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For the fruiting, ferrying, vomiting, gifting and train travelling love of Indonesia

We left Amá Mar and Apá Yan’s home for the Indonesian border with a pod of family members and local villagers who were going to spend the day at the beach. On the last night in this warm and loving home, Yanti, Thaddeus and Bella came to stay. Yanti has been such a big help in the organisation of our travels since we left Dili, for which we are so appreciative. Thank you Yanti and all your family and adopted kin for making us feel so at home in Timor-Leste.

Our farewell was emotional. We’ve made so many connections over the past week or so, and we extended warm invitations to many to visit us in Australia.

Then, when all the hugs and waves and bondias (good mornings) and obrigadu/as (thank yous) and nadas (not at all) ran out, we were off in a little black pickup,

driving on roads that were in various stages of construction and deconstruction, the latter due to the common floodings in the wet season. Buildings too along our path were at various stages of their lifespan.

It was good to be travelling under a tarp with natural air conditioning because Patrick was heavy with cold symptoms for the second time this trip. Before we left we wondered whether we could find a place to rest for several days, as he was fairly run down. We are all still adjusting to the relentless heat, which is exhausting for we cold climate loving folk. Siestas, when we can take them, have been a godsend.

As it’s the dry season, everywhere cows free range on the soured stubble of the last rice harvest.

After about an hour or so in the pickup we arrived in Balibo, a town where five Australian journalists were killed in 1975 by pro-Indonesian militia.

Amá Mar came with us to check out this little museum dedicated to that grief story, which still touches our home town as one of the five, Tony Stewart, has family there. Tony was just twenty years old when he died.

The people of Timor, before European settlement, were not divided between east or west. They were, and, to a large extent still are, people of land, and therefore of ritual and ceremony, whose remnant traditional buildings still hold the traces of an earth-honouring and aesthetically astute culture.

While thankfully invading armies have stopped assaulting Timorese people, environmental pollutants brought in by colonising industries are killing the country in more insidious ways. While subsistence to local market economies remain strong, and are probably the reason why there is little obesity and type-2 diabetes here,


we have seen the many tendrils of the global greed machine at work in this beautiful country, and we hope the Timorese people will continue to fight for their independence from all forms of colonisation. Before lunch we arrived at the border,

said goodbye to our fellow travellers,

and were escorted to the start of our visa transfer process. Farewell Amá Mar and granddaughter Domin!

and farewell dear Timor-Leste!

On the other side of the line we were met by Yanti’s brother, Agus, who led us into Indonesia,

where we went through another visa process, which, as in Timor-Leste, was relaxed, and a stunning constrast to the increasingly paranoid corporatised nanny-state some call Australia. We’re happy to attest we didn’t bring to Indonesia paranoia or fear, but instead we walked through the metal detecting threshold with our knives on our hips, (after being told it was fine), dwindling stores of kangaroo and rabbit jerky, openness in our hearts, and

our trust for what comes next.

Agus took us into the town centre of Atapupu to change currency,

before backtracking us to his family home in Silawan. Seated here with us is Agus’ wife Anita (far left) and neighbourhood friends.

After school Alfan, Anita and Agus’ eldest child (13), and Woody (11) met, much to the hilarity of the younger kids.

It was a sweet moment of connection. We have come across no fellow caucasian visitors or residents in this part of the world. We met a few westerners in Dili, but have seen no others on our trip outside Australia, so far.

We are a bit of a novelty in these parts and everywhere we go what we find to be novel and interesting is often amusing for the locals. Meg and Patrick haven’t travelled overseas in the mobile phone age, and our snaps back then weren’t as instantly interactive and shareable as they are now.

In the afternoon, Agus took us for a walk around his village, where we met a man and his monkey,

and where we beheld this beautiful doe goat, who we’d love to cross with our buck, Hawthorn,

and we spoke with neighbours growing, tending and drying all manners of food, including cassava.

We returned home to this exquisite dinner made by Anita. Rice, fish, chicken, vegetables and always, always fermented chilli and lime. Sooo good!

The continual grace and generosity people offer us only grows our gratitude the deeper we go into this journey.

