Revisiting Horror in Indonesia

March 22, 2014

Did I ever tell you about my threats when someone was sent to “take care of me” after Indonesia? Well, I know I didn’t so let me tell you now.. Now that I have your attention I’ll start with a little history of why someone was after me which nearly yielded me coming home early mid-last December. Arriving in Jakarta, Indonesia on November 9, 2013 I stayed at an arranged Couchsurfing hosts house for what was supposed to be two days. Upon my arrival the man, Huang who greeted me into his home. During conversation he was constantly telling me how dangerous Jakarta is with theft and robbery. He told me countless stories about pick picketers, bag snatches and passport thefts suffered by many Couchsurfers he had hosted in his home. He scared the hell out of me. The following day we both were supposed to explore Jakarta together but in the morning he stated that he had to meet up with a friend for lunch and gave me directions of sights to see on my own. Before leaving, he once again reminded me to not being anything valuable with me and urged me to leave my passport, credit cards and only bring with me the cash I needed for the day. I obliged and left everything in his apartment leaving on my own. As I arrived to the major intersection, I quickly was turned around and returned promptly to Huang’s apartment to ask for directions a second time. Upon knocking at the door, no one answered. I remember thinking it was strange that he had already left so quickly but thought nothing of it and left the premises. I later would learn he probably was still inside. Upon touring the city I received a text from Huang saying to not return at 4:00pm, but rather 6:00pm because he had some extra errands to run. Upon arriving back at his home at 6:00pm he apologized saying that he relieved a call from his boss stating that he had an emergency project and would be leaving at 11:00pm that night by flight to Borneo and that I had to leave. Slightly confused, I asked him if I had done anything offputting to warrant an early departure? He assured me this was not the case and apologized again saying it was an emergency work meeting. He even was so kind to arrange the next train departure time for me out of town. I checked and made sure all my belongings were present, thanked him and headed for the train station one day early only after one night in Jakarta. At the railway station, I decided to check my bank account (for whatever reason) and noticed charges pending on all four credit/debit cards, a total of $3,470. I quickly messaged Huang asking if he used them which he then immediately called my phone.. and then disconnected. He then texted me stating that he had bad service and it was best to talk over text and asked me what happened. Well, we went back and forth for nearly two hours and this guy was good.. He manipulated me into believing that he left at the same time I did, did not use my cards and rather someone used a device and swung it near my bag to pick up my debit/credit card information. I was clearly in denial as he was “so nice” and believed him and even went as far as apologizing to him for the acquisition. Plus, he had an impressive Couchsurfing profile with over 40 positive responses from guests with zero negative over a three year span. He then gave me some religious proverbs of strength during difficult times and the guy really sold me. So there I was, going across Java, Indonesia with no access to money (since I cancelled the cards) and only the cash in my pocket. I was near broke and most of all, scared. I thought everyone was out to get me and whenever someone approached me I would quickly put up my guard and protect my belongings. Over a week passed and I mentioned it on FB how I had had money taken from me and suspected maybe it was my Couchsurfing host. Then on my way to Bali I received a message from a friend I had met a month beforehand in the country of Laos. He said he saw my post and he too lost money in somewhere Indonesia and he too had a Couchsurfing host. He said he was going out on a limb and sent me a photo of him and his Couchsurfing host from a couple months back asking me if by chance it was the same guy. I looked at the photo and next to my friend, with a huge smile and a beer in hand was Huang!!! My hands began to shake and my body tremble as I finally put two and two together and affirmed it was Huang all along. I quickly told my friend that yes, it WAS the same guy. My friend was equally as shocked. It turns out my friend went as far as traveled with him from Jakarta to Bali (!!!) Huang pretended to be his friend & travel partner for over a week and when my friend realized over $1,000 cash missing from his bag, Huang “helped him” and consoled him for two days before saying he had a work emergency and had to fly back to Jakarta leaving my friend nearly broke in Bali. The exact same excuse. On top of this, my friend then checked his credit card to find even more money stolen. The guy was good, he convinced us both that it wasn’t him and went as far as looking my friend in the eye, convincing him of his innocence. Furthermore, on his Couchsurfing profile he received his first negative post.. Someone else who stayed with him and was also told to leave early which was dated on the day after I was asked to leave, the same day Huang was supposed to go to Borneo. So now what next? Well, report him to the police of course and seek justice, right? WRONG! I had many mentors who were Indonesian who all stressed how dangerous it was for me, as a foreigner, to consult in Indonesian police. They went as far as telling me it was dangerous to report it to the police and it may even backfire on me if I do! They said the police system is completely corrupt and for me to stay away from the police. What. The. F@&K! So I decided to keep it to myself and even one of the women helping me with my case became suspect as she was demanding my passport info and bank statements. I didn’t know who to trust. It was just a horrible, helpless feeling of violation. I went to Gili T and met some great backpacker friends, had fun and looked forward to safely exiting Indonesia. Upon leaving successfully, I decided it was time to make this public and known. I wanted to wait until I was safe out of Indonesia before I exposed him so he couldn’t come after me. I started with Couchsurfing. I had a complete write up from when I wrote the US Embassy who apologized and said they couldn’t help me and to