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Published: September 4th 2012
We spent the first two months of our trip travelling through Indonesia. Neither of us really knew what we were getting into. Not only had we dropped our lives to see Asia together but suddenly we were in a foreign country full of mosques and a culture very different from our own.
This blog is going to summarize our experiences and our perspective of the many surprises we came across. Indonesia is immensely different from Canada, so while most of the surprises will hold a place in our hearts forever, some of them we could have done without.
After almost three days of flying (with a stop in Singapore for a real bed), we arrived in Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia. Yogya (pronounced Jogja) was a perfect place to start – big city, some english, lots of true Indo culture. We spent about 5 days here and immediately fell in love with what we so far knew of Indonesia. After seeing Borobudur (the largest Buddhist monument in the world), we continued on to Pacitan in search of a beach. Turns out Pacitan used to be a busier place than it is today. Later through our travels we realized a lot of Indonesia has had a similar downturn in tourism. Next we went to Malang, another beautiful city right in the heart of Java. The main reason for going to Malang was to plan a Mount Bromo trip. However, since we had arrived in Indo, we were also contemplating seeing another volcano, Mt. Ijen. We were stuck on deciding, do we see both, do we see one? There were rumours that Bromo had recently been active so we wouldn't be able to get very close. Luckily, we chose to stay at Kampong Tourist, a great little hostel on top of Helios Hotel. It was there that we met two wonderful Dutch women and planned a four day adventure of a lifetime. In those four days we saw an indescribable sunrise, climbed Mount Bromo and Mount Ijen, we witnessed a sea turtle lay eggs on the beach and we got to release baby turtles into the ocean, we toured coffee, rubber and cacao plantations/factories and camped in the jungle! It was priceless.
After the four day excursion, we parted ways with Alien and Karla en route to Bali. Bali was hard for us because we were on a tight schedule to get to Lombok (the next island) where we would extend our visas. We wanted to see as much of Bali as possible so we moved around a lot. First was Lovina, then Ubud, then Kuta (2 nights in each) before catching a ferry to Nusa Lembongan. Lembongan was the quiet island we had been looking for. We spent a whole week eating local food, working on our tan, wandering around the island and watching beautiful sunsets night after night. It was pretty hard to move on, but we had to.
Next was Lombok. We situated ourselves in Sengigi for a few nights since it was close enough to Mataram where we had to apply for our visa extension. All went according to plan and we were off to Gili Trawangan. The water was blue, the sun was shining and every bar had happy hour! Gili T is where we spent about a week soaking up the sea air before going to Kuta Beach (Lombok). Kuta Beach was the last piece of ocean we are going to see for a while. We stayed there for two nights before flying up to Sumatra.
Sumatra is where we got more into nature. After staying in Medan for a couple days we caught a ride to Bukit Lawang for a jungle trek! What a beautiful place. We spent twice as much time there as most flashpackers and we will never regret it for a second. The folks at Rain Forest made us feel right at home. We trekked for 2 days in the jungle, camping at night. We saw orangutans, gibbons, a few types of monkeys and tons of other jungle creatures and plants. We then moved on to Berastagi to climb yet another volcano (Mount Sibayak) and wander the markets before our last stop on our Indonesian trip, Danau Toba. Lake Toba is simply breathtaking. Samosir Island is full of culture and gorgeous scenery. The island has everything you could need and that's why Tyler said over and over that it was the only place we had come across where he could actually see himself living.
That was a very brief summary of our last two months. Please feel free to go back and read the blogs that go more in depth and include lots of pictures. Now we're going to go on to explain what we went through in a deeper sense.
Indonesia as a whole is perhaps a little under-rated. On the surface it may at times smell of sewage, garbage, garlic, cigarettes, petrol, seaweed or whatever it is that's burning; We came across piles of garbage and slums of impoverish people; There are always people “cleaning” but nothing ever seems all that clean. A lot of tourists unfortunately never get past Bali to see that there is SO much more.
Things that we observed along the way: A lot of people we met in the cities were afraid of water; they all smoke; sidewalks aren't something you can expect; there were a lot of penis souvenirs (bottle opener, statue with large penis, magnets etc); the majority of school children wear uniforms (and look adorable with their oversized backpacks that they could probably fit in); no matter where you are you can likely hear either a rooster or a kid crying; cats, dogs, chickens (and depending where you are, monkeys) are EVERYWHERE, not to mention the mosques that turn the volume up to 11 during the prayer hours.
