Derek Freal said goodbye to a promising corporate career in the United States in 2009 to traverse the globe. Eventually realizing he’d never be able to return to a normal job and chase the “American Dream” again, Derek began travel writing as a way to inspire, educate and motivate others — both on where to go, what to do, and what not to do.
After several return trips back to his home country he sold all of his possessions to live the life of a permanent nomad. Five years and two dozen countries later, Derek has become a self-described “cultural enthusiast” and advocate of slow travel, taking the time to learn and embrace the local way of life. His primary country of specialty is Indonesia.
Following is an intense week-in-the-life of Derek as he finds himself locked up abroad in Indonesia, facing deportation because of a Tweet he sent out that caught the attention of the Indonesian government. Read on to find out what happened to him when initially locked up; at the end you’ll find an even more intense twist to the story, along with a link to a story on his site explaining why this all happened in the first place.
This post was originally published in 2014. It has since been updated for accuracy of links.
As this week was starting off, little did I know that Indonesian immigration authorities had already started searching for me. Instead, I was more focused on getting to another modelling gig in Jakarta and then to start preparing for an impending trip back to Malaysia and Laos…
Day 1: Tuesday, June 03rd
0600 – I awaken in Solo, Indonesia, after only 3hrs of sleep. A few weeks ago I met a modelling agent while doing a beer run and he offered me a job. Today I have to catch the early morning train to Jakarta for another photo shoot. I would have flown but my passport was confiscated by Indonesian immigration the week before, so instead of a 1hr flight I have a 8hr train ride.
0800 – As the train departs I settle in to executive class and begin writing a new post.
1700 – Finally arrive in Jakarta, an hour later than scheduled. Walk out of the train station and hail an ojek (motorcycle taxi).
1900 – After fighting Jakarta traffic for two hours I arrive at the location for the shoot. It is finished in 30 minutes. Back to the train station.
2100 – Barely missed the last train back to Solo and hop a bus instead, expecting a 12hr trip. I lay down on a row all to myself and go to sleep.
Nora’s Note: I found Indonesian television to be trippy! Read how I learned that crying on television in Indonesia is A THING.
Day 2: Wednesday, June 04th
0400 – Wake up to the bus rocking. Flat tire. We pull over on the side of the road and the back end is jacked-up to replace the tire. I check the map, expecting to be more than halfway to Solo but much to my chagrin I find that we are only 1/3 of the way there.
1000 – Calls and WhatsApp messages start coming in. Three immigration officials are at my house, searching for me.
1030 – More messages. Now they are at the house of my girlfriend, still searching for me. How they even found out about her or where she lives is a mystery to both of us, as our relationship is not common knowledge.
1200 – Immigration calls me. They want to see me for a hearing.
1600 – 19hrs after after getting on the bus it finally arrives at the terminal. I hop another ojek and rush to kantor imigrasi. Along the way I change clothes on the back of a motorcycle while going 50 and weaving in and out of traffic — no easy feat!
1700 – After a short interview I leave kantor imigrasi and head home with the promise to return at 8:30am for an official hearing.
1800 – Knowing it could very well be my last night in Indonesia (immigration does not go searching for you if they just want to talk) I purchase some beer and start drinking with friends and neighbors while I wait for the missus to get off work.
Day 3: Thursday, June 05th
0300 – I pass out, exhausted.
0700 – Wake and begin preparing for my hearing.
0830 – At kantor imigrasi, my hearing begins. First question: “Where is your stuff? Why didn’t you bring your luggage?” Not a good sign.
0900 – They bring in a translator because my Bahasa Indonesia is not good enough for all the detailed questions they are asking.
1800 – Hearing finished. Verdict: I am to be deported. A van full of kantor imigrasi officials follow me (on motorcycle) back to the house. I begin packing. During our conversation it becomes apparent that they are friends and even follow me online.
2000 – The door slams shut and a padlock is snapped in place. I am officially incarcerated abroad for the second time.
2001-0100 – I engage in countless WhatsApp and email conversations with friends in Indonesia and abroad, explaining the situation.
Day 4: Friday, June 06th
0100 – Begin writing a new article on this whole situation “Deported For A Tweet: My Immigration Horror Story” as I laugh at the fact that I have the dubious honor of being the first guy in all of history to be deported for one single tweet — a tweet that was deleted five minutes after posting, but not before someone managed to take a screenshot of it and tweet it to immigration.
0400 – Still writing, I open my final beer. Yes, the immigration officials — my new friends — were nice enough to lock me up with beer to keep me company.
0500 – I put on a movie and doze off.
0700 – I awaken to the sound of immigration officials arriving for work and begin wondering when breakfast will come.
0900 – Breakfast arrives. Noodles, a banana, piece of mystery food and a cupcake.
1000 – My other half arrives. After filling out some forms she and I are allowed 30 minutes together (no conjugal visit).
1030 – Time to sign paperwork addressed to my embassy acknowledging that yes, I am indeed incarcerated here. The Indonesian government wants money and I am the bait.
1100 – After smoking a few kretek cigarettes with my new friends at immigration (the same ones from last night), I am returning to my cell and everyone takes off for lunch.
1400 – Starving! Thought they were bringing me lunch but no, they just wanted mugshots. Great, this is becoming less and less fun. At least I am getting a lot of work done. 😉
1430 – Enraged with my captivity, my Indonesian friends with 50k-300k start a Twitter flood advocating my release and direct it at Kantor Imigrasi.