contact the Jakarta Police. “Thanks”. I posted this long transcript on the main backpacker page with the title “Dangerous Host in Jakarta” attached with a photo of Huang. Well, the post on Couchsurfing blew up. It was #1 on the page for nearly two weeks with hundreds of posts and responses. People were coming out of the wood works.. People from months and years ago who had CC fraud & money stolen from them as well. Most everyone had suspected Huang and when they confronted him were convinced that he was innocent. I even had previous roommates come forth who had computers and electronics stolen years ago in awe that it really was him who committed the crime. Previous backpackers who stayed with him saw the post and said they too noticed money from their debit/credit cards missing but never knew how nor when it happened. We found I believe a total of 8 “victims”. People were messaging me apologizing on behalf of the Jakarta community telling me they heard about this from a friend, Twitter, blog post or some online newspaper. People were spreading it like wildfire. Old coworkers were identifying him by another name, not Huang, as he had gone under a false name. I continued my journey through Malaysia and when I got into South Thailand I received a curious message from an unknown number. They stated that they heard about my case and wanted to help me. They said they were in Bangkok, nearby, and would be happy to help me anyway they could. I thanked them and kind of ignored the message saying I was busy and would get back to them. The next day, they messaged me again saying they were bored and didn’t have anything planned for their trip in Thailand and asked if I wanted to meet up and requested to know which island I was currently on. Well, this was a little too invasive so I told them I was with friends and for them to enjoy their vacation. Then, the next day I received another message. This time the tone was completely different. It was a paragraph long and started out saying that they were sent to Thailand from Indonesia to find me.. That he will not stop until he finds me and he will be my shadow and soon will be one only foot behind me. He stated that he will take out my fingernails, one by one and wasn’t afraid to go farther. He said he was a professional and wouldn’t stop until he got justice for publicly exploiting his “client” Huang. I was shaking and didn’t respond and then a couple hours later he sent another paragraph saying that he wasn’t joking and could track me by my bank account, visa info, hostel info, Facebook and other Internet tools. He also said he would follow me to any country I went to, including the USA and would find my family. I nearly got online that moment and booked the first flight back to the States. Yanno? Then, he said he wouldn’t stop *unless* I took down the post on Couchsurfing.. Then I would be “safe”. At this point with his quick ultimatum, I internally called his bluff. Plus I doubted he had access to such information but with such a corrupt police system, maybe he did. Plus getting a US visa isn’t an easy process. So what did I do? To not play with fire, I deleted the post from Couchsurfing and informed him of my action. Plus, his name was already out there and Indonesian natives were speaking of pressing charges from previous events. They were pissed. After I informed whoever was texting me that the post was deleted, they quickly thanked me and said that I was safe, that I could trust them that no one was going to hurt me. They went as far to wish me a good day. It definitely was an empty threat. I found out later that other people on the Couchsurfing page had received similar threats concluding that he probably wasn’t in Thailand coming after me. Also, comparing the broken English I think it was Huang who was messaging me all along. But I didn’t want to risk it. For a couple months afterwards I still was sometimes scared. There was always that small thought in the back of my mind, “what if someone is following me?” After speaking to some backpacking friends I concluded that I was more or less safe and after two months it became a story of the past and an exciting story to add to the books of my Asia travels. I did however go ghost on everyone helping me with my case, froze my Couchsurfing profile (since it tells you where you are geographically each time you log on) and made sure my Facebook profile was completely private and even switched my name from Morales to Moraies on FB (could you tell?). Then in mid February, I contacted one of the people I semi trusted in Indonesia asking what ever happened to Huang. They said that he fled the country seeking exhale in Thailand. All. Because. Of. Me. This too made me nervous for a while but then again decided what was done was done and there’s nothing I can do about it. So why didn’t I tell everyone? Well, unfortunately I was told first hand numerous times about the dangers of going to the police and how they could potentially work against me (for example, after my report the police selling my info and where abouts to Huang.. Not sure how probable this is but still.. Corrupt stuff like that) and I did want anyone from the States to make reports on my behalf not knowing the potential dangers it may cause me. Plus, my mother wouldn’t be able to sleep and it wasn’t fair to put her through that. It’s a sad reality of life in some places that the police just won’t help you and reporting it can in fact go against you. Whoever gets Huang caught I’m sure his “boys” will certainly seek revenge to whoever is responsible for the report. I was even warned to me by an Indonesian man that if revenge is sought that they probably would not stop until it was delivered. It’s calm and silent now, my name is out of the spotlight and the locals in Indonesia who were also stolen from have taken matters in their own hands. They all know of his criminal background and are doing everything in their power to seek justice. Plus I know of one European backpacker who is also currently pressing charges, or trying to at least. So no need to report this as American police have no jurisdiction. Thank You for your silence and cooperation. Well, that’s my story! It was definitely one of the hardest things I had to deal with on the road these past ten months but no regrets as it makes an excellent story. It’s thankfully only one of the few bad stories I have to share. Thanks for reading! Cheers from the man who has since defied a predator amongst his time in SE Asia.