The myth that humans are selfish and narrow self-interested is promulgated by the ruling classes and their quasi-intellectual stooges, who are blind to other values and lifeways due to the social circles they keep. Think Noah Harari and Steven Pinker, for example. While some folk buy into the myth of the selfish gene, most don’t and their souls are very much intact as a result.

Agus lost his employment as a driver due to the Covid measures of his government. He had to sell his car, and economically things have been very hard since. One villager, Torie, who was keen to hang out and practice her English, told us “People didn’t suffer from Covid here, they suffered from the health measures.”

But rather than see themselves as victims, Agus and Anita’s home life speaks of a loving resilience inseparably connected to people and place,

a home life without running water, where they forego their own bedroom for strangers passing through.

After bean cakes and Timor-Leste coffee for breakfast, Agus loaded up his friend’s car with backpacks and people and all six of us headed off to Kupang at 7am.

The roads are on the whole smoother in Indonesia, but nonetheless the average speed we travelled was only around 40kms/hr. We were happy for this slowness. It’s not only conducive to animals, cyclists, tourists and the longevity of vehicles, but friendlier for pedestrians too.

On more internal matters, our microbiomes have been in radical transformation since we left home. Constant changes in our diets and body temperatures have rearranged our guts and not necessarily for the worse. Patrick and Meg have been eating much chilli and seeking out tuber vegetables such as sweet potato varieties, taro and cassava. There are always a bounty of bananas to collect, and we’ve all been trying to steer clear of fried foods because, as we reported in a previous post, cooking with vegetable oils longterm is a fairly reliable path to cancer. The confluence of nutritious foods and industrial contaminants mix in our bodies, and the toxins are either getting sweated out in the intense heat of the afternoons, or end up in one of these, which we’re getting more adept at using.

As we travelled we saw many examples of subsistence garden agriculture, as well as much uncultivated land, and therefore much potential for radical economies of place to grow from.

We stopped for a delicious lunch with Agus and fellow remaining passenger, Vincent, who was, like us, heading to Kupang to catch the ferry to Surabaya. We absolutely love Indonesian food.

Despite the fried parts (which would be fine if they were cooked in ghee or animal fats), such simple and delicious road food is very affordable costing just AU$14 for five hearty meals and tea. Imagine if we could get this quality of food with no plastic at a truck stop in Australia!

We drove on for another few hours passing many examples of local food and energy productions,

until we arrived at Yanti’s sister’s home. Tilde and her husband, Ady, welcomed us into their beautiful home and replenished us with dried bananas and hot tea.

From left in the above image is daughter of the house, Ningsih, mother Tilde, then to the right of Artist as Family, neighbour Ardy and father Ady. Using a translation app has been a godsend since arriving in Indonesia. For many of the people we are meeting, a foreigner is a very rare thing and an app has allowed us to speak across languages and share stories. Our hosts were informed that we are travelling with instruments and we were invited to play. After we shared a song, Ady and Tilde replied with a favourite of theirs, accompanied by their son, Lodri, on guitar. As a family who plays music together, this was super lovely to behold.

At Ady and Tilde’s home we continued to receive generous hospitality and delicious food.

We adults are particularly loving the vegetable dishes, and Woody could practically live off rice, chicken and fresh cucumber, which came out from the kitchen a moment after this photo was taken.

Woody has become quite the hit with the young women we are meeting, who shyly ask whether they can take a pic or two with him for their Instagram pages. He reluctantly and awkwardly agrees.

In just one sweet hour together our families had bonded.

Trust, grace, generosity and openness are infectious qualities, and Tilde and Ady’s home flowed with them.

We got back into Agus’ borrowed car-for-hire, and followed a banana truck further west,

until we landed at a fruit shop, where fruit bat Woody really brought out his amorous side.

The boy takes his fruit pretty seriously.

Night came in fast, as it does here, and we finally descended on the port at Kupang, where we farewelled dear Agus,

while we settled in for a four hour wait to board the ferry to Surabaya.

