Indonesia: Go Now!
Indonesia has been in the news a lot this last year, mostly for the wrong reasons. It is still a wonderful place. Let me share with you a few postcards, both words and pictures. I have incredibly lucky to have been invited for short work projects in each of the last three years, and have used the chance to explore new areas afterwards. Photos from Borbudur, Java, Lombo & Flores.
Quick figures: The world’s largest archipelago. 17,000 islands. 267m – world’s 4thlargest. 5 official religions. 5000km W-E. (50% > than Australia or USA). 3rdlargest grower of rice, 4thof coffee, 6thof tea, 2ndof rubber. 76 active volcanoes. Java alone has 140+m, at a density 4x that of GB (and 111x that of Russia!) and 6 active volcanoes.
It is a land of huge contrasts. All is equatorial, but the volcanic uplands and the drier east feel different from Sumatra’s jungles. There are a dozen different reasons to go. Beach holidays, with diving and coral; Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic culture, side by side; exploring jungles; exotic wildlife from wondrous butterflies and entrancing bird songs, to our nearest neighbours, the Oran Utang (the name literally means ‘Man of the Forest’) in Sumatra and Kalimantan, the rare Java White Rhino, and further east, the Komodo Dragon. These monitor lizards are up to 3m long, stalk buffalo and deer, and have a lethal bite. But you can get within a body length of them for photos! Jakarta is a huge sprawling tropical metropolis, but the thriving Jogja and smaller towns and villages are inviting and entertaining every one.
Where to go? Java is simply amazing. More people than Russia, and still a million padi fields, thick jungles, unspoiled beaches and climbable volcanoes. The beaches along the south coast are fabulous – some for swimming and coral spotting, some for surfing. A day’s train ride across the island costs ~nothing and allows a stupendous panorama. Jogjakarta is the country’s spiritual home, and wonderfully welcoming. It has history, culture, museums, friendly bars, and an unbeatable night market. Shopping for silk, batiks, leather and silverwork is huge fun. You might even buy something, too.
Above all, Jogja is gateway to Mr Merapi, a volcano to mount, Hindu temples and Borobudur. This man made mountain was built by Buddhists over 1200 years ago, then lost to the jungle until rediscovered in the C19th. It’s seven terraces map the Buddhist cosmos, and every metre is covered in glorious carvings.
After that, pick and island, any island. Sumatra or Kalimantan for jungles, and Orang Utangs. Lombok for everything in a compact package, including the best food, warmest people, top surfing, waterfalls and beaches. Further East, Flores (Dutch for ‘flowers’, with reason) for unspoiled landscapes, peace, and the obligatory boat ride to Komodo Island. 5 islands done, 16,994 for next time. Bali? Yes, amazing, stunningly beautiful, and accessible. But, dare I say it, overdeveloped and too full of tourists and western hedonism.
Summary: Why go? Warmth. Of people. Beaches. Batik. Bananas, mangoes, coconuts, 1001 other fruits (fresh). Beer (‘Bintang’ – local). Bahasa (the language is really assessable for a tourist!). Butterflies and Birds. Jungle & Volcano treks. Orang Utangs & Komodo Dragons. But top of the list, world class on its own, worth circling the globe for: Borobudur!
Not so good:Jakarta traffic. Plastic waste (be part of the solution, not the problem! Fill many sacks). Overcooked, overdone Bali. Parts of Lombok, Bali, Sulawesi and now the Sunda Straights recovering from natural disasters – all the more reason to visit and spend money in the other 99% of the country. You will be warmly welcomed. Selamat Jalan!