Leaving Indonesia with Mixed Emotions

December 7, 2013

As I sit slightly hungover five hours early for my flight I have some time to think about the last month. My time in Indonesia has come to and end and if I had one phrase to summarize my last month it would be “a challenging adventure”. It’s been a good challenge and lead up to an amazing last week with a group of some of the friendliest people I’ve met the past six months. A month ago, Jakarta, faced me with difficulties as $3,740 was charged to my cards leaving me in Indonesia with no debit card and only the money in my pocket. I suspected my Couchsurfing host but he manipulated me into believing it wasn’t him until a friend saw my post and messages me stating he also had money stolen via fraud in Jakarta. He asked who I stayed with and sent me a photo of the guy and as it turns out was the same guy. Small world. Unfortunately we can’t do anything and the police are so corrupt that our hands are tied. I’m not too worried as the universe will take care of him. So yea, the beginning two weeks were difficult and I had try really hard to stay positive. Whenever my mind would drift to the missing money, I would force myself to replace the thought with another memory from the trip. After a week I was in Malang with my @Instagram friends going to remote locations and doing my biggest hobby, photography. My time in Indonesia was on the up. We went to their families homes, ate dinner and just coexisted which was wonderful. After Malang I went to Ubud, Bali. A very Hindu culture filled with colorful alters and flags in front of each home. The architecture was incredible. We saw a ethnic dance one night full of chants and elaborate, colorful clothing. I’ll post a video soon. I met someone from Uruguay who I always joke was an angel sent down to put me in a good mood. I had just received the photo from my friend confirming that Herman was the one who stole from me. I was extremely upset. I felt used, manipulated and violated by someone I trusted. I had a night bus from 5pm-7am so I hadn’t slept really. I arrived to my hostel and just climb into bed planning on sleeping the day away. Marcos from Uruguay came into the room, full of energy, introducing himself and inviting me to go to Monkey Forest with him and some hostel mates. I initially declined, I was tired and mainly in a shitty mood. Well that isn’t an answer a Marcos would take as he urged me to get up and there was time to sleep later. Before I left Catherine told me to not pass up opportunities when people want to interact. Therefore, I obliged and got up and went to Monkey Forest. It ended up being a fun day in Ubud visiting the monkeys, eating food and seeing the cultural dance. I am so thankful Marcos came into the room helped make my time in Ubud a memorable one. I met Clayre from the UK and we hung out one day doing nothing really but sometimes those are the best days. After Ubud I swung down to Kuta, Bali. Kuta is crazy. It’s chaotic, full of 19 year old drunk Australians and busy. I loved it. Many people dislike it but it has character, that’s for sure. I had to spend a week here for I was waiting for my new ATM card. My friend Sebastian, from Argentina, was also in Kuta. He was the other person who got money stolen from him by Herman. It was really nice to be around someone who also went through it and it really helped me bury the whole thing. We went to a bar called Sky Garden which gives you an all you can eat buffet and bottomless drinks for an hour for under $5. A security guard kicked us out of our seats after a few hours bc a couple paid premium for a hooka and our spot. I said it was bullshit and then was met across the back of the head with an open hand.. The guy was three times my size so I just walked away with my tail between my legs. We moved on elsewhere and continued the night. Sebastian had to leave a few days later and it was another challenge bc we became close fast and then he was gone. Always happens. Always sucks. Sometimes worse than others. Next, I met got a roomate from Holland/Nederlands. Maarten and I continued to frequent Sky Garden BC the food and drink deal was too good to pass. Free drinks for an hour.. I mean.. Why not? Then my card arrived! I was so excited and felt completely relieved that it finally arrived. So onward I went to Nusa Lembangan. This is an island that Bouch told me about which I stumbled upon w wrong preconceptions. It was a good mistake BC this island was authentic. I rented a motorbike and drove around the island and across a bridge to the neighboring island. I was just myself which was nice because I hadn’t had time to be alone in a while. I went to different beaches and immersed myself in conversation with the locals every chance I had. There was a Hindu ceremony that day and everyone was colorfully dressed in elaborate clothing. They had rice on their third eye and neck. The kids were in ceremonial clothes too. Women walked down the street in long lines w fruit baskets balanced on their heads. Offerings to the God. It was AWESOME! The island wasn’t overran by tourism and was very authentic. The