1500 – Despite hundreds of tweets / RTs there has been no official response from K.I. yet…
1600 – Just finished a phone interview with Indonesian reporter explaining the situation.
1800 – Food and a fan arrives from my girlfriend, however they won’t let her near me. But at least now I have a fan!
2000 – Other travelers and bloggers begin to take note of what is happening…my night suddenly got busy!
Day 5: Saturday, June 07th
0000 – Against my better judgment, I break my Twitter silence about this situation. There has been a war raging there and I’m entering the battleground. The majority of Indonesians have been on my side but a few, spurred on by the lies my stalker (the same person who sent the photo of my tweet to immigration), have been tweeting insults.
0500 – By this time it becomes apparent I am no longer doing anything productive, just ranting on Twitter and explaining my story countless times via email and WhatsApp. It’s time to sleep.
1400 – Clanging on my cell bars. Breakfast/lunch/dinner has been served all at once. No, not three meals, one — two pieces of chicken, kangkung (water spinach), and rice. However my predicament has left me unable to eat.
1600 – Delivery — more food from friends and fresh clothes. Of course I am informed this via WhatsApp but nothing is ever actually delivered to my cell.
1700 – After engaging in the Twitter war and thanking supporters, I resume writing, anticipating that my phone and laptop will be confiscated on Monday when immigration gets back into the office and sees the social media brouhaha.
1900 – I eat part of my meal for the day. It leaves a rotten taste in my mouth.
2000 – Time to poo. I go to the storeroom and grab some boxes which I not-so-cleverly place around the squat toilet, to turn it into a sitting toilet. Ahhhhhh…
2005 – Back to writing. Hard to concentrate. Keep getting distracted by WhatsApp messages from people as they learn of my plight.
2300 – The Twitter war (or “twitwar” as it’s called in Indonesia) is still ongoing. If I wasn’t Indonesian before, I officially am now.
Day 6: Sunday, June 08th
0000 – The days are blending together. If I wasn’t writing this down every few hours it would all be a blur.
0500 – Time to go to bed and try to sleep through the heat of the day.
1400 – I awake just in time for the food delivery. Much smaller today than yesterday: one miniature piece of chicken, kangkung and rice.
1430 – Start a movie to take my mind off things: A Serbian Film.
1600 – Quite possibly the most f’d up movie I have ever seen. So yes, it definitely took my mind off things.
1630 – According to another attempted visitor the guards are aware of the twitwar. Yes, safe to say I only have a few hours left with my precious technology. Better make the most of it.
1900 – I didn’t heed my own advice (yet again). For the last several hours I’ve been on Twitter nonstop. Hundreds of new followers are pouring in, almost all from Indonesia.
1930 – I check on my web site. Traffic has spiked the last three days, despite the fact I haven’t done any writing. Guess there is no such thing as bad publicity.
2000 – Web site updates complete. Menu redesigned, map updated, news about my pending deportation added to the homepage. Now to resume writing!
2100 – I’m surprised by food, hot food! Fried fish, kangkung and rice. I’m getting really sick of kangkung and rice…but at least it’s hot. And cold water too! Ahhh I haven’t tasted cold water in days.
Day 7: Monday, June 09th
0500 – Time to go to sleep, just before the sun rises and the heat returns.
1000 – Woken up for more questioning about the twitwar over the weekend and the Indonesian news reports of my story. Surprisingly, instead of taking away my laptop and cell I have been informed that immigration has decided not to blacklist me anymore, and instead allow me to return to Indonesia after six months.
1200 – Back to my cell. Beer, food, and visitor privileges have officially been revoked.
1300 – Movie day. I don’t want to talk to anyone. No emails, no Twitter, no WhatsApp…just time to watch some movies.
1430 – A guard hands me some gudeg through the cell bars. It is covered in 100 or more ants. What is this, a joke? Into the trash for you.
2100 – Watched Ichi The Killer, The Dictator, Enter The Void and Tokyo Eyes. I miss my life in Tokyo. Wish I was there now.
2130 – Dinner is served. Nasi goreng (fried rice). I can’t eat.
2300 – I finish writing my article about what led to this unfortunate situation. 3,192 words. Will have to shorten it before publication.
Derek ended up trimming the article in question and while he was still in custody, and he hit publish against his better judgement. It went viral. The next day, guards came in and took all of his possessions, and began talking about sending him to a prison on Papua instead. Unable to reach the outside world with his food allowance now cut in half, the days began to drag by in painfully slow isolation and boredom.
Luckily others in the travel blogging community had noticed his disappearance immediately after the post went live. On the morning of his intended departure to Papua, he was woken up and informed that friends from around the world had rallied together using social media to buy his freedom and get Derek released.
After hours of paperwork and intense investigation into the contents of his laptop, hard drives, tablets and phones, Derek was given back his bags, then led back to his cell where news crews were waiting to film his (re-enacted) release and emergence from the building and departure in a series of waiting cars. They continued to film the convoy to the airport, however his brief speech to everyone (in Bahasa Indonesia) was never aired on the news.
Here is the article Derek wrote explaining the original Tweet that got him in trouble and locked up abroad, ultimately almost got him set to prison in Papua: Deported Because of a Tweet.
Derek is currently in Puerto Vallarta. Whenever he gets bored there he’ll make a brief stop in Dallas (the Ebola Capital of Texas) on his way back to Dubai. During November he’ll be traveling around Sri Lanka and attending TBC and in December he’s off to Malaysia. And finally on December 20th he’ll be flying in to Indonesia — whether or not they let him in remains to be seen. Find out by following his adventures on The Holidaze.