At 10pm, after ingesting volumes of exhaust fumes outside the ferry terminal, hundreds of we tired folk piled through two small doors eager to get onboard. It was chaotic. We’re not sure what was the culprit – something he ate, tiredness, the all day car ride, or perhaps just the petroleum and cigarette fumes none of us could escape – but Woody vomited several times on a tree at the dock as we waited to get through the next threshold. “You’re supposed to vomit on the boat, Woody,” said Patrick. We adults were fairly cooked as well, and somewhat delirious with fatigue.

Then, about thirty minutes later the call was announced, the wide gates opened and we were rushed onboard, a collective slug of people starting to fill the hull. We knew we shouldn’t dilly, though at this moment we didn’t know why.

It turned out that our tickets, like many others, were for ‘no seats’ for a 78 hour voyage, and fellow no-seats-folk (several hundred of us) were eagerly taking up little patches of carpet to make home for the journey. This photo was taken just moments after Woody vomited into a rubbish bin. The boat was still docked in the port.

He then promptly passed out, and eventually so did his parents. This tripodded image (taken early the next morning) is effectively how we spent the night, sans Patrick’s shoes and any available floor room.

Woody woke very pale and,

gingerly, he entered the noisy, busy fray of the morning, as Patrick made tea.

But the boy had slept, and this is our best medicine on the road, as indeed it is at home. He quickly came back into himself after a breakfast of fruit and the last of our oats, before Vincent came around and offered to give Woody a tour of the boat.

while Meg and Patrick connected with those sweet souls we slept beside and near. Instead of fighting over scarce real estate, people made room and connections.

On the middle day of our three night journey, an anniversary poem flowed out of Patrick, which we shared. There is something conducive to creativity when everything is stripped back to a vast ocean,

and all one has to do is sleep, converse with fellow travellers,

try their traditional foods, such as this Shabu rice preserved with the sugar taken from the Lontar palm and wrapped in a banana leaf,

catch up with correspondence (when there is signal), or stare mindlessly at the innumerable screens playing B-grade films in languages both spoken and subtitled that we don’t understand. We are so impressed how Indonesian people can sleep anywhere, and we’re learning to do this too, sleeping under bright lights and a cacophony of chatter, laughter, hacking coughs, loud phone media and crying babies.

The plastic pileups on this voyage, and indeed since leaving Australia, have been the most depressing aspect of our journey so far. So many banana leaves and rich fermentation and preserving traditions here, though sadly people have been steered down a path of convenience by the plastic industrial complex.

To combat our participation in this tragedy of Grandmother Gaia and her oceans, we’ve kept topping up our bulk food stores as we travel and we bought as much fruit with us as we could carry onto the boat, including watermelon, bananas, papaya, longons and salak. Salak is also called snake fruit due to the scale-like skin, and also memory fruit. As Indonesian traditional (or peoples’) medicine reports, it improves memory and brain function, no doubt due to its high levels of beta-carotene, potassium and pectin, which can improve blood flow to the brain.

Over the month we’ve been away, Woody has been taking his own photos on his little camera and writing regular journal entries. He has also been a keen editor of this blog, reminding us of things we’ve left out.

This three day passage began with vomiting and trepidation, but fairly soon we were thankful for all the connections we made, and the new foods we tried because of those connections, such as this traditional homemade food from Sumba incorporating nuts and banana. Yum!

We were also grateful we bought the cheapest tickets, as we found out the more expensive ones would have put us in these sardine cans.

Give us that floor of interweaving bodies any day! We came into Surabaya on the island of Java at around lunch time on the third day, took a final journey to the upper deck with Vincent,

passed by, with wide open eyes, the mountain of anthropogenic waste amassed in just 24 hours since the last port stop, (similar, no doubt, to an afternoon spectacle at the MCG back in Australia),

and alighted the ferry into the heat and haze of the afternoon.

We booked a AU$42 room 40 minutes by car from the ferry terminal. With cyclist guilt, caught a taxi there for AU$20, which we found out was about twice the going rate. The pedal-powered and heat-intense mobility we saw from the domesticity and AC of the cab reminded us of our previous adventures. There are different challenges with this journey.

Indonesia, gratefully, is much cheaper than Timor-Leste, whose currency is in US dollars. For an Australian family who lives well below the poverty line (that is, in money terms), we are both grateful for and mindful that this frugal adventure can occasionally bring a little more comfort.