people were more interested in talking with you than selling you something. I met two French Canadians on the boat and spent the three days with them. On my last day was Thanksgiving. Another challenge. Being far away from home during the holidays is horrible. It really is. The day was long as I waited for night to FaceTime with my parents due to the time difference. We had a lengthy conversation and it put me back on track. It was so nice to speak with them since it’s been a while.. And I got to see a Duke too. The next day I went to take out money and the only ATM on the island wouldn’t accept my debit card. So after all that I then was stranded again with no money. After some time I found a shop that would run my debit card as though I purchased something and would give me cash instead (with a 15% commission). I didn’t have my passport or photo ID on me and they said “no worries” and ran the card anyways. Scary. After Nusa Lembongan it was time for Gili islands, three small islands just northwest of Lombok. I arrived at Gili Backpackers on Thursday, November 28th thinking I would check out by Tuesday and head to Lombok. Tuesday came, I extended one night, Wednesday came, same thing. This pattern continued all the way up until today, Saturday, December 7th. Sometimes when a place is right, you just have to stay put. This was one of these places. The hostel I stayed at made everything. I stayed at Gili Backpackers which was ran by a Swedish couple. It just opened and they’re still putting it together. They made sure everyone knew eachother and to include everyone in what they did. For instance, the hostel staff always had an open invitation for dinner to anyone who wanted to join. This is helpful when you arrive by yourself on the first day and then right away you are at dinner w a group of people in your same boat. The staff also played drinking games from 8-11 which always is a fun way to meet new people. I made the most amazing friends there. I couldn’t leave them. We were having too much fun. It was mainly a mix of English, Dutch, German and Australian. Near the end I met two awesome Americans from St. Louis and.. Wait for it… The Jersey Shore. She was super Jersey and extremely awesome. The island is very small, you can walk around it in two hours. During the day we swam, snorkeled and the watched sunset before dinner and going out. I spent a couple days with Stefanie, from Holland, and became good friends with her. She’s awesome. Yesterday, on my last night after the drinking games, I was retiring to bed as the group was going out to the beach party. Everyone was giving me a long hug telling me how thankful they are we met and what a good guy I was and to keep in touch, etc. It felt good to have so many friends in one place from all over. Usually it’s just 3-6 people you meet but here there was around 15-20 in our group. I was not going out to the party because I had an 8am boat to the Bali to catch an 8pm flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Everyone was saying it’s my last night and to come out for “just one drink”. I said no and gave them all hugs and said my goodbye. As they walked out the doorway I thought, “what the hell am I doing!?” An yelled for them to wait up. We all cheered as we were happy to have one more night together. Then they bought me beers.. And Joss Shots (which get you wired). So there I was on the beach at half past two and I knew I had to go home. I said my goodbyes and got back in time for a quick 4 hour sleep before I started my journey to the airport. The biggest difference about Indonesia, particularly Java and Gili, are the Muslim mosques throughout. Five times a day, one being around 4:30am, the city erupts with the call to prayer. The mosques have loud speakers and a man sings and speaks over the loud speaker for the entire town to hear. The mosques are extremely close in Java, sometimes across the street from one another, and all have different speeches and prayers being announced at the same time. Never seen or heard anything like it in my life. Our hostel in Gili was right next to one so in the wee morning hours, we too woke up. Bali and Nusa Lembongan are mainly Hindu. I love Hindus. They are extremely colorful and the alter decorations in front of each house are very beautiful. I haven’t gotten around to posting Bali photos yet but make sure to take a look if you can. The architecture is incredible there. The best architecture I’ve seen in Asia. The incense throughout gives new scents as you explore the town. It’s quite peaceful. It’s amazing how each island feels like a completely different country. Different religions and customs. Java and Gili are completely two different worlds with Bali and Nusa Lembongan somewhere in between. Indonesia ended up being a wonderful place with great memories. It turned out to be perfect. I wouldn’t chance a thing, honestly. Everything turned out alright and it made quite a bumpy journey. What started at as a rough ride turned out to yield an amazing ending. It’s like my boys say, “The roller coasters got to roll to the bottom to climb to the top again”.


