my Indonesian friends have a much harder time getting rides.”
It’s amazing that something as seemingly simple as “getting a ride” can uncover so many stark realities about a culture, society and country. The concept of hitchhiking – largely foreign in Indonesia, a country the rest of the world associates with exotic curiosities, a destination known to travelers as a place where anything goes – quickly becomes a statement about stereotypes and generalizations on various levels.
“People have a lot of deeply held assumptions about bule,” continues Calder. “Mainly that we all have lots of money and always like to fly or take executive transport … Sometimes it’s hard to get the idea across that not all foreigners are like that.”
Nidya Paramita was born and raised in Jakarta. As a young Indonesian woman, she chooses to travel by hitchhiking as a way to escape the paradigms created by the exchange of money between drivers and passengers. It is also a reality check, thanks to the perspective it offers on people, landscape and culture, and how people cope with injustices, inequality and exploitation.
“We miss out on so many things when traveling conventionally, conversations, stories, perspectives, scenery and interesting social phenomena,” Nidya says. “On public transport the buyer–seller relationship gets in the way of this.”
Breaking down the barriers of social, economic and cultural customs, Nidya has found value in the wisdom and experience of those who are sharing her world but living in a different reality from her own.
Read the full tales, here.
Source: The Jakarta Post