We hadn’t washed for days, our clothes were putrid, and we longed for cold water. The apartment building provided.

On the street outside our apartment, a laundry business washed, dried and folded our clothes for around AU$4, and a five minute walk brought us to a little nasi goreng warung (fried rice roadside stall), where we bought dinner for AU$6. The meal was delicious. We’ll spare you another family selfie or food porn pic. We passed out early, woke early, and as we had to get across town before 8am, hailed another cab.

Taking selfies for social media isn’t ordinarily a cultural practice for our family, but since arriving in Timor and now Indonesia, it has become an everyday thing. Sunsr (sunset), our driver, wanted to “make selfie” with us. How could we refuse such a happy fella??

Patrick regrets he didn’t get the number of Sunsr’s dentist. At the conversion rate here, we might just be able to afford an implant or two. Not for the missing front tooth – Patrick loves his well-earned pirate face – more on the sides where numerous missing teeth make it difficult to chew. In Australia, for our overseas readers, we have universal healthcare called Medicare, though something our family doesn’t use, and thus doesn’t draw public money from, because of the way we live and because we don’t trust the medical industrial complex. Dentistry, however, something we would ues, isn’t covered by Medicare, at least in real terms. Meaning low income folk can get only rudimentary dental work done if they wait a year or so, but they cannot seek out a dentist they trust or who comes recommended. For decades, a lobby of dentists has pressured the government to make sure dentistry isn’t covered by Medicare, and so proper teeth doctoring remains a luxury treatment. Pulling out teeth when a problem arises has been the only affordable treatment for us, and more recently we’ve developed practices of self-applied dental work, which we’ll share in a future post at some stage. It’s not a big thing, we are happy neopeasants who make-do to keep ourselves free from economic slavery, but we are keeping open the possibility of dental work while on this journey, so if you have any hot tips for goodly dentists in Asia, please let us know.

~

Cities are not really the point of this journey. We are not the sort of tourists who seek out cities and their sights. Instead, we’re much more curious about farming practices, socio-ecological relationships, food and cultural habits, rituals and ceremony, stories and songs, and technologies that keep both bodies and Mother Country well.

At 7.15am we arrived at the railway station, found a stall that served black coffee,

and boarded a train to Jakarta.

This all-day train journey brought us into contact with the extent of small farming practices in Java. Field after field grew rice, taro, cassava, banana, cabbage, corn, sweet potato, bok choy, various alliums and a plethora of other crops we couldn’t identify from the train.

Unsurprisingly, rice is the dominant crop. Even in the dry season there is abundant water here, to flood field after field of this staple monoculture. We witnessed the use of herbicides in the rice fields, but unlike the broad-acre, boom spraying regimes of conventional agriculture back in Australia, small-scale farmers here frugally spot spray weeds by foot and with backpacks. Not ideal, especially for we neopeasants who avoid growing and eating sprayed monocultural crops back home, but a far more superior farming method in comparison to US agribusiness colonialism, so reliant on dumping endless tonnes of pesticides into the world.

As we approach Jakarta, we are reminded of the warnings about this city people have shared with us along the way. Yanti told us to keep a careful watch on Woody as child trafficking exists in this mega city of 10.5 million people. Others told us theft is big and we’ll need to be careful of our belongings. This is all curious to us because we have felt so safe on this journey so far, despite the hitch-hiking in Australia and despite being virtually the only folk of our ethnicity we’ve seen since leaving Darwin.

As we have moved west from Timor-Leste, where the dominant religion is Catholicism, to the island of Java, where the dominant religion is Islam, we have felt the social functionality formal religions bring to people’s lives. Yes, we understand the colonial threads of these newer religions, but have observed such a deep cherishing of them here. For us, we feel much more aligned to the older animist practices we have witnessed on our travels, because of the centrality of earth story rather than sky god honouring .