Malaysia on the Horizon

November 4, 2013

Planning day today as I fly to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia this Saturday. Followed by a quick trip through Panang until crossing into the South of Thailand for Christmas and New Years Eve! Meeting up with Brien Silver come December 15th. Then Melia for Christmas. South of Thailand will great. This was my main initial attraction to SE Asia and the time is quickly approaching. // Photo of Mt. Bromo, East Java, Indonesia.


Local Friends in Indonesia

December 2, 2013

Woke up and booked my “snorkel trip” which is an all day event stopping at three islands. One supposedly will have sea turtles and another with manta rays. The underwater camera I bought is on its last leg so hopefully it cooperates today. This is yesterday about an hour before sunset on Gili T. I like the lighting at this hour may try to get some more today. I was walking along the beach and two Indonesian men approached me asked me questions about where I was from, etc. They were excited to hear I was from America which has been an uncommon encounter here in Indonesia. Most focus on the wars and gun violence. So it was a nice change to see someone excited to hear where I was from. One was 27 and the other 18, both working at a hotel on the beach not too far away. They were childhood friends from Lombok, a neighboring island. The eldest came over here to support his family back at home on Lombok. He has a wife and 8 month child. He proudly showed me photos of his family and baby.. For maybe an hour. I enjoyed every moment of it. He works six days a week in the kitchen at the hostel. He goes to Lombok for the day whenever he has off. His English was developing and his favorite thing to do was laugh.. Uncontrollably. So she whenever he didn’t understand what I was saying, which was 30% of the time, he would laugh extremely hard. This made for some entertainment on my end. He was so full of life and energy. It was contagious and I found myself laughing hard simply because some of my questions were returned with immense laughter. He told me how he learned English by simply listening to the foreigners at the hotel. He said that a few years ago he only knew “Yes” and “No” and how awkward it was at the hostel when guests tried to speak with him and he had no clue what they were saying. He knew he had to learn to secure his job. He had zero schooling in life along with his childhood friend who sat there listening. His friend had just started his process of learning English, so he was listening and not able to speak much. One memorable observation made by my friend was when he said “In July and August there are many Italians at my hotel and in December and January there are many Australians, but I don’t understand why so many at that time. So many!” I went on to explain that those are the summer holiday months for each perspective country, and that in the summertime the families tend to travel. We then on to talk about winter and snow forever since he has never seen snow before. He asked an interesting question, that when the snow melts if our roads and homes are flooded from the snowmelt. I let him know that it was a smart question however most of the snow melt runs into the rivers and streams, leaving us quite dry besides a few “annoying” puddles. His wheels were turning though! I ended up watching the sunset with them, I couldn’t leave this scenario. Sunset turned into me asking them if I could take them to dinner. The lady at the food stand recognized I was taking them to dinner so we all received the discounted local price. . Dinner made for some interesting conversation as they were eager to ask and answer questions. It was a good night with my new friends from Indonesia.