While there are so many commonalities as described above, each island and even each region is a gem all on its own. The biggest difference is usually religion. We found a big difference in meals, architecture and also the language differed a bit which was hard to keep up with from one town to the next. Java is where we found the best street food! Yogyakarta and Malang were perfect for cheap food at hole-in-the-wall places. We saw a lot of Dutch influence on the architecture on Java since it was a Dutch colony. Java was very Muslim and we quickly got used to the sound of a mosque in the background. As soon as we got off the ferry in Bali we could see a huge difference. Bali is mostly Hindu; Every house has a temple and a statue of Ganesh or one of the other gods; Most locals wear sarongs on a daily basis. Lombok was a mixture, we saw both Hindu and Muslim religions. It wasn't until we got to Sumatra where we found Christianity. Medan is still very Muslim, but Berastagi and Danau Toba were mostly Christian with some old animist beliefs mixed in. Danau Toba also has it's own dialect of Batak. Batak also has a different style of architecture that is unique to the area.
In our two months, we barely even scratched the surface of what there is to see and do. There is so much of Indonesia to explore! I hope that people reading this blog - and our many others - may consider it for their next trip.
People that helped make our trip memorable are Black, Jorno, Alien, Karla, Fernando, Bob, San, Roman, Paul and the countless Indonesians who pointed us in the right direction or made us smile. Thank you so much for being a part of our journey!
When I left Canada I literally had no idea what I was getting myself into! We arrived in Indonesia and I had a lot of “holy crap!” moments along with pleasant surprises. It's really hard to pin point a favourite moment, day, place or memory but I'll do my best not to ramble. I think Yogya is always going to be a special place to me because it's the first Asian city I got a real look at. I was mesmerized by the hustle of it all. I remember feeling claustrophobic and overwhelmed in the best possible ways. It was in Yogya that I thought “I'm going to like it here”; at the time I didn't know if I meant Yogya, Indonesia or Asia as a whole, but I knew I liked it. My next favourite place has to be Mt Ijen. Yes Bromo had a great sunrise, but as volcanoes go, it's not my favourite. Look at me talking about volcanoes like I'm a seasoned pro! Well we have been surrounded by them for the last two months and climbed three of them, so I'll pretend I know a little. Anyway, Ijen was truly beautiful – the views on the hike up, the feeling of being in the clouds, the pristine blue water of the acid crater lake offset by the bright yellow of the sulfur mine; the miners who work their butts off every day for less than you get paid for half an hour in Canada – there was absolutely nothing about it that let me down! After Ijen, there was something about Lovina that I fell for. It had the right amount of beach, sun, tourism, prices and culture. Lovina was my favourite spot on Bali next to Nusa Lembongan which was a gem on its own. Gili T was great, Kuta Lombok was relaxing but Bukit Lawang and Danau Toba are at the top of my list for best places. Sure the beaches are beautiful, but being immersed in the jungle like we were in Bukit Lawang is something that is tough to find anywhere else! Lake Toba almost reminded me of home - the fresh water lake, the rocky cliffs; I felt comfortable there.
Now I have to admit, I'm being a tiny bit selfish here... Of course I can't wrap up the last two months into two paragraphs, and there is a lot of wonderful things that I'm not going to share. I have to keep some of it for myself or stories to tell back home. To say that the last two months were fantastic would be a major understatement. Every day I remind myself how lucky I am. We have seen so much, done so much, shared so much... I just can't believe this is my life :D
It's easy to sit at home reading Lonely Planet and decide what to do with two months in Indonesia. Even with knowing a little bit of what to expect because of my last trip. But once you set foot on the ground and have to start doing everything for yourself, it's a great wake-up call. Getting into a city you've never been in, having to find a place to stay using a map that isn't always accurate, realizing the rooms don't have a fixed price so you need to barter, finally getting settled, going into the bathroom only to realize there isn't a western toilet or toilet paper, then wandering the city looking for food and ordering off a menu that isn't in English! These came to be everyday realities and I gotta say, it felt great to be back in Asia!
Things we had to learn very quickly:
The value of everyday goods. When going to buy something it is common to be quoted double or five times the actual price. What seems a good deal in Canadian dollars is actually a wildly inflated price and bartering without being too offensive can be tricky, but necessary to stretch our budget as far as possible.
The Indonesian words for common things. Chicken, noodles, rice, vegetables, numbers, how much, thank you, excuse me are all completely necessary. The one I will remember forever is Terima Kasih, thank you.
How to get from the bus station to a place to stay. Not always easy or described in the guidebook. Also quite often we would have a place in mind only to get there and be told it was full, or the price was much more than we thought.
I hope the experiences we have had will help prepare us for China which by comparison will be a much more difficult country to travel. The language barrier will be huge, the pronunciation of there words almost impossible, the distances we will cover will be much greater and the food we come across much more bizarre, but it's all part of the adventure!
Overall Indonesia was a country of beautiful beaches, smoking volcanoes, steamy jungles and extremely friendly people. I would recommend it to anyone and tell them to get to Danua Toba in North Sumatra!
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