For society to function, for there to be peace and respect, people need a story. We have not been judged for ours, which is neither Christian nor Muslim, rather we’ve been embraced and cared for. Where our stories overlap with people, there is always humility, intrigue and gratitude. Our family’s big universal story, the story we serve so as we don’t require the use of a formal religion or unconsciously default to the cult of materialism, centres on the sacredness, abundance and teachings of Grandmother Gaia and Mother Country. So our big story goes a little like this: If we serve the communities of life that make more life possible, if we are the humus-informed participants of the materiality and physics of life source, and we honour, give to and receive from the living and dying of the worlds of the world, then so much more than ourselves can leap forward into more divine life, and our spirits and souls can dance with abundance and sing more fruit into being.

Sitting on a diesel powered train, using a rare-earthed mined laptop, and eating food we don’t know the origin story of, might seem a trillion miles from such an earth-honouring cosmology, and it truly is. However, unless we have a story that we love, a story we can cherish for its possibility, how can we move to where our souls want to lead us?

49 comments

  1. Victoria says:

    So loving reading your posts! We are very inspired by you guys. Can’t wait for the next instalment. Love and warmest wishes, Victoria & all at Anam Cara.

    1. Thanks so much Victoria! Sending much love to you and all the Anam Cara mob. We saw some pics of Sunshine at your place, including her new haircut. What fun! xx

      1. El says:

        Amazing journey thanks for sharing. So inspiring.

      2. Sara says:

        ❤️

  2. Trudy C says:

    Love to you all. You might like to make contact with the folk with Taring Padi if at some stage you are near Jogja. http://www.taringpadi.com/

    1. Thanks T! Sending love to you too. Unfortunately we aren’t heading near Jogia, but will read through the website, which looks right up our alley. x

  3. Rachel says:

    Wonderful blogisode of your epic trip. Woody is coping so well with all the vomiting – so impressed, well done Woody and I hope it stops soon! (though I guess it’s doing a job?)

    1. Thanks so much, Rachel! Woody is certainly learning that he always feels better after a good puke. xx

  4. Ali says:

    Richard will love these adventures in Timor Leste. A place very close to his heart. Travel well dearest friends xxx

    1. Thanks dearest Ali! We look forward to sharing a meal when we get home in the springtime, and chatting to Richard about Timor-Leste, a country very close to our hearts too. x

  5. Cari Taylor says:

    I am loving this journey – and riding the joy and connections along with the bumps and heat waves and stomach pains with you x

    1. Thanks so much Cari! x

  6. Tim Woods says:

    Another excellent update. What an adventure! While I find this trip inspirational for a large number of reasons, I’m not sure I could do a 78 hour ferry ride sleeping like that, plus I think my neighbours might take issue with my snoring.
    Now that Woody is assisting with the blog I’m wondering whether he edited out his cricket score in the previous instalment as I was wondering how his international debut went.
    Can’t wait for the next post. Hope all goes well in Jakarta and onwards.

    1. Thanks so much, Tim. Woody’s score was 5 not out. #veryproudparents Sending much love to you from Jakarta. x

  7. Jenna says:

    Ah thank you yet again for your beautifully insightful stories of your journey thus far, I can’t wait to read more! My partner and I travelled to Vietnam last year and were only met with kindness and smiles. There are definitely some people I know who had dentist work done in Thailand, I will enquire!
    Happy travels xx

    1. Thanks Jenna, so glad our posts are resonating, and yes please, we’d appreciate any leads on dentists 🙏🏽

  8. Genevieve Jones says:

    On the map it looks like you are halfway to India! What a wonderful adventure you are on, what utter fun!

    1. Hello Genevieve, yes it does look like that, and yes, loads of fun!

      1. Adrien Bray says:

        Great update! I’m looking forward to hearing your self dentistry tips as I am attempting to keep as many teeth as I can in my mouth without supporting the dental fraternity! Salt water rinses and garlic & clove oil certainly help with minor infections. Best of luck on your next leg 😎

        1. Thanks Adrien, we’ll publish that tooth care post once we’re home.

  9. Devon and Syd says:

    Wow, loving your travels so far Artist as Family. Looking forward to your future blogs. Wishing you well

    1. Thanks Devon and Syd,
      Big hugs to you both xx

  10. Jeanette says:

    Thank you so much for taking ‘us’ along on your journey. You are indeed an inspiration in so many ways. I will now go to my garden and dig the roots of me, as well as plants, even deeper.