Pulled an All Nighter

December 1, 2013

Dark Moon Party with a picturesque Sunrise over Lombok with a beach nap during the day segued by an incredible Sunset that evening w some CU alumni I met. Nice to know I still have it in me.

(And I’m listening to “Kaya” before getting outta bed.. Today’s gonna be a good day. Happy December everyone. +1)

Six Months..

November 28, 2013

Today marks 6 months I packed up and left the hustle and bustle world known as America and set out to travel the world.. by myself. I have leaned so much these past six months that’s its impossible to put into words. Some people probably think I am crazy for leaving my “good job” and sacrificing everything to take this trip. Well I know this, it’s the best damn decision I have ever made. I have learned so much about myself and others that it is a priceless value I will forever hold. I am not going to lie, there have been a handful of times of loneliness and frustration where I just wanted to pack up and go home to everything safe and familiar but without these challenges my trip would not be what it is today. However, in these hard times I just center myself whether through meditation or alcohol (or both) and I look at the sky and realize exactly where I am and how grateful I am to be standing right here at this moment. It doesn’t always work right away, as I am only human, but in time it puts me back into place. The hardest part about traveling is leaving the people you meet. There are a handful of people that I can’t imagine not seeing again in my life. When I think of them I miss them so much my stomach aches and I want to scream. The individuals, both locals and backpackers, I have encountered on this trip have changed me in ways indescribable. The list goes on and on and one can only hope that one day we shall meet again. If not, I will always have the memories close to my heart as I am forever grateful to everyone I have met along the way and the experiences we have shared. They all have a particular role in my journey and I am forever indebted for their impact on me. // There is a book (and a horrible movie) that all backpackers find themselves getting compared to at one point in their trip which simply isn’t true. The general consensus is that no one likes being compared to this movie however there is one quote that always rings true… I can’t believe I am resorting to it however it is applicable so here we go.. “If you’re brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting, which can be anything from your house to bitter, old resentments, and set out on a truth-seeking journey, either externally or internally, and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher and if you are prepared, most of all, to face and forgive some very difficult realities about yourself, then the truth will not be withheld from you.” Happy Thanksgiving everyone, I miss you dearly but the show much go on.


Family (Face)Time

November 27, 2013

Had a GREAT Morning!! I got to FaceTime with my Grandma and Grandpa. They’re quite up to date with the technology I might say… From Facebook to FaceTime. Mima is still crazy as ever, making me laugh uncontrollably and Papa is always there for some good reason… AND they understood where I am coming from when I mentioned moving to Australia. Ah how I miss you guys, but technology brings me right back home. I just wish I could hug you. I have the best family ever.. Love them to pieces.


Nusa Lembongan

November 26, 2013

I misunderstood my friend Bouch and booked a boat to an island thinking it was someplace else. I couldn’t be happier with my “mistake”. So much quieter than Bali. This is the view from my hostel.. Very colorful. I can’t wait to photograph the pristine beaches later on today.. And we are on the sunset side! Tomorrow morning there is a local “ceremony” of sorts and we were already invited to join. I met these two wonderful individuals from Canada on the boat and we have linked up and are staying at the same hostel. Now it’s time to hit these beaches!