TravelMemories 1: islands of Indonesia. From astonishing volcanoes to floating droppings
I'm afraid. Afraid to forget. In 2014, me and my girlfriend were on a tour around the world for 14 months. While reminisce about these days, I notice that there are things that I have forgotten. I mix up places or cannot remember the voice and faces of some memorable encounters anymore. I guess my memory's not quite what it used to be. This means that I have to write things down. I want to immortalize a piece of this journey. Later, when I tell my children about how beautiful this world is, I want them to know how I felt at that moment, how I reacted in certain situations. Hence this series around TravelMemories. Not really a classic travel story; rather fragmentary. With the use of memories that come flooding back to me, I try to recall the right feeling of that time. Hopefully my mind doesn’t fool me.
Today I will bring myself back to some of Indonesia's islands, one of the countries I was most impressed with.
THE ISLAND OF JAVA
Avoiding the chaos of the capital Jakarta by flying to neighboring Bandung, we thought it might be a good idea. The 'Paris of Java' turned out to be a mini version of Jakarta: continuous traffic congestion, no side or crosswalks, huge distances, slums,... Almost nothing remained of the beautiful Dutch colonial buildings.
Via Couchsurfing we ended up in a boarding school where we could stay overnight on our mats in the living room. We did not have much sleep, because at 4 am the students gathered at the playground for a thunderous speech by the director and two hours of morning drills/gymnastics on loud beats...surreal.
In the end, Bandung became a fun experience. We visited our first volcano in the region and in exchange for the free nights we gave an hour of English in the university. We did our best to be good ambassadors of our small country and told about language issues, chocolate, speech technology and 3D printing.
Pangandaran - Batu Karas
In the seaside town of Pangandaran we immediately escaped the crowds. Here we made long beach walks and in the evening we crammed ourselves with delicious fish. It was so good that we didn’t mind to walk for an hour every day to the fish market. You should definitely try the red snapper!
Not far from Pangandaran was Batu Karas, an old fishing village, now popular with surfers. An ideal place for our new hobby. You have to lie down with your upper body on a far too short Styrofoam board and try to slide along on a wave - whether or not in combination with different tricks. Result: 98% of the time you stand straight in the water and you say: "honey, this doesn’t make any sense.”
Batu Karas was surrounded by beautiful rice fields and farming villages, which we explored with our scooter. During this trip we also stopped at the Green Canyon, a natural gorge where you could go through with a sail boat. We enjoyed the cool conditions and jumped off some magnificent cliffs.
'Yogya' is the most touristic city of Java and this was reflected in excellent (also veggie) restaurants and an oversupply of stalls with souvenirs. The city turned out to be a good base for various trips. That way we couldn’t miss Borobudur, one of the largest Buddhist temples in the world.
Another day we went to the volcano Merapi. We weren’t favored by the gods because it was the first cloudy day in weeks. We couldn’t see the top of the volcano, but there was an effective way to motivate ourselves: do not focus on the goal, but on the way to it.
The old center of Yogyakarta itself is a mix of small streets and in the important buildings you clearly see the influence of the sultan. (in the region of Yogyakarta there is still a sultan in power)
Bromo - Kawah Ijen
The highlight of Java was our three-day tour to the volcanoes Bromo and Ijen. Every time we stood up in the middle of the night to see the sunrise. At Bromo, together with hundreds of locals, we waited for a fantastic view. For one time we decided to be 'fierce' and we pushed through the crowd to the first row. It’s totally not our style, but to be honest, it was so worth it. In the evening we could sleep in an old coffee roasting place (I can still remember the smell), where we enjoyed a refreshing swim in the pool and drank a fresh coffee in their hot tub.
The experience at Kawah Ijen was different. It was one of those times when you feel guilty and quite powerless as a tourist. On the one hand, we appreciate even more the beauty of nature, especially since the volcano was a lot less touristy. Unlike Bromo, Ijen was filled with a clear blue sulfuric acid lake. The reflection of the rising sun in the water was unique.
On the other hand, it hurts to see how hundreds of workers have to do the two-hour ascent with more than 70 kilos of sulfuric acid nuggets on their backs. We could not even get the baskets moving. The distortion of their shoulders and their burns from the friction were clearly visible. It is all the more annoying if you know that they earn only 8.50 US dollars (about 6 euros) a day.