    1. Thanks Jeanette, it’s such a pleasure to share our journey. 🙏🏽

  11. kadee says:

    Loving Your story of Your Journey, treasure trove of connection, lifestyle , humbling
    may the ebbs and flows be gentle on You All.

  12. Great adventure guys , love reading the blog . I’ve eaten the Salak fruit in Brunei, they dip it in soy sauce, interesting taste. Safe travels enjoy Jakarta.

    1. Thanks Regan, would love to get there one day. Love to you and your mob xx

  13. Cam says:

    What an adventure, I love to read about your journey!
    I would love to be able to give you recommendations for a good dentist in Asia, but I have no clue 🙂
    I don’t know how things are in Australia, but where I live (Denmark), people with little or no money sometimes use the dentist schools for treatments. A couple of my friends have tried this and as far as I know they were happy with the result. The treatments are done by students that are supervised by expert teachers, so they felt okay. But things can be quite different where you live, of course!
    I wish you all the best on your journey – what a lifetime experience for all of you!

    1. Yes, various forms of student or public dentistry exists in Australia, but it’s never for complex works like implants. The public/student dental system is akin to GPs doing heart surgery. But, rather than keep bemoaning this issue, as we said in the post, we’re working out preventative and treatment dental work from the home economy and we’ll share everything we’ve discovered after we return from this journey.

      1. Cam says:

        ha,ha, GPs doing heart surgery, no you don’t wanna go there 🙂 Hope you will find a good dentist in Asia! Preventive work is always good, I look forward to your post on that subject. At the moment I do preventive work excercising my feet. It’s amazing how alive you can feel just by wiggling your toes!

  14. Wonderful journal, thoroughly enjoyed! 🥰

    1. So glad you’re enjoying it, Sambodhi! Much love to you and Sandipa. 🥰

  15. Kate Beveridge says:

    Dear Meg, Patrick and Woody I am enjoying your travel stories so much. You are truly inspiring and have so much to share. Thank you so much for your photos and words. xx

    1. Thanks Kate! Big hugs xx

  16. Ellen says:

    Sitting by the fire here in Central Victoria with a cuppa, reading your blog which takes me to beautiful places and people – what more can a person ask for? Thank you for letting us travel with you.

    1. Thanks for travelling alongside us, Ellen 🧡

  17. Jac says:

    Onward and upward. Beautiful a.a.f

  18. José says:

    Dear Meg, Patrick and Woody,
    The ‘road less travelled’ is always the road that offers the most. Your blog – photos and words – testify that.
    The three of you are debunking so many myths about what ‘good living and traveling’ looks like. The three of you embody a genuine alternative to the ‘road more travelled’… the highway that is heading straight into the wall.
    Keep enjoying meeting new people, tasting new flavours, sleeping on the floor, sharing your humanity with whoever is lucky enough to come across your journey. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thanks Jose, we are often asked by bemused locals, “why did you come here?” Our answer is usually along the lines of, “Because there are no tourists here.”

  19. Hans says:

    Thanks for sharing the stories on your journey – such a delight.

    Low food miles with all the local food, exploring every mile and sharing the smiles.

    Even if you flew to your destination from here and flew all way back to the Central Highlands in AUS, I recon you would have done low travel miles – as we all feel we are part of the journey. Thanks for sharing every mile of your journey.

    1. Thanks Hans, glad you feel so close to our roundabout transits. Much love to you and Charlie 🙏🏽

  20. Kate Smiley says:

    I’m enjoying these adventures so much. Beautiful writing. Regarding dentist, there are many excellent ones throughout Asia – especially Thailand and Philippines. For longer term health, though it seems that bridges are much safer than implants or root canals. Something to consider… xxx

    1. Thanks Kate, yes, we’ve long since avoided root canals. Fancy a medical science that thinks keeping a dead organ in the body is an acceptable treatment. We’ll look into bridges, appreciate that steering. Sending love 🧡

  21. Peter O'Mara says:

    Oh yes, as I read, a Fairy Wren popped into my workshop for a chat. Succinct! Love to you all. x

    1. Thanks Pete! A second wren story while reading this post, in as many days. We can see you there in your workshop. Sending much love and big hugs.

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