THE ISLAND OF BALI
That there are almost deserted beaches in Bali, we noticed in Balian Beach. The only fellow tourists were seasoned, tough surfer boys who dared to face the meters high waves. We were mainly laying out on the beach. After waking up really early all the time, we both felt that we needed this. Traveling can be so exhausting ... ;-)
THE ISLAND GILI AIR
The Gili's are three popular small islands near Lombok. We chose Gili Air for the peace and for our wallet. Unfortunately, we both weren’t in rare form those days. I remember that my energy level was really low and my girlfriend was full of rash. Such a pleasure to be on a paradise in that state. Yet it was still nice to see no cars at all, to snorkel and to stroll along the white beaches.
THE ISLAND LOMBOK
Kuta Lombok (not to be confused with Kuta on the island of Bali) is equivalent to countless deserted beaches, which are a lot nicer than those in Bali. We took our scooter and spent our time driving through the hills, from one unspoiled bay to another. Sometimes nature had something desolate and the villages often seemed a bit spooky. The people here were slightly more suspicious and on sight of tourists they get dollar signs in their eyeballs. That’s hardly surprising considering the fact that this region is even poorer than the rest of Indonesia. The majority of the children have to spend their days selling bracelets and other souvenirs on the many beaches.
THE ISLANDS FLORES & RINCA
The Pelni boat
When we took the boat to the island of Flores, we really went 'off the beaten track'. The cheapest solution to go from Lombok via Sumbawa to Flores was with a government ship, the Pelni boat. It certainly became memorable.
When we boarded, the ship was already overcrowded. When we saw that there was no more space left in the large sleeping rooms, we weren’t too upset about it. Hundreds of people were packed together. It smelled like a mix of urine, catering waste and cigarette smoke. You can imagine we felt like we had found the best spot when we were blowing up our mattresses on the outside deck.
In total we spent 30 hours on the boat, where we mainly were concentrating on holding in our pee. Not healthy, but rest assured, you would also do this once introduced with the strong amoniac odor and floating droppings in the Pelni toilets.
Once solid ground under our feet, the adventure was not over yet. Apparently there was no more hostel in the port city of Labuan Bajo. Fortunately, two young people were willing to share their room. So we blew up our mats and slept with five in a 6 m² room. Apparently they had also invited a friend...
Komodo National Park
Everything was quickly forgotten when we were ready to go diving in the famous Komodo National Park. To be exact, my girlfriend dives, I went snorkeling. I have a hole in my eardrum and I’m not allowed to go diving. I developed my own technique to get as little water as possible into my ears. I don’t feel like having the umpteenth ear infection. I let my head hang through the hole of a life buoy and in this way I let myself go with the flow. The instructor was amazed by my inventiveness and the style is now known as 'LST', the Lazy Snorkeling Technique.
During those two fantastic days we both saw more underwater life than we ever thought possible. A curious giant manta even got really close to my girlfriend. In addition, we spotted water turtles, sting rays, scorpion fish, giant parrot fish ... The water was so clear that I even could see a small ‘Nemo’ from my lifebuoy.
Riding a scooter in the interior of Flores
After those first days on the shoreline (and further into the water), we had set our sights on trip through the rough inland of Flores. The road network of Flores consists almost exclusively of one large main road, so we did not need a GPS. We left relatively late in the afternoon because we didn’t want to travel that far. Oops, wrong decision.
The village where we first wanted to sleep, proved unattainable with a scooter, especially because it also began to rain. We ended up in a mudflow. The traffic was stuck, but the Indonesians mainly saw the fun of it. They were enthusiastically pulling cars up. Because of this, we had lost a lot of time. Locals therefore advised us to drive to Ruteng, apparently a four-hour-drive.
Today we know that Indonesians have no clue of distances and travel times. One time it was still 5 km, then another 30 km, then 17 km to our final destination. In the end it was already dark and very cold when we could settle down after a hot shower. Restaurants were no longer open, but fortunately we were well taken care of by a local Dutchman who had met us on the way. The next two days were a lot easier and we enjoyed driving between the beautiful mountains and the many rice fields.
Some things that will stay with me
- The Indonesian government doesn’t seem to be engaged with waste management and nature protection. On the Pelni boat the garbage from the kitchens was simply thrown overboard. Tons of waste end up in the ocean every day. You can hardly blame the people themselves, because there is little question of any training or awareness campaigns. They throw all their rubbish in front of their doors on the street.
- 99% of men in Indonesia seem to smoke. It seemed to us more tradition than an addiction. Young people are also not aware of the dangers, even though you can also see those horrible pictures on a package of cigarettes.
- During our night with the three Floresian youngsters in the 6 m² room, one boy found it so cozy that he started to cuddle me in his sleep.
Note: the photos come from unsplash.